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Is America Islamophobic?

Following up on Time Magazine’s article arguing that American may be Islamophobic, the Washington Post takes its stab at pressing the indictment. Post writer Annie Gowen focuses mostly on opposition to a proposed sprawling Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Post claims that opposition is intense, but it presents no data on where overall public opinion in the area stands. Thus, the Post apparently has no idea whether the headline of the story that appeared in the print edition — “Nowhere near Ground Zero, but no more welcome” — is accurate.
The Post does refer to a poll that appeared in the Time article finding that 43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims. But which Muslims were the respondents referring to when they answered?
Was it the Muslims they know personally or the Muslims involved with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial? Was it the Muslims who cheered the 9/11 attacks, the Muslims who condemned them, or the Muslims who called the attacks a crime, but claimed America was an accomplice? Was it the Muslim population in peaceful Indonesia or the Muslim population in Gaza? Was it the Iranian dissidents or the Iranian government?
The Post notes that 25 percent of respondents said that most Muslims are not patriotic Americans. If this answer to an empirical question is incorrect (I assume it is, but don’t really know), the conclusion should be that a relatively small, though certainly not de minimis, percentage of Americans showed bias in their answer to this question. The conclusion should not be that America as a whole is Islamophobic; if anything, the opposite conclusion better fits this piece of data.
The Post acknowledges that the overall level of anti-Muslim sentiment hasn’t shifted much as a result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy. But it quotes unnamed “religious scholars and other experts” who find the change in tone “striking.” That’s certainly possible, given the “in your face” nature of the decision to build a mosque on the site of a building that was damaged by the deadly 9/11 attack. But if overall sentiment hasn’t changed, one wonders why Time and the Post are suddenly suggesting that Americans are Islamophobes.
In the end, of course, the question comes down to how one defines Islamophobia. If it means disliking American Muslims because of their religion, then I don’t think the charge sticks. If it means disliking a good deal of what many Muslims are doing in the wider world, and seeing some sort of a connection between that conduct and the religion of Islam, then Americans may well be Islamophobic. But we would be fools if we weren’t.

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