Because the issue of religious intolerance hits close to home, we have no choice but to respond to a recent tweet from Delegate Mark Cole, who represents part of Fredericksburg in the Virginia General Assembly. This isn’t your standard-issue Republican talking point; this is a special case of Islamophobia combined with a basic misunderstanding of how polls work:
We often disagree with Delegate Cole on many issues, ranging from gun safety to marriage equality, but this outburst is particularly harmful because it has the potential to stir up controversy and ill will where none previously existed.
At the heart of the issue is a poll conducted by Pew Research Center concerning views toward ISIS in nations with significant Muslim populations. The result, as the author noted, is that in every one of these nations (with one partial exception), ISIS is extremely disliked. This should be fantastic news to those concerned with about terrorism: ISIS is a fringe organization without a broad base of support. Instead, Delegate Cole links to a piece that twists the results of this poll into an unrecognizable shape.
Pew Research Poll
The percentages above tell a clear story, but let’s follow Delegate Cole’s example of using total population. According to recent estimates from either the United Nations or the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 500 million people in these 11 countries have an unfavorable view of ISIS, compared to the 66 million who have a favorable view (numbers are slightly higher than his initial claim due to population increases since the original American Thinker post was published).
To repeat that: 500 million with an unfavorable opinion vs. 66 million with a favorable opinion. Or, to put it another way, for every person who likes ISIS, more than seven don’t. Again, these numbers prove that ISIS is far from the mainstream, even in countries with large, if not majority, Muslim populations.
Another 238 million people say they don’t have an opinion on ISIS or don’t know what it would be. Delegate Cole tries to shoehorn all of these individuals into his claim of potential ISIS supporters. How likely is it that literally every single person represented by the “Don’t Know” response actually thinks favorably of ISIS? His claims are a basic misrepresentation of facts.
In fairness, we have learned all too well that sole individuals can cause untold amounts of destruction and grief. That’s why we support commonsense methods of detecting potential terrorist activity that have been proven effective. But comments like Delegate Cole’s contain an undercurrent of concern that ISIS is on its way to becoming more powerful, something that is simply not true.
Normally we wouldn’t respond to a random website’s gross misinterpretation of a poll. But this ideologically driven conclusion is being repeated by one of the 141 people in our Commonwealth (House, Senate, Lieutenant Governor) who can vote in the General Assembly. Delegate Cole’s Trump-like statement promotes a culture of fear that is unfounded and leads to division, not unity, as sadly seen during the discussion around a local Islamic center. Delegate Cole’s representation of our city is an embarrassment, and we look forward to supporting a candidate who will defeat him in next year’s elections.