Misleading anti-Muslim Sun headline smears Daesh/ISIL opponents

By Savi Hensman
November 23, 2015

A Sun campaign stirring up fear and hatred of British Muslims has twisted survey results to cause alarm. A headline warned of “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”, accompanied by a photo of the killer ‘Jihadi John’ with a knife 

“Nearly one in five British Muslims has some sympathy with those who have fled the UK to fight for IS in Syria,” the newspaper claimed. “The number among young Muslims aged 18-34 is even higher at one in four.” But this is misleading.

Having sympathy for individuals who may be lured into extremism is not the same as sympathising with their cause. More seriously, the Sun lumped together those willing to die to oppose Daesh/ISIL with its sympathisers.

The findings of the survey carried out by Survation on behalf of the Sun, show a high level of identification with wider British society. Just three per cent of UK Muslims surveyed felt that it “is not important for British Muslims to integrate into British society.”

Of the Muslims surveyed, 71 per cent  said they had “no sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”,  five per cent had “a lot of sympathy” and 15 per cent had “some sympathy”.

Survation’s research director Patrick Brione stated, “Interestingly, when we polled the remainder of the British population in March, four per cent of non-Muslims expressed ‘a lot of sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria’ and nine per cent expressed ‘some sympathy’, suggesting that attitudes held by the Muslim and non-Muslim populations are not that different.”

Some of those who expressed sympathy may have felt sorry for those, often naive or struggling with personal problems, who are attracted to unacceptable causes. Others may have identified more with those going off to join the Kurds in fighting Daesh/ISIL.

Whether or not one believes that armed resistance by local communities is the best way to defend those at risk and eventually defeat Daesh/ISIL, it is hard to doubt the courage involved. Fighters, especially women, may be subjected to horrific mistreatment and death if they are captured.

Many who have taken this approach are committed anti-fascists who believe it is their duty to defend Christians, Yazidis and anyone else at risk, even if they are Muslims themselves. Some have tried to create enclaves of democracy, multiculturalism and respect for women’s rights, amidst despotism and stark oppression.

Numerous Kurds in Britain, and left-wingers from across the Middle East, understand the impulse which leads young people here to want to join this struggle in Syria, whether or not this is actually a good idea.

But the Sun, in an attempt to smear Muslims in general and sow fear and discord among neighbours, appears to be confusing them with Daesh/ISIL sympathisers.

Of course, it is alarming that there is a small minority of Muslims in the UK attracted to this ideology, which twists religion in the quest for power. It is important to counter this effectively, including avoiding foreign and domestic policy measures which play into the hands of recruiters for this cause.

However the Sun’s headline will only further the agenda of the Paris attackers, who wanted people to live in fear and communities to turn against one another.

© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator of politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

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