Church bells, statistics and silence

1903933714At noon today, I was in a church in north Oxford taking part in our Oxford Centre seminar on blasphemy, freedom of the press and the digital age. It was a natural place to hear the bells chime in the stone steeple high overhead, while also hearing other church bells in the surrounding neighborhood. All of England was supposed to stop for two minutes of silence at noon. Since we were in a church, it was natural for prayers to be said. But the silence was what united this nation, on this particular day. There are so many questions to remain unanswered and many questions that the British are struggling to ask.

The newspapers here -- local and national -- are packed with 7/7 stories covering every possible angle, including some of the obvious religious questions. There are personal stories and policy stories.

But as I walk past the news racks each day, the headlines capturing my eyes have been the ones about this nation's very concept of itself and, of course, how this relates to the powerful Muslim minority in this land. Thus, the story from this week that I will remember is the Times report -- reports, actually -- growing out of its national research into the attitudes of the modern British, both Muslim and, well, infidel.

Yes, that is a strong word, but read this lead and see what you think:

A significant minority of British Muslims believe they are at war with the rest of society, the largest poll of Muslims in this country suggests. The Populus survey for The Times and ITV News has found that more than one in ten thinks that the men who carried out the London bombings of 7/7 should be regarded as "martyrs." Sixteen per cent of British Muslims, equivalent to more than 150,000 adults, believe that while the attacks were wrong, the cause was right.

But the poll also revealed a stark gulf between this group and the majority of British Muslims, who want the Government to take tougher measures against extremists within their community.

And there you have it -- the reality of the multiple Islams. Which has the accurate theological perspective? Which represents the global Muslim majority? How are their views about the bombings linked to their religious beliefs? And so forth and so on. Read the Times reports if you want to know more. There is no way around the fact that one in 10 (13 percent, actually) is a number that people have to take seriously.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said as much, shortly before the 7/7 anniversary.

Speaking ahead of Friday's anniversary of the 7/7 London suicide bombings, the Prime Minister said that Muslim leaders should make clear to the extremists that not only were their methods wrong, but their ideology, interpretation of Islam and their "completely false sense of grievance against the West."

"I think the roots of this extremism lie in the attitudes and ideas as much as organisation," Mr Blair told the Commons Liaison Committee. "I don't think there is an answer to this terrorism that is simply about police work or security measures."

Obviously, this is the case.

070805londonThe poll results contain many comforting numbers, for those seeking evidence that mainstream Muslims reject the Islamists. Yet the polls also -- when you do the math -- contain some sobering clues as to how many homegrown terrorists may be at large in England. For example:

7% agree that suicide attacks on civilians in the UK can be justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 per cent for a military target

16% of British Muslims say that while the attacks may have been wrong, the cause was right

2% would be proud if a family member decided to join al-Qaeda. Sixteen per cent would be "indifferent." ...

50% think the intelligence services have the right to infiltrate Muslim organisations to gather information about their activities and the way they obtain funding.

These are the kinds of numbers that reporters must probe, seeking to understand where and why some -- repeat some -- Muslims believe what they believe. This is not a simple story. This poll is an example of coverage that delivers some light as well as heat.

UPDATE: For additional coverage and some nice links, please head on over to Ruth Gledhill's blog, Articles of Faith, where the topic is history, Islam and 7/7.

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