Archive for Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why so many Americans could be hostile toward Islam

August 29, 2010


— Nearly a decade after Sept. 11, less than a third of the country feels favorably toward Islam. Most Americans reflexively oppose an Islamic cultural center near ground zero, and the lower the Christian president’s approval ratings, the higher the percentage of people who think he’s Muslim.


Beyond the simplistic debate — are we patriots or bigots? — pollsters, historians and other experts say that the nation’s collective instincts toward Islam have been shaped over decades by a patchwork of factors. These include demographic trends, psychology, terrorism events, U.S. foreign policy, domestic politics, media coverage and the Internet.

Estimates of U.S. Muslims range between 2.5 million and 7 million, or about 1 percent to 2 percent of the population. There’s no official data on U.S. Muslims’ geographic distribution, but mosques are concentrated in metropolitan areas.

Most Americans are Christian, and most don’t have much direct exposure to Muslims. A quarter of Americans say they know “nothing at all” about Islam, the Pew Research Center found earlier this month, and of non-Muslims polled, 58 percent said they don’t know any Muslims.

It’s natural for people who don’t know Muslims to draw strong stereotypes from Sept. 11 and feel them reinforced by recent scares such as the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings and the Times Square bomb plot, said Leonie Huddy, the president of the International Society for Political Psychology and a political scientist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

“One of the things we know about cross-relationships of any kind is they become more positive as people have more personal contact with each other,” Huddy said.

‘The new outsider’

A Gallup survey last year found that Americans who don’t personally know any Muslims were twice as likely to acknowledge “a great deal” of anti-Muslim prejudice. Republicans and those without college educations tend to be less favorable toward Islam.

Muslims are “very much the new outsider,” said John Esposito, the founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. “We’ve had Christian cults that have committed acts of violence; killings of abortion doctors. (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy) McVeigh. (However,) we have a gut context in which we place it. Muslims don’t fit that profile.”

So what shaped modern American impressions of Muslims?

Long before Sept. 11, other high-profile terrorist attacks inflamed the public imagination. Consider the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the 1988 mid-air bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which took 270 lives, and the rise of suicide bombers throughout the Middle East.

While most Muslims aren’t terrorists, most terrorist attacks on U.S. targets or allies over the past 40 years were committed by aggressors who were Muslim or Middle Eastern. Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and a decade of U.S. wars in Muslim lands.

“There have been so many acts of terrorism connected to radical Muslims that it’s not surprising Islam has a public relations problem,” said John Radsan, a former assistant general counsel for the CIA of Iranian descent who’s a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn.

“Most Americans up until the Iranian revolution did not experience Muslims,” Esposito said.

Iran’s 1979 revolution overthrew the Shah, whom Muslim revolutionaries denounced as a “U.S. puppet” installed by the CIA. There was little U.S. public understanding of the CIA’s role in the 1953 overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian leader and the resultant widespread Iranian public anger toward the U.S.

“When we saw people shouting ‘Death to America’ ... we had no context to put that in,” Esposito said.

Leaders’ attitudes

U.S. political and cultural leaders also help shape public attitudes.

Public leaders’ reactions to the planned Islamic cultural center two blocks from the World Trade Center site offer the latest example.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama supported the project’s developers’ right to proceed, and Obama spoke out against religious discrimination. However, the president sent a mixed message when he said the next day that he wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of the project’s location — a neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, a strip club and an off-track betting parlor.

The outspoken opposition of prominent Republicans — including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin — connects the Sept. 11 attacks to Islam. The issue could become divisive in some elections this November.


Hydra 7 years, 9 months ago

I just love the way most newspaper articles try to spin the blame to americans. Near as I can tell people were tolerating them just fine until a "moderate" imam decided to build a monument to terrorists at ground zero.

At least the uproar made him cheerful!

ivalueamerica 7 years, 8 months ago

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ivalueamerica 7 years, 8 months ago

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ivalueamerica 7 years, 8 months ago

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Jimo 7 years, 9 months ago

Are we supposed to conclude something about this quote?

Are we supposed to marvel at the violent imagery of Muslims as they head into battle or conclude that battle is only violent for Muslims? (Would it be better if translations used the Biblical term 'smite'?)

Are we assumed incapable of picking quotes out of the Bible that endorse, proclaim, or celebrate violence? As Jesus himself said "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

What point would anyone think they were making by posting this quote?

Corey Williams 7 years, 9 months ago

"If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

Deuteronomy 13:6-10

robinhoodlum 7 years, 8 months ago

Pulling verses from the Qur'an out of context is no different than pulling verses from the Bible out of context. The verse you have mentioned as well as many others before its location in the Qur'an was part of the revelations in reference to the Battle of Badr, which was the first major battle between the Muslims and the Meccan pagans around 625 C.E.

There are many different Muslim societies from many different countries and those societies vary because of their ethnic or cultural background even though they all follow the Islam religion. Only a small hand full of the total world population of Muslims are part of the radical groups that are terrorists.

Mixolydian 7 years, 9 months ago

Will folks please stope putting the "phobe" suffix on words to make a point. Homophobia, islamaphobia, etc.. In my case I really am a homophobe, a scary gay clown fell on me when I was a young boy.....

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

"Why so many Americans could be hostile toward Islam" The moon could turn into butter and fall on our pancakes.

Alia Ahmed 7 years, 9 months ago

Here's another example, Hydra. "Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.

Oh.....never mind, that is from Exodus 15:6

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

Given that the US has killed literally tens of thousands of Muslims....

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

bozo, I'm amazed that you didn't word that as "..vaporized hundred of thousands..." You're slipping.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

If they were under a 500 or 1000-lbs bomb, they likely were. Thanks for pointing that out.

booyalab 7 years, 9 months ago

I lived in the middle east for several years during my adolescence and I'm against the Islamic cultural center, just because I have a feeling it might omit some things.

booyalab 7 years, 9 months ago

The last Islamic person I encountered was one of my "friends" on myspace, his profile picture was of him holding an AK on his sofa. (He gave me the friend request probably because I listed my religion as Muslim, I accepted the request because his profile was private and I wanted to see the rest of his pictures) The rest of his pictures were all extremely violent and often factually inaccurate propaganda for radical Islam.

Of course, I don't think he represents most American muslims, I don't even remember his location. But I do know that most American Muslims don't represent Muslims around the world, whether in countries with Muslim dictatorships or just a strong Jihadist presence.

mom_of_three 7 years, 9 months ago

Americans have a history of being hostile to anyone who is different. The Italian and Irish immigrants were treated badly when they arrived in this country, because it was thought the Catholic church was trying to take over the world. African Americans were always treated harshly, because of the stigma of slavery and the color of their skin. Native Americans lost their land due to expansionism. Anyone who is different is looked upon harshly. Always been that way, although it has never been right.

pace 7 years, 9 months ago

I consider all religions suspicious. They, like politicians, are usually out to pick your pocket. Especially dislike the catholic church, not its people. The only exception in churches I feel is Phelps, I dislike both the church and its people. Others all seem the same rag tag tale.

jaywalker 7 years, 8 months ago

"Republicans and those without college educations tend to be less favorable toward Islam."

AAAaaaaand...........reading the article is done. That sentence was not a coincidence, and while I stand on the side of the more rational for this issue, I refuse to condone propagandists that spew this kind of rhetoric. "Don't generalize these people while I generalize another."
We get dumber as individuals and a collective with this kind of garbage being thrown out as information.

jaywalker 7 years, 8 months ago

I'm not sayin' either of them are lies, vertigo. But how many different demographics and groups were polled? And the writer pairs those two? Sorry, that's biased journalism.
And for someone who's lectured me on the importance of support, it's a little hypocritical of you to defend this article/author for a Gallup poll that isn't cited. All I could find on the matter was from 2006, and there was no mention of non-degree holders.

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