Dear Rebecca and Caroline,
RE: What Muslims Really Think / Trevor Philips
I write this open letter wanting to express my gravest concerns about the stance taken by Trevor Philips; your former Chair of the EHRC in his feature documentary on the 14th of April on Channel 4 entitled ‘What Muslims Really Think’. As you know JUST West Yorkshire is a racial justice, civil liberties and human rights charity operating on the frontline in Yorkshire to promote racial justice, civil liberties and human rights for all people, including the Muslim community. This is a community that is facing unprecedented levels of hate, victimisation and marginalisation from mainstream media outlets and far right extreme groups.
A great deal of our work in the North is concentrated in areas that have significant Muslim populations, and we are extremely concerned that the portrayal of Muslims in this documentary will not only exacerbate Islamophobia, it will undermine the very fabric of community cohesion that we have worked so hard in developing. It is difficult to evaluate Trevor Philips intentions in why he would choose to single out a single faith group in a ‘them and us’ manner, without feeling this it is a deliberate attempt to create further inter-racial and inter-religious divides between the Muslim and wider community.
Our objections to the documentary are based on the following points:
1. We categorically reject Phillips’ presentation of Muslims in the documentary as it does not accord with our knowledge of the Muslim community we work with on a daily basis.
2. We are disappointed that while Trevor Philips has used his former credentials as the Chair of the EHRC to promote himself as an expert on race and ethnic minority issues, the organization itself has failed to distance itself from Mr. Philips comments or expressed views of the Muslim community;
3. Nor has the EHRC expressed any view about the detrimental impact of the documentary on ethnic minorities and particularly the Muslim communities that are covered by the Equalities Act 2010 as protected groups.
4. As a Charity that proactively promotes racial justice, civil liberties and human rights we would strongly encourage the EHRC to frame a public response expressing their concern about the potential detrimental impact of the documentary as a result of this skewed poll.
5. The Channel 4 programme implies that the poll is the largest about British Muslim attitudes, a claim that is clearly untrue (the British Election Study, Understanding Society and Citizenship Survey all had more – and more representative British Muslims in their samples). Those surveys also covered a much wider range of questions and topics about ‘integration’ compared to the Channel 4 programme’s poll.
6. In selling the results of the poll, Phillips claims this is British Muslims speaking for themselves. But all he seems to have done is discard nuance and appeal to the prejudices of viewers. Of course there are real concerns within faith communities in general, whether related to sexuality or family issues. According to Linda Woodhead, professor of religion at Lancaster University, all those who believe in God are more likely to have conservative views on homosexuality. This corroborates another YouGov poll, which shows that evangelical Christians are more likely than Muslims to say same-sex marriage was wrong.
7. More fundamentally we believe that the methodology used in the questionnaire by the ICM pollsters is deeply flawed and we agree with Dr Zubaida Haque (a research analyst) who has pointed out, that the sample used for the survey Phillips based his program on is entirely non-representative of the demographics of the general British Muslim population.
8. From undertaking a deep review of the actual questions in the poll we have found them to be narrowly focused and unfortunately seemed to be designed to focus on the fundamental cultural differences (or even pathologies) of British Muslims, on eye-catching matters, and are hardly representative of the questions usually addressed in integration policy, or indeed in public opinion surveys generally.
9. Overall, there are about 58 questions (with many sub-questions) covering views about religion and Islamic views (some 70% of the questions); attitudes towards Jews (some 20% of the questions); and views about participation, belonging and representation in Britain (arguably important elements of integration?) – reflected in about 10% of the questions. And as well as the areas mentioned, the survey focusses on views towards homosexuality, polygamy, stoning of adulterers, the status of women in marriage and attitudes towards violence and terrorism.
10. This is a deliberately controversial list of “loaded” questions, based on a narrow religiously-focused view of what Muslims are perceived to care about.
11. There is nothing in this questionnaire about such topics such as the economy, education, immigration, the EU referendum, or discrimination and the poll is therefore obviously not focused on what ‘Muslims really think’, but instead on what the producers already believed Muslims thought, and which matters would get the most controversial headlines.
12. It is hard to believe that Philips (given his previous EHRC role) could even entertain the idea that stoning adulterers or polygamy is genuinely more important to any British Muslim than the economy or discrimination.
13. The only potential outcome of this biased programme will be more distance and misunderstanding between communities, rather than the ‘good relations’ that is part of the EHRC’s (and previously the CRE’s) public duty remit.
14. Philips claims to be interested in understanding what might be drawing British Muslims to violence and extremism. Yet the approach he takes—perfectly in line with the approach of western governments – is to present it as a problem of ideology: i.e. that there must be something inherent in Muslim values that leads them to reject a western way of life and turn to extremism. This ignores consistent survey results, which highlight that Muslims feel more British than the general White population.
Finally, can you please release under the Freedom of Information Act a full breakdown of complaints that you have received since the airing of this documentary, and the corporate response you have prepared either for Trevor Philips, or to be released as a corporate statement as per the statutory requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty on your organisation to have due regard to the three aims of the Equality Duty.
Chairperson JUST West Yorkshire