The survey of Muslim Americans that Pew Research Center released today has gotten a lot of press. Most attention has focused on the extent to which American Muslims do or do not support al Qaeda and suicide bombing.
The survey is interesting, and well worth reviewing in its entirety. It appears to represent a major effort, with 55,000 interviews yielding a national sample of over 1,000 Muslims. Here are a few of the interesting findings.
One of the most striking results was the fact that American Muslims are indistinguishable from other Americans in economic terms. Considering the relative youth of the Muslim population, their incomes are likely above average:
This highlights a fundamental difference between the U.S. and Europe. Muslims here are not a ghettoized, discriminated-against group. Most observers assume this makes them less susceptible to radicalization.
American Muslims do not uniformly denounce al Qaeda:
But the percentage that actually approves is very small. The question is what to make of the much larger number who don’t answer or don’t have an opinion. It’s hard to understand how anyone could not have an opinion of al Qaeda; on the other hand, we live in a country where only two-thirds of our people have heard of Dick Cheney.
Much has been made of the fact that some American Muslims defend suicide bombings under at least some circumstances:
Again, though, the number who actually express support for suicide bombing is very small, and “to defend Islam” is unfortunately undefined.
Some Muslims are delusional about the September 11 attacks; only 40% say that “groups of Arabs” were responsible. Seven percent say President Bush was behind the attacks. Mostly, though, the other 60% either decline to answer or say they don’t know. This undoubtedly represents a reluctance to indict their co-religionists more than a serious belief that some other agency was behind the attacks.
Actually, Muslims may be less delusional about September 11 than Democrats generally. Around half of all Democrats either say that President Bush knew about the attacks, or say they can’t make up their minds. We are living in an era in which a great many people say bizarre things to pollsters, either because they believe them or–frequently, I think–because they are trying to make a political point. In this context, I don’t find the Pew data especially alarming.
One striking feature of the Pew survey is that it turned up virtually no indication of discrimination against American Muslims. These data are pretty remarkable:
A mere 15% say they have been “called offensive names” within the last year. I would answer that question “yes,” too. Nine percent say they have been “singled out by police,” which is perception, not reality, and a low number at that. A mere 4% say they have been attacked or threatened; it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a lower than average number compared to Americans generally. Conversely, 32% say that someone has “expressed support for them.”
These data, taken as a whole, portray a group of people who are integrated into American life economically to a remarkable degree; socially to a considerable degree; and ideologically to a reasonable degree. Too many of them are Democrats, to be sure, both because they disapprove of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan–a great many Muslims aren’t opposed to the murder and oppression of Muslims, they just want it to be done by fellow Muslims–and because they tend to want an activist government. But only a tiny minority express views that are really alarming. The story of Muslim assimilation in America is still being written, of course, but the extent to which Muslims have succeeded economically bodes well, I think, for the future.
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