Islamic Groups Pleased, Worried over Survey of U.S. Muslims' Views

Fred Lucas | | Friday, May 25, 2007

Islamic Groups Pleased, Worried over Survey of U.S. Muslims' Views

Moderate Muslims who want to see adherents to the faith assimilate into the mainstream American culture are in many ways reassured by a new poll reflecting the community's views. But the survey also sets off alarms, they said, pointing to respondents' views on suicide bombings and 9/11.

The Pew Research Center survey of more than 1,000 American Muslims showed more than one in four U.S. Muslims under the age of 30 believe suicide bombings to be justified under certain circumstances.

The breakdown shows that two percent say it is often justified, 13 percent say sometimes justified and 11 percent say rarely justified. Among Muslims of all ages, 13 percent of respondents condoned suicide bombings and 80 percent did not.

Critics of Islam will predictably pick and choose portions of the poll, said Ibraham Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group whose "moderate" tag critics have frequently called into question.

"There was an unfortunate media emphasis on a tiny minority when the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community rejects terrorism and religious extremism," Hooper told Cybercast News Service.

"If there is a tiny minority that can be addressed through education and persuasion," he added. "I can't imagine a right-minded person saying they condone suicide bombings."

But M. Zuhdi Jasser, the chairman of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, contends that there is reason to worry.

He cited not just the suicide bombing issue, but the fact that 28 percent of respondents said they did not believe Arabs were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Another 32 percent said they did not know, and 40 percent said they believed Arabs were responsible.

Jasser said in an interview that the finding reflected a state of denial in the Muslim community that must be fixed in order to break the control of extremism.

"This is an outgrowth of political Islam and the focus on foreign policy rather than the moral and spiritual components of Islam," Jasser said. "Left to the current debate in America, these numbers could go up. If we change the conversation and deconstruct the legitimacy of the grievances, it will decrease."

On the positive side, overwhelming majorities - close to or more than two-thirds of American Muslims polled - say they are happy with their communities, have never been discriminated against, believe they can get ahead through hard work, and believe life in the U.S. is better for women than life in Muslim countries.

But while those numbers may suggest that such Muslims are less likely to subscribe to radical Islam, terrorism expert Daniel Pipes said that is not necessarily the case.

"There is little sociology to radical Islam - poor, rich, educated, uneducated, young, old - it is an attractive ideology for those with radical attitudes," Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, told Cybercast News Service.

He said some of the alarming numbers in the survey mirror what has already been found in Britain, where radical Islam is a growing movement.

Based on the Pew Research Center figure of a total of 2.3 million American Muslims, Pipes noted that "one percent is 23,000 people - that's not a small number of people."

"The fact that the Muslim population is doing well economically is good news, [but] it doesn't translate into good news politically," he said.

'No opinion on al Qaeda'

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of al Qaeda, five percent had a favorable opinion, and a sizeable number - 27 percent - said they had no opinion.

Hooper was dismissive of that finding. "You could ask all Americans if the moon is made of green cheese and five percent would say yes," he said.

"In the post-9/11 atmosphere, a lot of Muslims prefer not to put their opinions out there. When we do our polling, a lot of Muslims won't answer, because they are afraid of entrapment."

As for the fact that a majority of respondents either don't think Arabs were behind 9/11 or say they don't know, Hooper called it "just a bit of wishful thinking. They would hope no Muslim is capable of that." He added that "a growing number of Americans [are] buying into conspiracy theories" about 9/11.

"The idea of conspiracy theories runs wild in the Arab community," Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslims Coalition, told Cybercast News Service. "The five percent that supports al Qaeda is the only number that concerns me. Other than that, the numbers don't have practical concerns to Americans."

Nawash, whose group is often at odds with CAIR, said he did not believe those who indicated support for suicide bombings would be willing to carry out such attacks in the U.S.

They were speaking in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, adding that such an attitude would change once Muslims understand that suicide and murder are forbidden by Islam in all circumstances.

"They've seen mixed messages that it was wrong in every instance, but Israel was the exception. That's wrong for a whole bunch of reasons," Nawash said. "One of the consequences of this double standard is the Muslims are now the biggest victims of suicide bombings in Iraq."

Nawash does concede that the percentages supporting violence, though small, should not be ignored. "It only takes one to cause trouble," he said. "The answer to this is a united message from Muslim clergy" against radical Islam.

Jasser agreed. "It is the responsibility of the majority of Muslims to fight political Islam and the radicalization of the youth that engender these conspiracy theories and moral corruption," he said.

All original material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service.