It seems a long time since The Sun claimed it wanted to 'unite the UK' against the threat of Islamic terrorism (a claim met with some cynicism at the time). Now the paper is using that threat to whip up hostility towards British Muslims with a headline on Monday claiming one in five have "sympathy for jihadis". The headline is based on a piece of research carried out for The Sun by polling company Survation. The Sun claimed:
"Some 2.7 million Muslims live in Britain... If the poll reflected views across the country it would mean 500,000 have some support for jihadis."
Even if we ignore The Sun's rather fanciful premise that supporters of jihadis would just confess their allegiance to a stranger doing a survey over the phone (why didn't MI6 think of this?), there are a number of other issues with the headline and the paper's claims - most notably the fact they aren't true.
Survation asked respondents whether they have sympathy for "young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria?" and gave them a choice of answers - none of which mentioned "support for jihadis". However, the wording of the question and the use of "sympathy" were both open to significant interpretation which The Sun has certainly made full use of.
Press regulator IPSO, whose code of practice clearly states "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information" has reportedly already received hundreds of complaints about the article.
Survation's data suggests 25 per cent of respondents believe some young Muslims heading to join fighters in Syria - such as the young girls who have reportedly been groomed online - are vulnerable people whose minds have been poisoned. Whether people agree with that belief or not, it clearly doesn't mean the respondents condone the young girls' subsequent allegiance and it certainly doesn't mean they "support jihadis". But it does seem conceivable that respondents could pity the bleak set of circumstances that lead a child down a dark and deadly path while still being wholly, vehemently opposed to terrorism. Others have pointed out The Sun's question does not distinguish between young Muslims fighting on different sides of the war in Syria.
The truth is, we cannot possibly know how the relatively small sample of 1,000 British Muslims interpreted the rather ambiguous question or its equally ambiguous answers - and nor can The Sun.