Demos’ Flawed research Into ‘Islamophobia’ On Twitter
The ‘backlash narrative’ appears to be alive and well in Britain this week. As is common following the mass slaughter of mostly non-Muslims by Muslims in Europe, we are asked to consider just how bad a time this will create for the real victims here – Muslims. This callous self interest is particularly nauseating, given it often begins whilst the bodies are still warm.
It’s especially unpleasant given the greatest threats to British Muslims appear to come from their own communities – murder, ‘honour killings’, FGM, forced marriages, grooming gangs, radicalisation, vote manipulation and so on.
It’s remarkable then, that some ‘think tanks’ and journalists would have us shift our attention away from the impressive Jihadi death toll of the last 2 years to focus on some of the mean things people are saying on the internet instead.
Online abuse is a deeply unpleasant reality of course, and I will always oppose such behaviour. My opposition also holds hands with the notion that were we to collectively develop thicker skin where our digital domains are concerned, trolls and abusers would lose their power.
I’m incredibly suspicious of reports banding about the term ‘Islamophobia’ – and for good reason too. ‘Islamophobia’ is a popular neologism with an elusive definition. Nothing I’ve heard about it has convinced it is anything but a meme to silence criticism of Islam.
I’ve previously reported ‘Tell Mama’s attempt to pull the Islamowool over our eyes with some highly dishonest data in this area. I’ve also reported on the Metropolitan Police’s vague, and frankly bizarre criteria for logging ‘Islamophobic hate crimes’
So, who’s up next to rain on our shoes and tell us it’s pissing?
That would be the ‘think tank’ Demos, which has contributed research to a Channel 4 documentary titled ‘Racist Britain’. Their findings have received vast, unquestioning coverage from the BBC today. You can watch an example of ‘Islamophobia’ in action from a report by BBC’s Catrin Nye on these latest figures:
A man interrupts an interview I’m doing about Islamophobia…with Islamophobia. My new story on rising Twitter abusehttps://t.co/ppDq8dUn9t
— Catrin Nye (@CatrinNye) 18 August 2016
Islamophobic is one way of describing this ‘meeting of minds’ I suppose. Another may be “Muslim woman confronts and shouts at a man holding different views with zero repercussions whatsoever”. I’m obviously very glad about the latter part, but you do wonder where on earth she may find an Islamic culture that affords her the same freedom and protection of law. But the right to express criticism openly and passionately has become a one way street where the religion of peace is concerned.
Demos released details of their methodology for categorising instances of ‘online Islamophobia’, which you can read in full here. A quick glance reveals some glaring problems almost immediately. Thankfully, Benjamin Jones, Communications officer at the National Secular Society has done a fantastic job of getting to the crux of the problem. I urge you to read his piece in full, but I will reproduce a chunk of it here:
In their report Demos selects some tweets it included in the study, which they presumably think are good examples of their methodology in action. A tweet stating “Morocco deletes a whole section of the Koran from school curriculum as it’s full of jihad incitement and violence The Religion of peace” is treated the same way as a tweet saying “I fucking hate pakis” in their methodology.
One of these tweets criticises an idea. The other is racist. One describes and mocks a belief system, the other (verbally) attacks people. Demos’ methodology treats both of these tweets in the same way.
I have read (an English translation of) the Koran. Saying it contains violence (it does) is in no way comparable to using racist language.
This is an appalling conflation, which creates a false moral equivalence between racism and criticising a set of ideas.
Another tweet Demos offer as an example reads: “Priest killed in #Normandy today by a Radical Islamic Terrorist yet Hillary says that Islam is peaceful! 1274 attacks this year=peaceful? Ok.”
Is asserting that Islam doesn’t seem to be conducive to peace really ‘Islamophobic’?
The BBC apes Demos’ dangerous line, referring not to anti-Muslim, but explicitly to “anti-Islamic” tweets as ‘Islamophobic’.
The Demos research says that anti-Islamic ideas are “possibly socially problematic and damaging.”
Wanting to jail homosexuals might also be “socially problematic”, but pointing out that half of British Muslims do want to criminalise homosexuality and most think it is immoral would have me labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ under Demos’ methodology.
And just what are “anti-Islamic ideas”? For many orthodox Muslims and the overwhelming majority of Muslim states, anti-Islamic ideas include apostasy, equality for women and the right to be gay.
Demos is being foolish in including such a vague concept in their methodology. Under their methodology a Pakistani ex-Muslim living in fear for their life who tweeted in English (for instance) “Islam is oppressive” would be labelled an ‘Islamophobe’.
And how subjective is Demos’ research?
In the methodology section of their paper Demos say “An Islamophobic expression was defined as the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.” I would prefer that was labelled ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’, but this alone would be among the least bad definitions of ‘Islamophobia’ you could devise. But Demos go on: “Islamophobia can take on a very large number of different forms, and its identification, especially within Twitter research, was often challenging.”
Here we get to the nub of the Islamophobia con. It is “challenging” to identify and takes a “very large number of different forms” because ‘Islamophobia’ is a nonsense term which accumulates bigotry and threats of violence, with criticism of a religion and a set of ideas; ideas which have no rights whatsoever and which must never be protected in law and ought not to be protected by social convention.
Anti-Muslim bigotry and criticism of Islam are separate phenomenon, they may overlap, there are some who engage in both, but it is methodologically meaningless to consider both of these things in one term. That is why Demos’ researchers found ‘Islamophobia’ “challenging” to define.
What they have produced is therefore subjective, as Demos admit: “Ultimately, this research comes down to the judgement of the researchers involved.”
Demos argue that Islamic terror attacks drive ‘Islamophobic’ tweets. Perhaps challenging Islamism would therefore be a good place to start if you want to cut anti-Muslim bigotry off at the source?
The implications of this term’s use are very unsettling. The moral equivalence that is being drawn, increasingly, between abuse against Muslims, and the robust criticism of an idea (Islam), poses an immense threat to freedom of speech.
Muslims and Islam are not the same thing. Hating all Muslims is bigotry; criticising Islam is not. You can say whatever you like, however sharp, rude or inaccurate about an idea. There is no such thing as libel against an idea.
The National Secular Society was instrumental in abolishing the vestigial blasphemy law in this country, but now I fear that our culture is returning to the legal protection of ideas, and Islam specifically. Ideas have no rights, nor any entitlement to be treated with respect. Yet influenced by American campuses and elite sensitivity to something called ‘Islamophobia’, that is the way our wider culture moves.
I’ve previously condemned increases in racism attributed to the EU Referendum result and I intend to stand in between acts of anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamic theocracy and say I’ll tolerate neither. All this research has done however is blur the line between people and ideas, criticism and bigotry. This is not conducive to an open, progressive society and further fuels public fear.