x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

US poll confronts stereotypes of American Muslims

Muslim Americans are more likely than any other religious community in the US to reject violence against civilians, with almost nine in 10 saying terrorism is never justified, new study finds.

A Muslim man prays at the reflecting pool in New York on the ninth anniversary of September 11 last year. Andrew Mills / AFP
A Muslim man prays at the reflecting pool in New York on the ninth anniversary of September 11 last year. Andrew Mills / AFP

WASHINGTON // Muslim Americans are more likely than any other religious community in the US to reject violence against civilians, whether it is perpetrated by national armies or militant groups.

Almost 10 years after September 11, they also, along with Jewish Americans, were the least likely to believe that members of their community sympathise with Al Qaeda.

These were among the notable findings of a major study of Muslim Americans by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre, titled, "Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future", that was released yesterday.

Gallup surveyed almost 870,000 adults, over a three-year period from January 1, 2008 to April 9, 2011. Of this number, almost 4,000 self-identified as Muslim Americans. Included in the poll were members of each major religious community in the US - Protestant Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Mormons and Jews - as well as those who identified as atheist or of no religious affiliation.

Asked whether it was sometimes justified for the military to target and kill civilians, 78 per cent of Muslim Americans said never. Only 21 per cent said it was sometimes justified. That contrasts with all other religious communities, where majorities said it was sometimes justified. Only among atheists and those of no religious affiliation did a majority, 58 per cent, also say it was never justified.

Mormons were the most likely, at 64 per cent, to think that such actions were sometimes justified.

By contrast, majorities in all the groups surveyed said it was never justified for non-state actors - individuals or small groups - to target and kill civilians. But here too Muslim Americans were more unequivocal at 89 per cent.

Perhaps more surprising, Jewish Americans were the least likely religious community, after Muslim Americans themselves, to believe that Muslim Americans were sympathetic to Al Qaeda. While small majorities of each group surveyed did not believe that Muslim Americans were sympathetic to Al Qaeda, Jews were out ahead at 70 per cent.

A massive 92 per cent of Muslim Americans say their community is not sympathetic to Al Qaeda, while among atheists and religiously non-affiliated, 75 per cent said the same thing.

Among Protestants, Mormons and Catholics, however, significant minorities - 44, 43, and 37 per cent, respectively - said they thought American Muslims were sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

Jewish Americans were also the most likely religious community after Muslims themselves to view Muslim Americans as loyal US citizens. But while 80 per cent of Jews saw Muslim Americans as loyal citizens, only 56 per cent of Protestants and Mormons and 59 per cent of Catholics felt the same, with significant minorities among each saying the statement that "Muslims living in this country were loyal to this country" does not apply.

"The similarities between the Jewish and Muslim respondents might surprise some people, because in the past couple of years some of the loudest voices in campaigns seen as anti-Muslim have been Jewish Americans," said Dalia Mogahed, the director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre.

But the findings of the survey suggest an "untapped opportunity" for coalition building between the two communities, said Ms Mogahed.

"Jews are even more likely than Muslim Americans to believe that there is prejudice against Muslims, so the sensitivity to the problem is high among Jewish Americans."

The survey was concluded just as Peter King, a US congressman from New York, in March began a much publicised series of congressional hearings into Islamic radicalisation of Muslims in America. The third hearing was held last week and has been criticised by civil rights and Muslim American groups as being a witch-hunt.

The poll finds that respondents were generally divided over whether Americans were prejudiced against Muslims.

Again, Jews were most likely to believe this, followed by Muslims themselves. But Christian respondents hovered at about 50 per cent, and one of the recommendations of the study was that the the US government properly assess the extent of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.

Significantly more Muslims than any other religious community in the US report feeling they were targets of discrimination, and the study's authors say there was evidence of correlation between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Among other recommendations, they urged the US State Department to expand its report on anti-Semitism to include Islamophobia.

okarmi@thenational.ae