The news reports were generally positive. Most of the headlines about the recently released Pew Research Center poll about American Muslims spoke of how US Muslims are “mainstream” and “reject extremism.” In fact, it seems as if the news reports reflected a sigh of relief on the part of Americans, who may have never really believed the contentions of American Muslims that they truly were middle class, moderate, and mainstream. Yet, this poll showed just that: American Muslims are well assimilated into American society, have a generally positive attitude toward their country, and overwhelmingly reject violence and extremism.
Of course, anti-Islam pundits and commentators seized on the findings about suicide bombings to “prove” that, as the Investors Business Daily proclaimed, “the country is embedded with a ticking time bomb of Muslim youth who condone suicide bombings”. Yet these same people fail to point out that more Americans believed that intentional attacks against civilians are “often/sometimes” justified (24% vs 8%) and far less Americans believe that attacking civilians is “never justified” (46% vs 78%). But what else did you expect from the anti-Islam crowd?
Still, despite the twisting of the results of the poll to smear Islam, there are some glaring facts about the survey that cannot be ignored by American Muslims. We must, as Muslims, go after the Devil. First of all, only 40% of Muslims believed that groups of Arabs were responsible for 9/11. That means that 60% either did not know or did not believe that Arabs carried out the attacks of 9/11. This despite the fact that Osama bin Laden admitted that he was behind the September 11 attacks. Yes, there is a small minority of Americans who also believe that Arabs were not behind 9/11, but for Muslims to deny that al-Qaeda is behind 9/11 is absolutely astonishing.
In addition, 5% of Muslims had either a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of al-Qaeda, with this being higher among African-American Muslims (9%). This is also astonishing. This group, al-Qaeda, is a gang of neo-kharijites whose sole purpose is to foment chaos and instability around the world. Moreover, they have shown themselves to be brutally murderous, and they have no qualms against killing any innocent person who stands in the way of their Satanic plans.
According to the Washington Post, Princeton University professor Amaney Jamal, a senior advisor on the poll, said “the data seem to indictate that African American Muslims are sympathetic to the goals but not the means of al-Qaeda, because 85 precent said suicide bombing is rarely or never justified. She speculated that they may see al-Qaeda “as resistance to a status quo that is seen to treat them unfairly.” Perhaps the same may be true of the 5% of Muslims overall. Still, I cannot separate the tactics of al-Qaeda from their alleged goals. What makes al-Qaeda al-Qaeda is the brutality of their ways.
And spreaking of al-Qaeda’s brutal ways, the poll’s findings on suicide bombings areconcerning to say the least. As expected, the overwhelming majority of Muslims believed that suicide bombing against civilians “in defense of Islam” are rarely or never justified (83%). Still, 8% of Muslims believed that suicide bombings are often/sometimes justified. This is 8% too many. It also worries me that almost double – 15% – of Muslim youth believe the same. The fact that more Americans – 24% to be precise – believed that attacks against civilians are often/sometimes justified is completely irrelevant.
What does this all mean for Muslims in America? The findings of the Pew poll are very relevant to the debate about informants in the Muslim community. Some in law enforcementmay use the fact that 26% of Muslim youth believe suicide attacks are ever justified as an excuse to send in more informants in our communities, figuring that, as Investors Business Daily put it, “the country is embedded with a ticking time bomb of Muslim youth who condone suicide bombings.” If American Muslims would rather police themselves than have the government spy on them, it behooves them to take a serious look into why 26% of their youth would think that killing yourself and others is ever justified.
Are these youth isolated? Do they feel abandoned by the larger society? By the Muslim coummunity itself? The poll did say that 10% of Muslims aged 18-29 were “not too happy” with their lives. Could this be a factor in their being suceptible to radicalization? Why is 10% of American Muslim youth unhappy with their lives? What can the Muslim community do to make their youth happier?
In addition, if American Muslims would rather police themselves against extremism and extremist thought, then the findings of the Pew poll should be a starting point for development of universal principles that should be accepted by all Muslims in the United States, regardless of age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Chief among these principles should be that attacks against civilians – be it in “defense of Islam” or otherwise – can never be justified. Any disagreement on this issue should be resolved with education and reacquaintance with the guiding principles of the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition on the primacy of the sanctity of life.
Although the findings of the Pew poll are generally positive, some of the more concerning findings of the polls should serve as an opportunity to address potential problems that are festering in the community. Dismissing the findings of the poll would be terribly irresponsible, because American Muslims cannot afford to have their youth – the future of Islam in America – fall sway to the ideology of neo-kharijism. Not only is national security potentially at risk, but the very survival of Islam in this country may hang in the balance. God did promise He will protect His faith, but as His deputies on earth, we must not shirk our own responsibility.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.