British Muslims most patriotic in Europe – Misleading Headlines and Unreliable Market Research!

A statistic from the Open Society Institute’s Report on 11 EU Cities recently hit the headlines. [The Institute is funded by George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist.]

UK Muslims are Europe’s most patriotic said The Sunday Times on 13 December. “….. on average 78% of Muslims identified themselves as British, although this dropped by six points in east London.”

The Telegraph had something similar Muslims in Britain are the most patriotic in Europe according to a new study

It also allowed a least one commentator to conclude that multi-culturalism British style really works and we need more of it.

Pickled Politics told us New poll shows why multi-culturalism works “…. The study and report is a slap in the face for right-wing dogma …. it shows that Britain’s relaxed attitude to differences in religion and culture has made British Muslims more likely to identify with this country and be proud of the liberal traditions they live in ….

Nevermind the fact that the statistic is highly suspect and the claims based on it very dubious. Remarkably, even the authors of the report themselves say that the findings are not representative. And the report examines neither patriotism nor liberal attitudes as its purpose and coverage is something else altogether.

See below for a professional appraisal of the survey research behind this report.

The statistic was one very small item in a 327 page report that covers Cohesion, Belonging, Discrimination and Interactions, Education, Employment, Neighbourhood and Housing, Health Care, Policing and Security, Civic and Political Participation, Media.

The full report looks suspiciously like the fulfilment of a political agenda, picking and choosing from existing research and literature, and the market research with its many faults as a device to give the results and conclusions the appearance of objectivity.

The initiative of which the report is part states “The At Home in Europe Project …. works to advance and promote the integration of minority groups in Western Europe. ….” So far, so good. It goes on to say:

“…. there is …. increasing acknowledgment of the prejudice Muslims experience and the social and economic disadvantages they suffer. This complex situation presents Europe with one of its greatest challenges: how to effectively ensure equal rights and social cohesion in a climate of ….. rapidly expanding diversity.”

The assumption here is that Europe has to do something, that Europe has to change its ways.

The Open Society Institute should consider using some of Mr Soros’ generous funding to do a report telling Muslims how they should change.

That they might experience prejudice and feel victimised in Europe because Europeans find their behaviour and ideas objectionable. Face veils are not liked. You only cover your face in Europe if you are unwell, cold, or in mourning. Otherwise covering your face means you want to hide your true feelings and it is very rude.

Religious freedom is important to Europeans and the use or threat of violence to enforce religion on people or to protect religious beliefs went out of practice in Europe a long time ago. You have to put up with people saying things about your religion even ridiculing it which you find objectionable, and men and women really are equal, to name just a few of the topics that cause friction between Muslims and Europeans.

And, if you want to be respected it won’t be because of your religion but rather your behaviour and achievements as human beings.

The press headlines are careless journalism and smack of wholesale swallowing of press releases. Pickled Politics are seizing on something with little examination because it suits their view of how the world should be.

But in any case it is academic whether it is 60 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent of Muslims in Britain who see themselves as British (whatever that means and which most definitely could exclude patriotism and pride in liberal traditions).

It is abundantly clear to anyone who has their eyes open, reads the press or watches TV, that there are a lot of Muslims, a very large number, one in five, or one in four, or one in three, who live in Britain who do not wish to be British, except to the extent that it provides a safe place to live and has a good public health service, and who are doing all they can to recreate the societies of their forebears or homelands and propagate beliefs and practices alien to Britain.

A much more useful report would be one on the Muslim publicists and representatives that we hear all the time promoting, demanding, and excusing, all those things that make Muslims aliens to Britain even though they live here. A sad fact is there are very few Muslim publicists working in the opposite sense.

What do the 200 British Muslims people in this survey (that is the number of British interviews, 100 in Leicester and 100 in Waltham Forest, in this European project) think of the views of Dr Suhaib Hasan, the Secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain and a member of the senior panel of imams at Regent’s Park Mosque in London, who says:

“…. sharia says authority must be with the man to maintain the house. The woman’s duties ….. lie with the cleaning and childcare.” “…. In matters of divorce, the right of ending a marriage lies with the man because ‘women have emotions, whereas a man thinks first before he speaks”. See here

It would be interesting to know what they think of Sarfraz Sarwar, leader of the Basildon Islamic Centre in Essex. “Mr Sarwar’s …. suggestion is to adapt the ‘three strikes’ policy on crime. Instead of being jailed on the third conviction, a criminal could face having a hand chopped off.”

“That would fit in with the way of life here. I’m not being extreme. This has to be used in moderation, for serious crimes, not petty robbery. ….”

What do they think of Faisal Siddiqi, founder of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal a British Muslim parallel justice system whereby men inherit twice what women inherit, it’s more difficult for a woman to get a divorce than a man, and a Muslim man who assaults his wife can go on an anger management course, who says the British media are obsessed with beheadings and other extreme punishments? “They constitute only 10% of sharia” he says! See here

Another leading light of British Muslim opinion is Inayat Bunglawala, the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, who says that stoning to death for adultery is acceptable in a country where people choose that as the law. See here

Mr Bunglawala’s erstwhile boss, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, is famous for saying death was too easy for Salman Rushdie. His present boss thinks arranged marriages are a good idea and we should have them in Britain.

And how many of those Muslims in Leicester and Waltham Forest agree with the explanation of why a woman’s evidence is worth less than that of a man given on the UK based Islamic Sharia Council website? See here

And what would they say about the stories behind these (accurate) headlines:

Christians face trial for criticising IslamCan a Muslim say happy Christmas to his friends?Teachers upset at Muslim woman who doesn’t shake handsBurkini swimmers want men to leave poolDentist ordered two women to wear head scarves before he would see themMuslim student, 18, banned from college because she refuses to remove her burkhaReport denounces ‘destructive’ polygamy

The Open Society Institute carried out not only a sub-standard survey but the wrong survey.

Research Appraisal – How Reliable are the Survey Results?

The quoted UK press headlines and articles are based on a survey organised by the Open Society Institute. How much credence can we give to these claims and this survey?

The full Open Society Institute Report on 11 EU Cities, including the survey methodology and questionnaire, can be downloaded from here

(1) Extremely small sample sizes

These UK claims are based on 100 “in-depth” interviews with Muslims in Leicester and 100 in Waltham Forest, east London.

This is an extremely small sample for any kind of statistical claim. We see all the time how surveys considerably larger than this (1000+) can produce a false picture. The polls predicting a Swiss vote against a ban on minarets is a recent case in point. The result was significantly in the other direction.

And any bias or misrepresentation in the sample can dramatically mislead.

(2) Biased sample

It is not clear what the sample represents. The questionnaire raises numerous issues over how it worked in practice and a complex and difficult questionnaire is likely to have biased the sampling.

The questionnaire contains seven sections(Note A) over 24 closely printed pages and asks altogether 98 questions. This is an enormous questionnaire. Many of the questions demand prodigious feats of memory recall and mental concentration.

It is usual in market research when recruiting respondents to tell them before they agree to be interviewed how long a questionnaire is going to last, after all they are giving up their time at no benefit to themselves. And, the interviewer doesn’t want them walking out half way through. This questionnaire probably took at least 1 hour and may have stretched to 2 hours. It would be extremely difficult to recruit even a very small sample of 200 (100 Muslims and 100 non-Muslims in each city).

It is not what you would expect the common man (or woman) to cope with or put up with. It also seems designed for well informed and educated people though they are equally put off by long questionnaires and irritated by impractical, vague or demanding questions. See the example questions below.(Note B)

You also sometimes get bored or lonely people with time on their hands who are happy to chat with an interviewer, but this doesn’t help sample representativeness either.

It is also possible that interviewers when faced with an enormous, badly designed and onerous questionnaire recruit people who are friends or acquaintances or people they know to be interested in the subject or have a stake in it. They are not typical and are biased in some way. Sample representativeness takes another bashing.

(3) The meaning of the relevant questions and the quality of the answers

Only two of the questions out of the total 98 in the questionnaire directly addressed the Britishness issue. In huge multi-topic questionnaires like this any one topic is likely to get only the most cursory attention.

There is clearly little time for the interviewer to explain what is meant by the question, even if he or she does that, and little time for the respondent to give a considered answer in line with what the question really meant.

The first question [D6] simply asked “How strongly do you feel you belong to this country?”

Very strongly
Fairly strongly
Not very strongly
Not at all strongly
Don’t know

This was third in a section of three questions the other two asking “How strongly do you feel you belong to your local area?” and “How strongly do you feel you belong to this city?”

The other and more relevant question [D9] asked “Do you see yourself as [British, French, etc.]?” [This question is asking for cultural identification with society rather than legal status]


The respondent could answer only yes or no.

It is not clear if the phrase in brackets was consistently read out or made clear. The fact that it is brackets implies that it is a note to the interviewer rather than something automatically read out or explained to the respondent.

Given the need to complete a very long questionnaire with very difficult and demanding questions the interviewer was probably under considerable pressure to do get through questions as quickly as possible.

The write up on this section in the report (p73-75) uses two distinct terms interchangeably, “see themselves as nationals” and “cultural identification” implying uncertainty as to what the answers meant.

There is no mention of ideas such as “patriotism” or “liberal traditions”.

(4) The Open Society Institute’s own description of the survey methodology

The Open Society Institute themselves admit that all is not well with the research fieldwork. They say:

“The fieldwork consisted of 200 in-depth, face-to-face interviews with local residents in each city (100 Muslim and 100 non-Muslim). These questionnaires were then elaborated upon in six focus groups held in each city of local Muslim residents. ….”

“….The questionnaires and focus groups were facilitated by local researchers and research coordinators. The latter were responsible for identifying respondents for the questionnaires and participants for the focus groups, together with a team of interviewers composed of people from different ethnic groups and with varied language proficiency.”

There are limitations to the research, including:

• recognition that questions answered may be affected by differing understandings of the question (efforts were made to ensure that this was kept at a minimum by translating the questionnaire verbally and ensuring that the interviewer spoke the first language of the respondent);

• an awareness that the sampling method means that respondents are not wholly representative of the population.

The findings contained in this report are not intended to be taken as a comprehensive reflection of the Muslim population and their concerns in these 11 cities. They should be viewed as a snapshot of the diversity and opinions of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims through their concerns and experiences as residents of urban neighbourhoods in the EU. [Emphasis added]

This last paragraph is really nonsense. It looks like an attempt to salvage something from a bad job.

(5) Experience and objectivity of the survey fieldwork organisations

The fieldwork and reporting were carried out by “city teams” of local researchers and co-ordinators from local organisations. They are listed on p5 in the acknowledgements section of the report.

No professional research or survey organisations with the experience and resources for recruiting representative samples and designing practical questionnaires were involved.

The organisations doing the work in the UK were (a) the Policy Research Centre, based at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, whose slogan is “Shaping policy through critical thinking and analysis”, (b) the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), whose slogan is “Challenging Ideas, Changing Policy” and (c) the Faith Regen Foundation, an Islamic charitable organisation concerned with social issues.

It is hard to believe that these organisations were neutral and didn’t interview people who they had contacts with and who would be biased.

(6) Other factors

The survey mainly ignores the differences in attitudes to nationality, belonging, and cultural identification, that might be caused by demographic, historical, geographic and constitutional factors.

For example, a large proportion of German Muslim “guest workers” do not have German citizenship, many French Muslims are from Algeria a neighbouring country to France, and Marseilles to Algiers is a relatively short journey for people to keep in touch with relatives. British Muslims in Leicester are also close to being a majority in that city and this might have some influence on them feeling that they belong there.

(7) Result does not agree with research from other organisations

Pew Research, a US organisation that regularly carries out international surveys of Muslims, asked in its 2007 Global Study “Do you think of yourself as Muslim first not American / British / French/ German / Spanish ….” 81 percent of British Muslims thought of themselves as Muslim first. The results are summarised in the following table.

Muslims in Country % who think of themself as Muslim first
UK 81
Spain 69
Germany 66
United States 47
France 46

Pew Research explain in detail the steps they take to ensure their samples are representative.

It would be interesting to know the Open Society Institute’s explanation of this stark difference with their result.


(A) Subjects covered by survey

The survey questionnaire was divided into sections covering Neighbourhood Characteristics (10 questions), Identity and Belonging (13), Social Interactions (7), Participation and Citizenship (11), Experience of Local Services (24), Discrimination and Prejudice (13), and Demographics (20).

(B) Demanding and difficult questions

Most of us will be familiar with the type of question that presents a short list of usually no more than five items which we have to choose from or rate in some way. In some cases the respondent might be given a card listing the items rather than have them read out. Taking in five items can be difficult especially if they are sprung on the respondent who might not think in those terms or need time to reflect.

Question D1 asks respondents to select and put in order the five items that they consider the most important from a list of 13 items. [emphasis added]

“Suppose you were describing yourself, which of the following would say something important about you? Please identify five options in order of importance, where number one is the most important”

Your family
The kind of work you do
Your age and life stage
Your interests
Your level of education
Your nationality
Your gender
your level of income
Your religion
Your social class
Your ethnic group or cultural background
The colour of your skin
Any disability you may have

Get someone to read out that list to you (or to give you a card with that list and you to study it), see how long it takes, and how able you are to select 5 items and put them in order of importance.

Good questionnaire design would require that the order of the list is varied as items at the top of a list might get more attention than those at the bottom.

Another question apart form requiring enormous patience on the part of the respondent to try giving an answer, requires that they have computer-like mental abilities to remember and analyse what they do.

Question E1 asks “In the last year, how often, if at all, have you met and talked with people from a different ethnic group to yourself, in the following places?”

At your home/their home
At school, work or college
Sport leisure activity
Socially outside work/school
Child’s crèche, school, nursery
Street markets
Place of worship or other religious centre
Community centre
Health clinic, hospital
On public transport
Park, out door space
Neighbourhood group
Youth group
Educational evening class
Other [specify]

And for each of those places the respondent was asked to say whether the communication was:

At least weekly
At least monthly
At least once a year
Not at all
Don’t know

This question would seem designed for people with remarkable memories and powers of observation, a few per cent of the population if that!