As the 1oth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, a comprehensive public opinion survey finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques and other pressures that have been brought to bear on this high-profile minority group in recent years. There also is no evidence of rising support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans.
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 Muslim publics surveyed this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. And majorities of Muslim Americans express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism, both here and abroad.
A significant minority (21%) of Muslim Americans say there is a great deal (6%) or a fair amount (15%) of support for extremism in the Muslim American community. That is far below the proportion of the general public that sees at least a fair amount of support for extremism among U.S. Muslims (40%). And while about a quarter of the public (24%) thinks that Muslim support for extremism is increasing, just 4% of Muslims agree.
Many Muslims fault their own leaders for failing to challenge Islamic extremists. Nearly half (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 Muslim Americans themselves are cooperating as much as they should with law enforcement.
The survey of 1,033 Muslim Americans, conducted April 14-July 22 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that far more view the United States’ efforts to combat terrorism as sincere than did so in 2007. Currently, opinion is divided – 43% of Muslim Americans say U.S. efforts are a sincere attempt to reduce terrorism while 41% do not. Four years ago, during George Bush’s presidency, more than twice as many viewed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as insincere rather than sincere (55% to 26%).
For Muslims in the United States, concerns about Islamic extremism coexist with the view that life for Muslim Americans 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. Overall, a 52% majority says that government anti-terrorism policies single out Muslims in the U.S. for increased surveillance and monitoring.
However, reports about such experiences and feelings of being subject to intense scrutiny have not changed substantially since 2007. Overall about the same percentage today as in 2007 say that life for Muslims in the U.S. has become more difficult since 9/11 (55% now, 53% in 2007). The percentage reporting they are bothered by their sense that Muslim Americans are being singled out for increased government surveillance also is no greater now than four years ago (38% bothered a lot or some today vs. 39% in 2007).
The controversies over the building of mosques in New York City and other parts of the country are resonating in the Muslim American community. Most Muslim Americans (81%) have heard about the proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center and a clear majority of those who are aware of the planned mosque (72%) say it should be allowed. However, 35% say either that the project should not be allowed (20%), or that it should be permitted but is a bad idea (15%).
A quarter of Muslim Americans (25%) report that mosques or Islamic centers in their communities have been the target of controversy or outright hostility. While 14% report that there has been opposition to the building of a mosque or Islamic center in their community in the past few years, 15% say that a mosque or Islamic center in their community has been the target of vandalism or other hostile acts in the past 12 months.
Nonetheless, Muslim Americans have not become disillusioned with the country. They 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).
At a personal level, most think that ordinary Americans are friendly (48%) or neutral (32%) toward Muslim Americans; relatively few (16%) believe the general public is unfriendly toward Muslim Americans. About two-thirds (66%) say that the quality of life for Muslims in the U.S. is better than in most Muslim countries.
Strikingly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the country (56%) than is the general public (23%). Four years ago, Muslim Americans and the public rendered fairly similar judgments about the state of the nation (38% of Muslims vs. 32% of the general public were satisfied).
The current disparity may well reflect the fact that Muslim Americans are much more satisfied with the current political situation in the country than they were four years ago. Most Muslim Americans continue to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party and they overwhelmingly support Barack Obama. Fully 76% approve of Obama’s job performance; in 2007, about as many (69%) disapproved of George Bush’s job performance.
Support for Extremism Remains Negligible
As in 2007, 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.
A comparably small percentage of Muslim Americans express favorable vie
ws of al Qaeda – 2% very favorable and 3% somewhat favorable. And the current poll finds more Muslim Americans holdingvery unfavorable views of al Qaeda than in 2007 (70% vs. 58%).
There is much greater opposition to suicide bombing – and more highly negative views of al Qaeda – among Muslims in the United States than among Muslims in most of the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. In the Palestinian territories, 68% of Muslims say suicide bombing and other forms of violence are at least sometimes justified, as do 35% of Muslims in Lebanon and 28% of those in Egypt.
In the other Muslim publics surveyed, the median percentage saying that suicide bombing and other violence against civilians are never justified is 55%; by contrast, 81% of Muslims in the U.S. say such violence is never justified. Similarly, the median percentage across the seven Muslim publics with very unfavorable views of al Qaeda is 38%, compared with 70% among Muslim Americans. contiune