Thursday, 15 December 2011

British Muslims and the politics of patriotism

This is a guest post by LibertyPhile.

The Daily Mail ran “Muslims 'are more patriotic than most British people'” The Sunday Times said “Muslim's prove to be Britain's greatest flag wavers”. And the Daily Star shouted “MUSLIMS TOP PRIDE CHARTS”.

All this sprung from survey results published in November by Demos, a think-tank that claims to be “focused on power and politics”.

If you visit the Demos website press release that was issued with the publication of the report, A Place for Pride, you will find the following:

One of the press releases …. made reference to the fact that 83 per cent of Muslims covered by the poll responded that they were 'proud to be a British citizen', comparing that figure to a baseline - drawn from the whole sample [of 2086 British people] - of 79 per cent. This aspect of the Demos report was widely reported in the press.

It should be noted, however, that the sample size for British Muslims was relatively small, just 48 people, and it is questionable whether confident statements can be made on that basis about one group being more proud of their British identity than another.

48 Muslims! Anyone with any knowledge of statistics or market research will cringe at this. Even people with a modicum of common sense might do the same.

Comparing 83% of 48 with 79% of 2086 is statistical nonsense. And statistics apart, there is the enormous difficulty of recruiting representative samples which Demos doesn’t mention. Exactly how representative of the British Muslim population might these 48 be!

Based on my personal experience of Muslims I am willing to believe that most of my Muslim fellow British citizens are as patriotic and as proud of their country as the next man.

There will be differences - different understandings of patriotism, and pride in one’s country, and people will come to it in different ways.

Various factors play a part. History is important for some; your country’s achievements, what earlier generations endured and came through, what individuals did. The character of its people and their social mores may be important. You can also be proud of your country because it is a decent place to live here and now.

And there is no reason why two citizens of equal patriotism, pride in their country, cannot still hold starkly different views on good and bad behaviour and what is best for their country.

The Demos report is all about patriotism and the role of personal and national pride and the “misreporting” concerning Muslims is a minor feature.

A more interesting result is 88 per cent of Anglicans (and Jews) agreed that they were “proud to be a British citizen” alongside 84 per cent of non-conformists (and the 83 per cent of Muslims already mentioned) compared with 79 per cent for the population as a whole (p39). One assumes there were more than 48 Anglicans. It is a fact that religious people are more likely that non-believers to be proud of their country.

It is a tedious read (a 90 page pamphlet!) but you can also hear one of the authors, Max Wind-Cowie, and Telegraph columnist Charles Moore discuss some of the issues here.

Amongst a range of findings which the report itself admits “your granny could have told you” and opinions, it criticises what it believes is the right wing attitude to patriotism.

…. the right’s pantheon of patriotism is largely determined by a narrow, historical and sometimes mythological set of beliefs about Britain, which are unbendable, unchanging and increasingly inaccessible. The royal family, spitfires, the Houses of Parliament and the Union Jack …. (p76)

Those on the right have insisted that people attach their pride to a set of institutions and persons that are less and less relevant to people’s experience of Britain or to the sources of their everyday pride. (p79)

This isn’t the result of dodgy sample analysis, it is the prejudice of the authors.

They should have specifically surveyed right wingers. They might have found that where symbols are concerned they symbolise something, more often than not what people have done, those spitfire pilots for example.

Indeed, the research for the report shows what people do is of paramount importance. Behaviours and actions make people feel proud of their community or country; volunteering, for example.

I didn’t know until I read this report that the British are among the most likely people in the world to give up our time to volunteer. We have significantly higher levels of social action – and a greater independent charitable sector – than most European countries.

They quote one respondent saying “When you ask about what’s best about being British I think of all the people that give up their time to help other people, or to do good things in the community. That’s what makes me proud of this country.”

Also on the positive side the report makes some useful recommendations highlighting the importance of oral history, what older people have to tell children about their experiences of events. Though one’s enthusiasm for what Demos have in mind is somewhat blunted by the examples they give.

My grandson, he doesn’t know anything really about my life. The Miner’s Strike, the Winter of Discontent, even the referendum on Europe – he’s never been taught about any of it. Ask him about the Victorians and he could tell you though. (p56)

The research work for the pamphlet, the poll of 2080 citizens and an (unspecified) number of focus groups, produced several findings which Demos have not publicised, though in the body of the text they say “This is a worrying set of results”.

They concern integration and the poll result that “Only two in five people believe ‘immigration contributes to Britain’s culture’.

…. they too [the focus groups] highlighted genuinely held concern that local and national pride are being damaged by mass immigration and, particularly, by a perceived failure of arrivals to fully integrate into British life and the communities to which they move. (p30)

British people associate their pride heavily with actions and behaviours rather than with esoteric concepts …. social action, common manners and customs are vital to British people understanding and celebrating their communities and national sense of self: the perceived lack of integration among migrant communities therefore is a real threat to collective pride: (p32)

In a report summary Demos say “…. patriotism does not, and should not, come from either top-down narratives about Queen and country nor from so-called ‘progressive’ notions based on values.” Demos seem to have mixed feelings about values.

But, values do come in to it. The report reveals “82 per cent of respondents agreed that the naturalisation process should include a ‘values test’. Our qualitative research reinforced this. …. Far more important, they argued, was that the [citizen] test should ensure a person shared British values and was involved in British society. (p53/54)

Regarding integration and values we can return to those headlines at the beginning. The Gallup Coexist 2009 survey is quoted by some sources some sources as confirming them. The Gallup survey is based on a sample of 500 British Muslims, not an enormous number but a big improvement on Demos. Gallup also interviewed 1000 non-Muslims. It did similar Muslim non-Muslim surveys in France and Germany

The Gallup survey claims 80% of British Muslims are loyal. It doesn’t define or explain what is meant by loyalty. Patriotism, pride in one’s country, may or may not have been a factor. It comes up with other, quite specific, results too, that show there are serious differences between many British Muslims and their fellow citizens.

Even though hiding your face in public is considered rude unless you are ill, in mourning or it’s very cold, British Muslims don’t care. See here. Only 12% think not wearing the veil is a necessary condition of integration. For French and German Muslims, 32% and 29% see it as necessary.

British Muslims show less respect for other religions than Muslims in France and Germany. See here. Almost 80% of German Muslims strongly agree that they respect other religions but only 50% of British Muslims feel the same.

There is a striking difference between British Muslims and the British public over freedom of speech. See here. Only 9% of British Muslims agree that integration means accepting public comments they perceive as offensive about their faith.

British Muslims are the least integrated in Europe. See here. Using a battery of related questions Gallup determined that only 10% of British Muslims are “integrated”. Gallup give a definition of integration. In France and Germany Gallup found 46% and 35% of Muslims respectively are integrated.

Who’s proud of this?!