Why more than #1in5Muslims ridiculed the Sun’s ‘jihadi sympathy’ story

A comparison of the Sun's front page and the poll question.

For Mucahit Bilici, comedy offers the means to invert the distorting power of stereotypes. This is true for anyone who has experienced racism and Islamophobia.

This inversion reflects a recent Twitter trend that ridiculed the Sun’s claim that one in five Muslims has ‘sympathy for jihadis’. The hashtag #1in5Muslims also created a wider discussion about Islamophobia.

The polling company behind the Sun poll, Survation, faced criticisms for its methodological approach. It told the Guardian that it picked “1,500 Muslim surnames” from its database. Telephone interviews did not proceed until the individuals identified confirmed an Islamic belief.

Monday’s edition of the Sun had claimed that this sympathy extended to ISIS. But the poll did specify any group. It rather sought, in a simplistic and vague manner, to gauge ‘sympathy’ with Muslims who had joined fighters in Syria. Fighters could extend to other groups including anti-Assad forces and Kurdish groups.

The Sun’s political editor Tom Newton-Dunn wrote “if the poll reflected views across the country it would mean 500,000 have some support for jihadis“. To extend that logic, a Survation poll in March for Sky News asked the same question to non-Muslims. It found that 14 per cent had expressed ‘sympathy’. If that poll reflected national opinion it would mean that 8.47m ‘have some support for jihadis’.

Survation have distanced themselves from the Sun’s interpretation of their data.

As Maria Sobolewska notes, the language of polling is important. There’s a fundamental difference between emotional sympathy and ideological endorsement. That way, the bar becomes so low it renders it an almost pointless measure of opinion. What that sympathy means remains open to interpretation. This interpretative framework allowed the Sun’s Kelvin MacKenzie to write “Sympathy for firing a machine gun at point-blank range at unarmed innocent young people on a night out enjoying a band or a bite to eat?

MacKenzie then attempted to justify the rejection of refugees fleeing the competing totalitarian terrors of ISIS and Assad.  He used the poll data to justify rejecting any person from Turkey. That bizarre logic almost enters the realm of the paranoia around the conspiracy of Islamisation.

This framework also applies to the ComRes poll after the first Paris atrocities at the start of 2015. It found that 27 per cent of British Muslims ‘have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris’.  And the same problem emerged. Nigel Farage cited this information in a wider attack on British Muslim communities. The Ukip leader again reinforced the idea of a ‘fifth column’. This vague wording allows for a variety of interpretations. Even when 68 per cent of Muslims in the same poll rejected violence in the name of blasphemy. Even when 78 per cent found the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed deeply offensive.  Of the 1,000 British Muslims polled 94 per cent would report another Muslim to the police if they planned acts of violence.

Without a comparative poll the vague framework allows individuals to believe the best and worst of British Muslims. Some do justify violence. A great majority do not. Opinion polls have value when done right. And the above  have shown some obvious flaws. For the Sun newspaper, however, this front page has registered record complaints to press regulator Ipso.