Negative Views on Islam/Muslims on the rise: What does it all mean?

americanmuslim

And who should we blame if anyone?

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 55 percent of those polled said they are without a basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam, and most said they do not know anyone who is Muslim.  About half, 48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, the highest in polls since late 2001. Nearly three in 10, or 29 percent, said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims; although more, 58 percent, said it is a peaceful religion.  Republicans are also more apt than others to hold negative attitudes toward Islam, with six in 10 having unfavorable views, compared with about four in 10 for Democrats and independents. Among conservative Republicans, 65 percent view Islam unfavorably; liberal Democrats, in contrast, are 60 percent positive.

This partisan divide is also apparent on the question of whether mainstream Islam encourages hostility toward non-Muslims, with Republicans about twice as likely as Democrats to say it does. Nearly half of conservative Republicans see centrist Islam as a promoter of violence.

Perceptions of Islam as a peaceful faith are the highest among non-religious Americans, with about two-thirds holding that view. Among Catholics, 60 percent see mainstream Islam as a peaceful faith; it is 55 percent among all Protestants, but drops to 48 percent among white evangelical Protestants.

There are deep divisions in perceptions of Islam between younger and older Americans as well: More than six in 10 younger than 65 said Islam is a peaceful religion, but that drops to 39 percent among seniors.

As in previous surveys, unfamiliarity breeds skepticism: 53 percent of those who profess an understanding of some Islamic teachings view the religion favorably, compared with 31 percent of those who said they do not have that fluency. Those who have such a background are also significantly more likely to see the religion as peaceful.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone March 26-29 among a national random sample of 1,000 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Sources: Most in poll back Obama’s outreach to Muslims But nearly half hold negative views about Islam, new survey finds

ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST POLL: VIEWS OF ISLAM
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE AFTER 6 p.m. Sunday, April 5, 2009

So what can we digest from this recent poll in summary?

  • 55 percent of those polled are without a basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam, and do not know anyone who is Muslim.
  • 48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam.
  • 29 percent, said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims.
  • 58 percent, said it is a peaceful religion.
  • Republicans are more apt than others to hold negative attitudes toward Islam, with six in 10 having unfavorable views, compared with about four in 10 for Democrats and independents.
  • Conservative Republicans, 65 percent view Islam unfavorably; liberal Democrats, in contrast, are 60 percent positive.
  • Republicans  are twice as likely as Democrats to say mainstream Islam encourages hostility toward non-Muslims.
  • Half of conservative Republicans see centrist Islam as a promoter of violence.
  • Perceptions of Islam as a peaceful faith are the highest among non-religious Americans, with about two-thirds holding that view.
  • 60 percent of Catholics, 55 percent of Protestants, and 48 percent of white evangelicals see mainstream Islam as a peaceful faith.
  • More than six in 10 younger than 65 said Islam is a peaceful religion, but that drops to 39 percent among seniors.
  • 53 percent of those who profess an understanding of some Islamic teachings view the religion favorably, compared with 31 percent of those who said they do not have that fluency. Those who have such a background are also significantly more likely to see the religion as peaceful.

Why should we care about this disturbing trend Muslims?  I know many of you could care less what other people think about our religion and I too must readily admit that I don’t have it on the forefront of my mind, but I do see why we should pay attention.

Perception by definition is not the same as reality as we all know, because as you can see from the poll, the more ignorant one is about the actual teachings of Islam, the more hostile their response, which of course makes perfect sense, as the ignorant always respond according to their disposition.

However, as Muslims the world over and as Muslim Americans in particular we have to remind ourselves that these very perceptions affect but domestic and foreign policy.  If we were to ignore these trends as many of us do, we become part of our own demise on the very issues affecting our quality of life.

Now some of you may think of my rant today as another of my “sky is falling” mantra’s, but do I really need to remind you of the daily incidents here in America as it relates to discrimination or the actions carried out in the Muslim world related to foreign policy?  The more distant people are from one group or another the less likely they are to care about that groups welfare, goals, ideas, and quality of life.  This is why it’s easy for many Americans to cry out against Israeli’s who are killed yet in the same breath support actions that kill thousands more Palestinians.  This is why it is easy for some American politicians to make comments that call for nuking Mecca if America is attacked or supporting policies that call for the aggression and/or hostile stance toward Muslim majority countries.  To many Americans as evidenced by this poll, their ignorance of Islam/Muslims breeds ignorant and hateful at times, actions against Muslims and Islam.

Now to address each bullet individually:

55 percent of those polled have no knowledge of Islam and/or know no Muslims.

This is really troubling.  That means more than half of those polled, never heard of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Congressmen Keith Ellison, Andre’ Carson, or President Obama (just joking, lighten up!)

In all seriousness, there are estimates that state that there is a range of about 3-8 million Muslims currently in the US.  Not only that, but the presence of Islam in America can be traced back almost 600 years.  With thousands of Mosques across the US, with countless state and two federal legislators being Muslim, and God only knows how many federal state, local, etc. staffers, employees, etc. there are.  Over 20k Muslims actively serving in the Armed Forces, not to mention veterans going back to WWI.  I could go on and on, but not even knowing who Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X is really baffles me on this one, yet at the same time, it doesn’t surprise me, considering how many Americans still believe that President Obama (and I’m certain my joke didn’t help) is a Muslim!

What I suggest is that every Muslim America actively engage their communities.  The trend is unanimous, the less they know about our religion and us as people, the more hostile their attitude, so it’s time to roll up our sleeves and engage.  Help out at the local shelter, participate in the PTA, local politics, the HOA, and various other community service activities and organizing.  Participate in the things you love, play sports, be artists, chefs, business owners, etc.  Don’t be afraid to be a Muslim out in the open (you know how some of you do).  We have to make this a unified effort and this week to show my dedication to this worthy cause, I will reach out to other Muslim bloggers and organizations to promote the “I am a Muslim and I am proud” campaign, the wording is still in the works as I just made that up, but you get the point. 🙂

48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, 29 percent, said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims, and 58 percent, said it is a peaceful religion.

While there is light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to the 58% keep in mind that the urgency of this poll is due to the fact the negatives are higher since a poll in 2002 6 months after 9/11!  So after a terrorist attack we had higher favorable numbers than now.  I can’t do a complete analysis without all the metrics (six sigma training) but what I personally believe is that the difference is in our attitude and the politics and smear campaigns of the last election cycle, combined wiht years of apathy on our part.  Now we can blame the mainstream media and truly they and their finaciers share a huge portion of the blame, but what did we do as a community then versus now?  Well even though many Americans memory is short, after 9/11 there was a flood of Muslim scholars, leaders, and activists going out of their way (some say too much) to teach and let Americans know that Muslims condemn terrorism and that Islam is peace.  You had vigils, marches, committments, etc. that were widespread.  Then it fell off with the headlines and many of us went back to our “normal” lives.  Therein lies the problem.  We are not vigilant enough as a community, that is my constant complaint.

What would happen if someone on a major media outlet made a negative comment about Jews or Judaism?  We all know without me going into detail, however it’s open season on Muslims and Islam.  We have anti-Muslim/Islam DVD’s coming in the regular mail, foriegn leaders with anti-Muslim/Islam agendas and videos being hosted by members in the US Congress, and insult after insult on cable news networks notably, Fox “News”, did I mention those who make thousands and millions speaking on college campuses and writing books against Muslims/Islam many of whom are easily debunked as fakes?

What do we do about it?  Well you have many a local not remotely covered protest, statement, etc. but that’s universally it for us.  However, you get plenty of coverage of the death threats, flag burnings, etc. because of cartoons in newspapers or comments by the Pope.  And therein lays the problem.

Using the Jewish example, notice how they would never relegate their frustration and response to bigotry to a statement here or there or some well intentioned college groups and/or student associations.  It’s a full-scale community supported campaign to cease and desist these actions against them and rightfully so.  They don’t stop and haven’t stopped until it is not acceptable to target their group in a bigoted way.  Emphasis on the “full-scale community supported” part.

We have to ban together and state that enough is enough.  Letter writing campaigns, calls to politicians, divestment in sponsors of media outlets, etc.  should all be on the table along with education campaigns and networking with other faith groups in a show of solidarity.  Not doing it only increase the risks of something horrible happening as the Jews know all too well.  What may seem as a harmless or isolated comment/view today, could lead to policy, internment, and legislated bigotry tomorrow.

Republicans are more apt than others to hold negative attitudes toward Islam, with six in 10 having unfavorable views, compared with about four in 10 for Democrats and independents.  Conservative Republicans, 65 percent view Islam unfavorably; liberal Democrats, in contrast, are 60 percent positive. Republicans  are twice as likely as Democrats to say mainstream Islam encourages hostility toward non-Muslims. Half of conservative Republicans see centrist Islam as a promoter of violence.

Why am I not surprised?  I would also like to throw these two in for emphasis:

60 percent of Catholics, 55 percent of Protestants, and 48 percent of white evangelicals see mainstream Islam as a peaceful faith. More than six in 10 younger than 65 said Islam is a peaceful religion, but that drops to 39 percent among seniors.

My point is that on a political note, the Republican party has a lot of work to do and Muslims need to not only get engaged in politics but choose their allegiances wisely.  I threw in the two points about religion and age, because in my humble opinion they are related.  A sizable majority of the base of the Republican party are senior citizens and white Evangelical Christians.

Not a stranger to controversy, I have publicly linked many of the issues Americans have with Islam/Muslims to race, age, and particular religious traditions.  I won’t go as far as to say an entire political party is hostile toward Muslims/Islam as there are many a Republican Muslim politician…..but when the base of your party belongs to segments of society that are hostile, one has to wonder where those politicians hold office, I’m willing to gamble and state their in regions with higher concentrations of Democrats, Independents, and young people.  Just a hunch…..

For me as a black American, I’m weary of the afformentioned groups as it is.  There is a highly pessimistic side, that is not remotely surprised that the very same groups and individuals who have a record of being hostile to minorities in general and blacks to be more specific, i.e. see those seniors who were in their prime 40 years ago…, would be the same groups who are hostile to Muslims/Islam.  It should be no surprise that conditioned bigotry would transfer from one group to another based largely in my opinion on the Satanic belief of superiority through ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc.  I don’t have to rehash the disaster of the Republican campaign this last election and the comments about Obama, Muslims, Islam, etc.  I don’t have to remind you of the McCain/Palin rallies or the RNC Convention and what the crowds looked like do I?

I doubt we could ever do anything to affect this bunch.  I believe that theirs is an ideology that is bred, taught, and thrived off of.  Do I need to mention that this very segment of the population are also heavy supporters of Fox “News”, just thought I’d throw that in there.

So what can we do about this portion of the poll?  Surely I’m not advocating doing nothing, but I am advocating that this is a group that we shouldn’t expect to overcome but to at the very least contain and stop their mental virus from spreading.

We have to continue with engagement and education.  We may never change the minds of the old, but the youth can be changed to understand at the very least that you should respect fellow humans who do not look like you or believe as you do.  We must also engage the Republican party, why, because it’s just foolish in general to be beholden to one political party.  We have to push our ideas and agenda to whomever will listen.  Besides, if more Muslims belonged to all parties, the least likely will it be that discrimination and bigotry will be accepted or tolerated as a matter of policy, campaign rhetoric, etc.  remember poor Senator McCain having to fight at the end to quell the hate at his rallies?  Much of which the GOP allowed to ferment and become more and more acceptable to gin up Republican support.  There is no doubt in my mind that they hoped to capitalize as a political strategy on the hate ideology of their base to win.  Much like I believe many of the Fox executives and anchors only produce and say what they say to make money from those who watch and support them.

In summary after 2500 words, what I’m suggesting is constant vigilance and a surge in those efforts.  We have to raise, create, and support our MSA’s, Bloggers, Leaders, etc. among us who best represent our valutes, truth, and agenda.  We have to promote and provide a unified front against any and all that will act or promote bigotry against us.  This means external from non-Muslims as well as those within such as the foaming at the mouth clerics and others.

These individuals we support we have to encourage to write, run, lead, speak, etc. in those capacities to best represent us.  That means sending our best on talk radio, cable news, etc. to debate and respond to constant criticism.  We have to be willing to engage in every forum in which Islam/Muslims is mentioned.  It shouldn’t matter if it’s at a Church, Fox “News”, or a GOP convention, we have to be willing to deal with the accepting and the hostile in the best of manners as we are taught in our religion.  We can do more with a smile than a frown.  We may be talked over and dismissed by the Bill O’Reily’s or Sean Hannites of the world, but if we are at least present with a smile, kind words, and gestures, no one would ever be able to claim that we are silent, apethetic, or that which they say we truly are.  We will be able to change the comments, rhetoric, and effect the polling.  We will be able to stop the discrimination and bigotry that is becoming socially acceptable.  AT the very least, but not certainly the least, on that day when all will be held to account, we will be able to face our Lord and state that we have tried.  We will be able to be confident and affirm that we were among those who served humanity and acted as agents of change for the good enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.

Peace and Blessings,

Robert Salaam

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