How Mainstream Are American Muslims?


A comprehensive survey of U.S. Muslims released last week, apparently the first of its kind, offered a mostly mainstream picture of a community that has fallen under a microscope since 9/11.

The poll, which estimates there are 2.35 million Muslims here, found that far fewer of them live in low-income households than their coreligionists in four European countries, and most feel that life is better here than in Muslim countries. A majority are happy with their lives here, and 60 percent said they were concerned about the rise of Muslim extremism. Like most Americans, a majority feel the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

But the phone survey of 1,050 adults by the Pew Research Center, taken between January and April, has generated some heat with its finding that about a quarter of younger Muslims justify suicide bombings under some circumstances, and some note with alarm the number that falls outside the mainstream.

Five percent of those surveyed expressed favorable views of al Qaeda, while 58 percent held “very unfavorable” views. But 27 percent said they don’t know, or refused to answer the question.

Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, told the Associated Press that the level of justification for suicide bombing is “a hair-raising number,” and suggested that increasing global access to extremist ideology was responsible.

Parsing the data seems to generate some glass-half-full or glass-half-empty confusion. The AP reportedly changed the headline of its story on the poll, initially reporting that “most Muslims reject suicide bombings.” A second version read “some U.S. Muslims justify suicide attacks.”

Middle East Watch founder Daniel Pipes, who consistently warns of growing Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, said the poll “is in line with what we see in other Western countries. The most extensive research has been in the UK, and it tracks quite closely with this one.”

Pipes said it would be more alarming to consider that the numbers supporting, or not opposing, terrorism could be higher because some respondents did not answer the questions honestly — a factor in any poll, especially those dealing with sensitive subjects.

“It’s a realistic insight” to question the veracity of the data, he said.

Pipes said that while some might cite economic factors or discrimination as causes for the acceptance of extremism, “there is no evidence suggesting that Islamist attitudes are connected to stress. Radical Islam offers a coherent and compelling worldview for many Muslims and answers many of the questions of identity and other concerns that Muslims have.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the data was similar to his organization’s findings in Europe about anti-Semitism in general.

“The younger element is more angry, more ignorant and has more prejudices,” he said. “It is not surprising that it exists in the Islamic community as well.” Foxman blamed stereotyping of Jews in media and education in many Muslim countries, along with anger over the Middle East conflict.

Locally, he said the ADL had written to the leaders of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a nationwide advocacy group, calling on them to issue a statement that “no just cause justifies terrorism. I haven’t heard a reply.”

Foxman said the organization’s denunciation of terror after 9/11 was “a generic statement that doesn’t make judgments.”

A call to the organization’s spokesperson on Tuesday was not returned. But its Web site says that “CAIR took out a paid advertisement in the Washington Post condemning 9-11 and terrorism in all its forms” and produced broadcast ads stating that it “reject[s] anyone who commits acts of violence against innocent people in the name of Islam. “The Web site further states that CAIR coordinated the release of a religious pronouncement that stated in part, “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram or forbidden – and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not martyrs.” An online petition, “Not In The Name Of Islam” appears on the site, which reports nearly 700,000 signatures.

A majority of those polled, 61 percent, said Israel and the Palestinians could find a way to coexist. That response was most common among college graduates (74 percent), those born in the U.S. (64 percent) and those who immigrated here before 1990 (71 percent). It was lowest among those who emigrated, or whose parents emigrated, from the Middle East (49 percent).In its reaction to the poll, the Zionist Organization of America, noted the finding that 40 percent of those surveyed agreed that Arabs orchestrated 9/11, while 32 percent declined to answer the question, and 16 percent do not believe Palestinians can have full rights as long as Israel exists. “Despite being in the main a settled, prosperous community, Muslims are clearly not mainstream in their general political and moral views,” said ZOA President Morton Klein in a statement.