Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pew Research Center Survey on American Muslims Stirs Controversy

Yesterday the American media reported variously on the results of a recent survey of American Muslims by the Pew Research Center. As the Pew Forum describes the report:

The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.

The Pew Research Center conducted more than 55,000 interviews to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. The resulting study, which draws on Pew's survey research among Muslims around the world, finds that Muslim Americans are a highly diverse population, one largely composed of immigrants. Nonetheless, they are decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes. This belief is reflected in Muslim American income and education levels, which generally mirror those of the public.

Some of the key findings include the following:

*Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.

*Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants' nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.

*Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world.

*A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government "singles out" Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.

*Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.

One of the interesting facets of this report was not so much the report itself, but rather, the differing ways in which it was reported on in the media. In a post-9/11 America, and a country divided over the Iraq war and the broader war on terror, as well as divisions along political party lines, balance in reporting on this issue was lacking. Conservative media outlets reported on the sympathies of some young Muslims with terrorism almost to the exclusion of other considerations, while more liberal outlets reported on the successful assimilation of most U.S. Muslims into American life while neglecting to report on young Muslim attitudes toward terrorism.

The entire report can be downloaded here.

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