Math is hard

AustinPeaceMarchIs Agence France-Presse even trying any more? Someone sent me a story they published yesterday headlined "Major survey challenges Western perceptions of Islam." Sounds interesting. Let's check it out. The article says that the survey challenges any notion that Islam is radical or violent, and then:

The survey, conducted by the Gallup polling agency over six years and three continents, seeks to dispel the belief held by some in the West that Islam itself is the driving force of radicalism.

It shows that the overwhelming majority of Muslims condemned the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 and other subsequent terrorist attacks, the authors of the study said in Washington.

Gallup sought to dispel beliefs with its poll? Now I suppose it's possible that Gallup went into the expensive and extensive survey with a goal for a certain outcome rather than an open-minded approach of trying to gauge public opinion. But I think that this AFP reporter is just displaying his bias from the outset. Words like "some," used to describe some unnamed and unquantified sector of people in "the West" are in no way informative. And the fact that the second paragraph says something that wasn't even newsworthy on September 11 doesn't help his case.

The article's entire basis of support for the charge that "the West" thinks all Muslims are violent is from an op-ed Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation, penned in 2004 for the Washington Times in an attempt to sell his book:

"The argument Mr Harris makes is that religion in the primary driver" of radicalism and violence, [Dalia Mogahed, co-author of the book "Who Speaks for Islam" which grew out of the study] said.

"Religion is an important part of life for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and if it were indeed the driver for radicalisation, this would be a serious issue."

But the study, which Gallup says surveyed a sample equivalent to 90 percent of the world's Muslims, showed that widespread religiosity "does not translate into widespread support for terrorism," said Mogahed, director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

About 93 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.

But arguing that an incarnation of radicalism and violence is a byproduct of certain religious views is not, of course, the same as saying that 100 percent of Muslims are right this moment plotting to kill all non-Muslims. In fact, doesn't that seven percent figure match with what other surveys known to "the West" have shown?

Further, what is a sample equivalent to 90 percent of the world's Muslims? A sample is the portion of a statistical population which is actually observed. If Gallup's sample is equal to 90 percent of the world's Muslims (particularly with only 50,000 interviews!), color me impressed. Later the article claims that Gallup "aims to interview 95 percent of the world's population" for its World Poll. Someone who doesn't understand how implausible this is should not be writing stories about polls.

This sentence also cracked me up:

But only seven percent of the billion Muslims surveyed -- the radicals -- condoned the attacks on the United States in 2001, the poll showed.

I'm not sure that when it comes to the murder of innocent civilians, a word such as "only" should be used to describe support for the act. And before devolving into an anti-George W. Bush rant, the article does have this tidbit which, if true, would be interesting for reporters to look into:

The survey shows radicals to be neither more religious than their moderate counterparts, nor products of abject poverty or refugee camps.

"The radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims," John Esposito, who co-authored "Who Speaks for Islam", said.

The Gallup poll sounds fascinating and certainly worthy of better coverage than that given by AFP. Let us know if you see improved coverage.

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