So Pew Centre came out with this report. The title alone was enticing enough to create ample buzz on social media. At least 20 of my contacts shared it claiming it to be awfully interesting and insightful. Well, not so much… unless you consider reinforcement of every possible stereotype about Muslims as “insightful”. It isn’t the first time Pew has come out with something vaguely resembling a hastily put together Wikipedia article. The thinly veiled racism and next to no understanding of religious dynamics has helped Pew put together a report that is both dramatic and unsubstantiated . In other words, hardly credible.
But no, I am getting ahead of myself. In order to ensure we use the Pew methodology properly to help other aspirants to the throne of untrustworthy data, I will go ahead and describe the three crucial steps needed to make sure no one trusts you or your data again.
Step One: Choose your Sample based on your convenience:
The report declares “This report includes data on every nation with a Muslim population of more than 10 million except Algeria, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen”. We don’t know why these countries were not included but we know that there are more than 200 million Muslims in India and Saudi Arabia alone, and interestingly enough these are two of the most important countries when it comes to polarized religious views, with India being on the moderate end of the spectrum and KSA being on the other. Yet, Pew chose to not include these and many others without reason. Another major demographic not covered in the report is Muslims living in western countries. Again, no reason even though it would realistically be the easiest to gather data from; given there would be little language and facilitation barriers. When you come out with a report that is meant to portray muslim views, wont it make sense to select a sample that is representative of Muslims from not only the major Muslim countries but also the ones living abroad…. or does that make them less of a Muslim? or perhaps a more suitable title for the report would have been:
Muslims living in semi-literal, Taliban-infested, poverty-ridden Muslim countries’ views about their wretched political and societal conditions
Step Two: Ask Obvious Questions and Act Surprised at the Answers
What is the likely response if you ask a Buddhist the following question:
“Please tell me whether you personally believe that it is morally acceptable, morally wrong, or is it not a moral issue: Capital Punishment”
And even though some Buddhist countries still have Capital Punishment, the religion itself has strong views against it. When you ask an individual who identifies himself with a certain religion, things that are explicitly forbidden in his religion, you can only expect a certain type of answer. Would you expect a Christian to say he doesn’t believe in Jesus? Would you even ask that question? If not, then why would you ask a Muslim if he thinks alcohol, prostitution, homosexuality etc. are OK or not, when all these are explicitly forbidden in Quran, the holy book of Muslims.
Step Three: Make illogical irrelevant conclusions
In his Washington Post piece about the report, Max Fisher points out,
The findings here do not represent all Muslims; just as they show diversity of opinion between communities, so, too, is there diversity within communities. After all, a poll of all American Christians would not capture the differences between Baptists and Catholics, much less between New Jersey Catholics and Louisiana Catholics. There is, in other words, no such thing as a monolithic Muslim worldview
I would take it one step further and say that a lot of the findings about political and social views are not driven by religion but by that specific country’s situation. The political turmoil Pakistan has faced since its formation more than 60 years ago, with democratic governments being overthrown by military over and over again, it would be fair to assume that people would be looking for stability rather than something fancy like democracy. Situation in Palestine territories favoring suicide bombing isn’t because they have a different more intolerant brand of Islam, it is because they are faced with the reality of bombing and shelling every day of their lives. Are these views influenced by their religion? No they aren’t. Just as 62% of Americans endorsing attack on Iraq after 9/11 was not a matter of religious beliefs. In other words, it aint the religion, dude!
Can we also take a moment to dwell on the way these questions are worded. Case in point:
Q89. Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against Civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies… Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is….
When it comes to leading questions, it doesn’t get any better than this.
For more detail and more gems like these, check out the full report.