‘Our findings will shock many people,’ promised Trevor Phillips at the beginning of What British Muslims Really Think (Channel 4, Wednesday).
But the depressing thing is that I doubt they will, actually. I think the general British public have known for some time what Phillips’s documentary professed to find surprising: that large numbers of Muslims don’t want to integrate, that their views aren’t remotely enlightened, and that more than a few of them sympathise with terrorism. It’s only the establishment elite that has ever pretended otherwise.
As former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips was very much part of that elite. He commissioned the 1997 Runnymede report that popularised the word ‘Islamophobia’. The fact that so impeccably liberal a figure is now issuing a mea culpa like this speaks volumes about how dire the situation has grown. ‘Everyone who has pinned their hopes on the rise of reforming and liberal British Muslim voices are in for a disappointment,’ said Phillips. ‘These voices are nowhere near as numerous as they need to be to make an impact.
Here are the stats to prove it: 52 per cent of Britain’s three million Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal; 39 per cent think a woman should always obey her husband; 18 per cent sympathise with people who take part in violence against those who mock the Prophet; 4 per cent — that equates to about 100,000 Muslims — have ‘sympathy for people who take part in suicide bombing to fight injustice’. Oh, and if any of them knew someone was involved in supporting terrorism in Syria, just one in three would report it to the police. The other two million, then, would keep schtum.
Normally the PC response to these surveys is to shoot the messenger, as the BBC and the Guardian and the usual dhimmi apologists did last year, when the Sun revealed that one in four British Muslims sympathised with the motives of the Charlie Hebdo killers. They’ll find it harder this time, not just because Phillips is black and probably reads the Guardian, but also because the survey was so thorough. It was conducted, face to face, by people of the same religion. And when it came to the really tricky question — the one about terrorism — a blank envelope was provided for the answer, so that respondents felt freer to say what they really thought.
There wasn’t much to disagree with in this brave and honest programme, except for the odd momentary lapse, as when Phillips said, of Islamophobia, ‘I’ve no doubt that most of it emanates from sheer blind prejudice.’ I doubt even he believes that excuse any more. It was just a legacy of the kind of language all public figures were pretty much forced to use about the Religion of Peace till quite recently — Cameron showing the way with that disingenuous speech about ‘moderate and reforming voices who speak for the vast majority of Muslims’.
Of course we’d all like to believe that stuff, but the truth just doesn’t accord with the fantasy. Take those 85 Sharia councils currently violating one of the most basic principles of English justice — equality before the law. Yes, we can cosily delude ourselves that they just deal with civil issues — marriage mainly — that can safely be regulated by religion. But can they? A Zurich professor called Elham Manea, herself a Muslim, had attended these courts and found them promoting a version of Islam as extreme as that practised in her native Yemen or by the Taliban, where women were treated as ‘minors in perpetual need of male guardianship’. How exactly does that accord with the legislation and practice of a country where men and women are supposed to have guaranteed equality?
Our solution up until now has been a kind of national cognitive dissonance — one where we all agree to pretend that Muslims are sweet, smiley and integrated, like lovely Nadiya from Great British Bake Off and that her fellow Lutonians — the 7/7 suicide bombers — have, as the weasel phrase has it, ‘nothing to do with Islam’.
It’s not easy, though, and getting harder — as we saw on this week’s The Island with Bear Grylls (Channel 4, Mondays). I don’t doubt the producers were overjoyed when they managed to recruit their first Muslim castaway — Bradford body-builder Rizwan Shabir. But any hopes of a male Nadiya vanished this week when he quit, pleading an inability to cope with ‘living with women who are half-naked’.
Hmm. Seems to me that even before the men encountered the women, he was struggling to integrate — or indeed pull his weight — and that persuading himself he was being a good Muslim was the perfect way of ducking out of more hardship at no cost to his ego.
I’ll leave the last word on this yawning cultural chasm to Noshaba Hussain, middle-aged former headmistress of Springfield Primary, one of the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham. A nine-year-old pupil had asked why she wasn’t wearing a headscarf, declaring, ‘Only slags don’t cover their heads.’ ‘This attitude is not acceptable in state schools in Britain,’ observed Ms Hussain. Well indeed. As Ray Honeyford was so maligned for telling us just 32 years ago.