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May 23, 2007

Survey Finds US Muslims Mostly Mainstream

by Jim Lobe

Despite deep dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy and President George W. Bush, U.S. Muslims tend to be better assimilated and more content with the larger society in which they live than their European counterparts, according to a major new survey [.pdf] released here Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, based on interviews with nearly 60,000 people, found that younger U.S. Muslims, aged 18-29, tended to identify more closely with their religion as their primary identity and to justify the use of violence, including suicide bombing, than their older co-religionists.

But those attitudes were found significantly less frequently among Muslims here than among Muslims, both younger and older, in France, Spain, and Great Britain, according to the survey, which compared the U.S. findings to those found in a survey of European Muslim attitudes conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (PGAP) a year ago.

The new survey also found that a small majority of U.S. Muslims believe their lives have become more difficult since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but that only one in four believes they have ever been a victim of discrimination in the U.S. due to their Muslim identity.

Nearly three quarters of respondents also said they believed that U.S. society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background and they considered life in their local community to be "excellent" or "good."

And by a nearly two-to-one margin, respondents said they do not believe there is any conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.

The survey, the most comprehensive of Muslim Americans ever undertaken, according to Pew itself, estimated the total number of U.S. Muslims at approximately 2.35 million, or slightly less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population, substantially less than estimates of up to 6 million by some other recent surveys. Because the U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from asking about religious affiliations in its national polling, the actual population of Muslim Americans has long been a matter of speculation.

That population is highly diverse, according to the new survey. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of Muslims here are foreign born – about 24 percent from the Arab world, 18 percent from South Asia, 8 percent from Iran, and the rest from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere, according to the survey, which was conducted in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and English.

Of the remaining 35 percent native-born Muslims, more than half are African-American, the survey found. Twenty-one percent of native-born Muslims are converts.

Of the various groups, native-born Muslims tend to be most alienated from mainstream U.S. society. While 74 percent of foreign-born Muslims said they believed that the U.S. rewarded hard work, only 64 percent of the native-born agreed. Similarly, while 45 percent of the foreign born said they were satisfied with the state of U.S. society, only 20 percent of the native born agreed.

Native-born Muslims also expressed less satisfaction with their personal financial situation and more support for the idea that Muslim Americans should try to remain distinct from mainstream society than their foreign-born counterparts.

In terms of their attitudes towards Islamic extremism, foreign-born Muslims from the Arab world also held somewhat distinct views. Twelve percent of Arab-born Muslims, for example, said suicide bombing could be justified often or sometimes, compared to 8 percent for all Muslim-Americans and 6 percent for African-American Muslims. Only 22 percent said they believed that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks, compared to 40 percent of all Muslim Americans.

On the U.S. war on terrorism, U.S. Muslims tended to be considerably more opposed to its conduct than the general public, according to the report. Three-quarters of respondents said going to war in Iraq was the "wrong decision," a position shared by only about half of the population as a whole. Similarly, a plurality (48 percent) of Muslim Americans also said they believed the war in Afghanistan was a mistake, compared to less than 30 percent of the general public.

U.S. Muslims also give Bush substantially lower marks than does the general population. Only 15 percent of respondents said they approved of his performance as president, compared to 35 percent of the general public, according to recent polls.

Similarly, while about one third of the public considers itself reliably Republican, that applies to only 11 percent of U.S. Muslims, according to the survey. Conversely, 63 percent of respondents said they were Democrats or were mostly likely to vote Democratic, compared to 51 percent of the population as a whole.

On their general political views, U.S. Muslims were found to favor an activist government that provided more assistance to the poor than the public as a whole. At the same time, they expressed more conservative views on social and moral issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality.

Still, the survey found that, as a group, Muslims approached religion in ways that were "not all that different" from U.S. Christians – both in the frequency of church or mosque attendance and prayer. On the question of religion's role in politics, U.S. Muslims were, if anything, somewhat more supportive of separating church or mosque from state than their Christian counterparts, the survey found.

Nearly half (47 percent) of U.S. Muslims were inclined to think of themselves first as Muslims, rather than U.S. citizens, according to the survey which noted, however, that that percentage was substantially less than the 81 percent of British Muslims, 69 percent of Spanish Muslims, and 66 percent of German Muslims who identified more with their religion than their nationality.

U.S. Muslims (eight percent) were also half as likely as their counterparts in France, Spain, and Britain (16 percent) to believe that suicide bombing could be justified often or sometimes in defense of Islam. Only German Muslims (7 percent) were less likely to justify suicide bombing. In Jordan and Egypt, by contrast, nearly 30 percent of respondents told PGAP last year that the tactic could be justified often or sometimes.

Among U.S. Muslims, Arab-born respondents tended to be more concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. and also to believe that suicide bombing could be justified. They were also the most likely to believe that Arabs to have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

U.S. Muslims (61 percent) – like the U.S. public as a whole (67 percent) – were also much more sanguine than their foreign counterparts about the possibility of devising an acceptable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the survey.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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