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U.S. Muslims Upbeat Despite Scrutiny Since 9/11

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Aug 30 2011 (IPS) - Despite increased public scrutiny since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and well-funded campaigns promoting Islamophobia, U.S. Muslims express a significantly higher level of satisfaction with their lives, their local communities, and the country’s general direction than does the public at large, according to a major new survey released here Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which interviewed more than 1,000 Muslim Americans between mid-April and Jul. 22, found that the vast majority of Muslims here also continue to reject Islamic extremism or terrorism, as they did in a similar poll by Pew in 2007.

Only eight percent of the 1,033 Muslim Americans interviewed in the survey said suicide bombing or other violence against civilians could be justified at least “sometimes”. Eighty-one percent said it could “never” be justified.

That was a significantly higher level than the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey found in several predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East last spring. It was also higher than the percentage of U.S. Protestants and Catholics who said the killing of civilians could never be justified in a major Gallup poll released earlier this month.

The new poll, which comes less than two weeks before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, depicts a Muslim population whose members appear remarkably content with their lives and communities despite complaints of increased harassment and discrimination over the past decade.

While more than half (55 percent) of respondents said life for Muslims in the U.S. has become more difficult since 9/11, a whopping eight in 10 (79 percent) said they were satisfied with their personal lives, and 56 percent expressed satisfaction with the way things are going with the country, compared with only a 23-percent satisfaction rate among the general public.

That difference may reflect greater confidence in the United States among Muslims since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, according to Pew.

It noted that more than 90 percent of Muslim respondents said they voted for Obama, while 76 percent said they approved of his current performance. In the 2007 poll, by contrast, only 15 percent of Muslim Americans voiced approval of then-President George W. Bush.

Pew estimates the total number of Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. at about 2.75 million (including nearly one million children), or just under one percent of the country’s total population.

A 63-percent majority are first-generation adult immigrants, with 45 percent having arrived in the U.S. since 1990, according to the report. Of that majority, about four in 10 came from Arab countries, one in four from South Asia, one in 10 from sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest from Europe, Iran and elsewhere.

Of the 37 percent of adult Muslims who were born in this country, nearly six in 10 (59 percent) are African American, according to the report.

The latest report’s findings about U.S. Muslim attitudes are broadly consistent with those of a major Gallup poll released earlier this month.

Among other findings, that survey found that U.S. Muslims express greater tolerance for members of other faiths than any other major U.S. religious group. Like the Pew poll, it also found stronger support among Muslims for Obama and greater optimism about their personal and professional lives than members of other U.S. religious groups.

Both surveys challenge efforts, primarily by right-wing Christian and Jewish groups in the U.S., to depict Muslims – and Islam as a religion – as fundamentally alien, if not actively hostile, to “Judeo-Christian” or “Western” values and U.S. society.

Those efforts, the subject of an investigative report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America”, released last week by the Center for American Progress (CAP), reached a high point over the past year in the form of a largely successful effort to derail the construction of a Muslim community centre – the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” – two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, and an ongoing state-by-state campaign to outlaw the application of Sharia, or Islamic law, in U.S. courts.

Those efforts have also included controversial hearings by the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee chaired by New York Republican Rep. Peter King on Islamic extremism in the U.S.

King seized on one finding of the report – that one in five Muslim respondents reported that they have observed at least a “fair amount” of support for extremism among their co-religionists – to justify his hearings.

“I don’t rely on polls, but the fact that 21 percent have seen extremism in their communities reinforces the need for the hearings,” King told ‘Politico’ Tuesday.

Sixty percent of Pew’s Muslim respondents expressed concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., although the survey found notable differences between foreign-born and native Muslims on that question.

While just over half of foreign-born respondents expressed concern, nearly three-out of four native respondents and 78 percent of African-American respondents did so.

Indeed, African-American respondents were also twice as likely to say there was support for Islamic extremism in the U.S. (40 percent), to say that suicide bombing could be justified at least sometimes (16 percent), and to hold a “favourable” view of Al-Qaeda (11 percent) than foreign-born Muslims.

The survey also noted differences in perceptions between U.S. Muslims and the general public. A slight majority (51 percent) of non-Muslim respondents said Muslims who come to the U.S. want to be “distinct from the larger society”.

But only 20 percent of Muslim respondents took that position, while 56 percent said Muslim immigrants wanted to “adopt American customs and ways of life”, and another 16 percent said insisted they wanted to do both.

While Muslim respondents were more inclined than their non-Muslim counterparts to believe that hard work leads to success in the U.S., they were also much more likely to prefer “bigger government providing more services” to “smaller government providing fewer services”. Seventy percent of Muslim respondents said they were Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to only 48 percent of the general public.

About one in four Muslims said they had been the subject of suspicion or been called offensive names, and six percent reported being threatened or attacked during the past year.

One in four also said that their mosque or Islamic community centre had been the target of controversy or outright hostility. Fifteen percent reported their mosque or community centre had been vandalised or subject to other hostile acts in the past 12 months.

At the same time, nearly 80 percent rated the communities in which they live very positively, while only 16 percent said they believe the general public or ordinary citizens are unfriendly towards Muslim Americans.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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