Some Slant Poll Results on Muslims in America
Hussam Ayloush, LA Daily News, 6/2/07
A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center is a welcome indication on the state of American Muslims. Titled, "Muslim Americans, Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream," the report shows Muslims are well-integrated in the fabric of our society, are content socially and economically, and believe in the American dream.
Most major media outlets covered this story even-handedly, focusing on the overall positive conclusions that nearly two-thirds of American Muslims do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. This picture of the comfortable integration of American Muslims is a sharp contrast to the "ghettoization" of Muslim communities in parts of Western Europe.
Unfortunately, a few outlets could not resist the urge to sensationalize or slant the report. So, instead of embracing and reporting the crux of the poll - the contented integration of Muslims in America - they sought out a minor statistic dealing with suicide bombings.
In the Pew report, 1 percent of those polled reported "suicide bombings against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam," while an additional 7 percent reported the bombings are "sometimes justified in these circumstances." Some media outlets chose to incorporate a selective analysis of the report in their stories, projecting a sensationalized and pessimistic view.
For instance, a New York Post headline read: "Bomb Shell: U.S. Muslims in new terror poll shocker." An Associated Press headline was: "Some Young Muslims Support Bombings," and World Peace Herald's headline ran: "Many young U.S. Muslims justify suicide bombings."
Furthermore, we can also observe a double standard coming into play here. Those who chose to sound the alarm regarding the suicide bombing statistic held by a minority of Muslims were completely silent when earlier views held by an even larger segment of the American population were revealed in polls. At least, the Muslim views should have been compared to that of the larger public. For instance, polls in 1945 showed over 80 percent of Americans supporting the use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima, with the knowledge that the bomb would mainly target innocent civilians. Such widespread support was justified by the desire to defend America and save American lives.
Over the years, that support has hovered around just about 54 percent, according to a 2005 Associated Press poll. Basically, more than half of Americans still support the precise targeting of civilians in defense of America. Moreover, in February, The Christian Science Monitor reported that "a survey conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that `bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians' are `never justified,' while 24 percent believe these attacks are `often or sometimes justified."
Now, compare that figure to 78 percent of U.S. Muslims who say that suicide bombings against civilians are "never justified," while 8 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified," according to the Pew report. One would think that media would have highlighted the fact that American Muslims' support for deliberate killing of civilians is greatly lower than that among the average Americans.
Having said that, it is also extremely important to remember that even one person's support for targeting civilians is one too many. Regardless of one's religion or belief system, any support for violence should never go unnoticed or unaddressed. If anything, the results of both surveys show that a small but growing segment of our society is becoming desensitized to the culture of violence, thanks to the increasing war rhetoric, movies and presence of violent imagery in pop culture. It is clear that a portion of the media coverage of the report was inaccurate and misdirected.
The support for violence shown in the Pew poll is mainly a reflection of the larger society; it is not unique to any one group. Media, along with religious and political leaders, ought to work to challenge and minimize the culture of violence and its impact on the American psyche. Instead of only asking how many support violence against civilians in the defense of one's country or religion, we should also ask: Why does such support exist and what can be done to dismantle the support for this alarming phenomenon?
Hussam Ayloush is executive director of the Los Angeles-area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html