The Pew Research Center has a new survey out of American Muslims that finds that, as a group, they continue to be moderate in their views and non-supportive of the kind of reactionary and barbaric views favored by many Muslim groups overseas.
On the contrary, as found in the Pew Research Center’s 2007 survey, Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics around the world, and many express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism. Very few Muslim Americans – just 1% – say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam from its enemies; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances. Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified. Comparably small percentages of Muslim Americans express favorable views of al Qaeda, and the current poll finds more holding very unfavorable views of al Qaeda now than in 2007.
Since 2007, Muslim American views of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism have improved. Currently, opinion is divided – 43% say U.S. efforts are a sincere attempt to reduce terrorism while 41% do not. Four years ago, during the Bush administration, more than twice as many viewed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as insincere rather than sincere (55% to 26%).
That strikes me as a bad question. I think it can be both. Does the government genuinely want to prevent terrorism? Of course. But that doesn’t mean the government isn’t using the threat of terrorism to justify policies that give them power power and authority while doing little to actually combat terrorism.
However, concerns about Islamic extremism coexist with the view that life for U.S. Muslims in post-9/11 America is difficult in a number of ways. Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28%), and being called offensive names (22%). And while 21% report being singled out by airport security, 13% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. However, about the same percentage today as in 2007 say that life for Muslims in the U.S. has become more difficult since 9/11. The percentage reporting they are bothered at least some by their sense that Muslim Americans are being singled out for increased government surveillance also is no greater now than four years ago (38% vs. 39%).
- Overall Satisfaction: Muslim Americans are overwhelmingly satisfied with the way things are going in their lives (82%) and continue to rate their communities very positively as places to live (79% excellent or good). Strikingly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. (56%) than is the general public (23%). Four years ago, Muslim Americans and the public at large rendered fairly similar judgments about the state of the nation.
- Muslim or American: A majority of Muslim Americans (56%) say that most Muslims who come to the U.S. want to adopt American customs and ways of life. In contrast, just a third (33%) of the general public believes that Muslims who come to the U.S. want to assimilate. Asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, 26% say they think of themselves first as an American, and 18% say they are both. Among U.S. Christians, 46% say they identify as Christian first, while the same number identify as American first.
- Demographics: Based on data from the survey, Pew Research Center demographers estimate that there are about 1.8 million Muslim adults and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages (including children under 18) living in the United States in 2011. A 63% majority of Muslim Americans are first-generation immigrants to the U.S., with 45% having arrived in the U.S. since 1990. Slightly more than one-third (37%) were born in the U.S., including 15% who had at least one immigrant parent. About one-fourth of all Muslims are immigrants from the Middle East or North Africa, while 16% come from South Asia.
- Leadership: Nearly half of Muslim Americans (48%) say that Muslim leaders in the United States have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists; only about a third (34%) say Muslim leaders have done enough in challenging extremists. At the same time, 68% say that U.S. Muslims themselves are cooperating as much as they should with law enforcement.
- Mosque Controversy: A clear majority (72%) of Muslim Americans who are aware of the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center say it should be allowed. More than a third (35%) say either that the project should not be allowed, or say it should be allowed but say it is a bad idea. A quarter of Muslim Americans report that mosques or Islamic centers in their communities have been the target of controversy or outright hostility.
These results are very positive and they reveal the central deceit in the rhetoric of the Islamophobic right. Yes, reactionary Islam is a very dangerous ideology. But among American Muslims, such beliefs are rare. Most American Muslims are well-meaning, decent people who want the best for this country and for the world. To tar them all with the actions of the Bin Ladens of the world is inaccurate and bigoted.