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Paul Goodman: A second response to Matthew Goodwin

by Paul Goodman

I made two critical observations in response to Matthew Goodwin's article Why Baroness Warsi was right to highlight the growing problem of anti-Muslim sentiment in modern Britain.

  • First, that it isn't "striking" that anxiety about Muslims in Britain hasn't subsided since 9/11 (given the impact of national and international events).
  • Second, that polling suggests that one should "be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions without probing all the available evidence".  I cited in particular three polls - by ICM, Populus and NOP respectively.

So let's have a look in detail at Goodwin's response.

The impact of events since 9/11

I think Goodwin effectively concedes my first observation.  He adds that I side-stepped his point that "not only were some cohesion-based initiatives moving in the right direction, but they were also backed up by decades of academic research".  I wrote originally that "it would surely take rather more than 'a decade-long investment in attempting to encourage ‘cohesive' communities' to offset the malign effect [of events at home and abroad]".

Whether pointing out that cohesion initiatives are likely to be so offset is side-stepping his argument is a matter of opinion.  For the record, I agree with Goodwin that some cohesion initiatives have been useful, but some have not.  In addition, some such initiatives have not been taxpayer-funded, and it would be interesting to know whether studies suggest that these have been any more or less effective than those that were.

Surveys and polling

Goodwin certainly doesn't give ground on this second point.  He says that it would be mistaken "to rely heavily on this type of evidence" (polls).  This is because "sometimes...they rely on small samples and introduce the risk of over-representing specific types of people".  They also "sometimes ask misleading questions and fail to compare groups facing similar situations and grievances".

The nub of his case, however, lies elsewhere.  He writes that "most Muslims happily agreed Islam is the most important thing in their life, AND that their primary loyalty rests with the British state, and that they belong to Islam AND Britain. For most, belonging to Islam and belonging to Britain was not a mutually exclusive choice".  The source for this claim is our old friend, the Citizenship Survey.  According to an analysis of it which he cites, "Religiosity among Muslims neither exacerbates their sense of alienation, nor acts as some kind of "replacement identity".

All this requires close examination.  Let's look first at the question of polls and reliability.

  • Goodwin is doubtless correct to say that polls sometimes ask misleading questions and rely on small samples, and that the Citizenship survey uses measures that are more established and consistent.  But it's worth noting that he prefaces what he writes about polls with "sometimes", and doesn't call the provenance of these three particular surveys into question.
  • It may also be worth noting that he's willing to cite the conclusions of the Populus poll which dovetail with his own.  This is the only poll for which I have background information, since it's contained in the relevant Policy Exchange report.  Populus conducted "a quantitative study of 1003 Muslims in the UK, through telephone and internet questionnaires".
  • It also interviewed 40 "semi-structured, hour-long interviews with younger British-born Muslims".  The report says that "this smaller sample was not intended to be demographically representative of the entire Muslim population, but it provided useful data about the complex attitudes of younger Muslims.  The respondents were either students or graduates, of either Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin.
  • The Citizenship Survey analysed "the attitudes of over 1700 Muslim respondents".  Statisticians will be able to advise whether there's a significant difference between these relatively small numbers (1700 and 1003).  Goodwin gives no reason to believe that the one was conducted with greater or less integrity than the other - more "established" and therefore "consistent" though the survey doubtless is.

Now let's turn to Britishness, identity, integration, cohesion and extremism.

  • In my view, Goodwin's key sentence is "religiosity among Muslims neither exacerbates their sense of alienation, nor acts as some kind of 'replacement identity' ".  There's certainly no reason in principle why "religiosity" - the practice of Islam, in this case - should do either of these things.  However, the sum of the opinion poll evidence which I cited suggests that in practice it does so in a significant minority of cases.  If Goodwin's arguing that these findings have been proved wrong, then I think he's a long way from establishing his case - which, remember, he's asserted strongly in both his articles, particularly the first.
  • This - to reiterate - is because he's relied to date on a single source, and indeed upon a single interpretation of that source.  The poll findings which I referred to dealt with such matters as attitudes to capital punishment for apostasy; women wearing the veil; Muslim women not marrying non-Muslims; Muslim women not marrying without the consent of their guardians; and homosexuality being made illegal.  It could perhaps be claimed that I, too, am relying heavily on a single source - but I've two other pieces of evidence to back up my case (as previously outlined).
  • Furthermore, other findings are available in relation to alienation and replacement identity - namely, the background of people sentenced for Al Qaeda-related terrorist offences.  I've looked at some cases on this site, although my sample is admittedly not a scientific one.  The Centre for Social Cohesion has published an analysis, which readers can study here.  I'm unaware of any convicted terrorist linked to Al Qaeda or similar groups who didn't follow what he believed to be Islam: that what he followed isn't Islam, as traditionally understood and practiced, doesn't remove this element of "religiosity".
  • Goodwin would surely point out that only a tiny minority of British Muslims support Al Qaeda.  I agree: the Populus study found the figure that "admired" AQ to be 7 per cent, and cast doubt on even that percentage when probing its composition.  However, this neither indicates that terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam aren't marked by religiosity, nor rebuts the other sharia-related polling that I refer to above.  So where does all this leave Goodwin's claim that "most Muslims happily agreed Islam is the most important thing in their life, AND that their primary loyalty rests with the British state, and that they belong to Islam AND Britain. For most, belonging to Islam and belonging to Britain was not a mutually exclusive choice"?
  • This question takes us to the heart of the matter.  Both Goodwin and the Populus poll agree that most Muslims identify with Britain rather than any other state, and with their fellow citizens rather than their co-religionists abroad.  However, the key word here may be "most": according to Populus, the percentage who don't so identify is 31 per cent - nearly a third of respondents.  Furthermore, identification with Britain tells us only a limited amount about integration and cohesion.  The tests to which Goodwin refers - whether Muslims trust institutions, feel that they belong to Britain, and feel they can influence decisions - reveal little, if anything, about their views on the relationship between sharia and law.  The long and short of it is that we don't have very much hard evidence on the matter - and measuring it is surely an important means of also measuring integration and cohesion: one at least as significant, I'd argue, as the tests that he cites.

I appreciate that the highways and byways of this debate are complex.  But the main point seems to me to be very simple.  Goodwin draws firm conclusions from a single piece of evidence.  I prefer to look at a wider range before reaching any at all.  Readers will decide for themselves which approach is preferable.


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