Non-Extremist American Muslims Worried About Extremism Among American Muslims

The Pew Center has an interesting new report on Muslim Americans. Some items from it:

1. The report estimates the Muslim population of the U.S., at 2.75 million, rather below the 5-to-7 million estimates that some have given and consistent with the “high-side estimates” from the 2001 National Opinion Research Center survey.

2. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims rejects political violence against civilians (81% say “Suicide bombing/other violence against civilians is [never] justified to defend Islam from its enemies,” compared to only 19% in the Palestinian territories, 38% in Egypt, and 60% in Turkey), and have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (70%).

3. The rejection of al Qaeda actually seems to be considerably higher among foreign-born Muslims than among black native-born Muslims, who I assume have very little connection to the Middle East. (I take it the great bulk of black native-born Muslims come from families who have been in America for a long time, though a few might be the children of African immigrants, from instance from Nigeria or Somalia.)

Among the foreign-born, 75% have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (9% have somewhat unfavorable, 3% have favorable, and 14% say “don’t know” or refuse to answer). Among black native-born Muslims, only 56% have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (21% have somewhat unfavorable, 11% have favorable, and 12% say “don’t know”). The difference seems statistically significant at the 95% level, despite the high margins of error for these subgroups. Non-black native-born Muslims are in-between, at 62% very unfavorable (15% somewhat unfavorable, 10% favorable, 13% “don’t know”), though I don’t think that those differences are statistically significant.

4. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims also supports women’s participation in business life and political life. When asked whether they agree with “women should be able to work outside the home,” 72% completely agreed and 18% mostly agreed (for the American public at large, the numbers are 81% and 16%, and for Muslims in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan, the numbers are generally much lower). When asked “who do you think make better political leaders?” — men or women — 68% said there’s no difference, 4% said women, and 27% said men; the numbers for the American public at large were 72%, 12%, and 13%, and the numbers in other Muslim countries were much less supportive of women on this question.

5. And most American Muslims view Israel’s existence as compatible with what they see as the rights of Palestinians: When asked which comes closest to their opinion, 62% said that “A way can be found for the state of Israel to exist so that the rights and needs of the Palestinian people are taken care of,” and 20% said “The rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the state of Israel exists.” By comparison, the numbers for the general American public were 67% and 12%, and the numbers in the Muslim countries listed in the report were far more anti-Israel (the least anti-Israel were Lebanon, with 40% and 59%, and Indonesia, with 37% and 43%; for Pakistan, for instance, the numbers were 13% and 47%).

6. All this having been said, American Muslims are worried about extremism among American Muslims, doubtless because even a modest percentage of extremists can reflect a high number of extremists. Among all Muslims, 60% are “very” or “somewhat” concerned “about possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S.” (the percentages are 78% for black native-born Muslims, and 52-53% for foreign-born Muslims).

7. Likewise, 21% believe there is “a fair amount” (15%) or “a great deal” (6%) of “support for extremism … among Muslims living in the U.S.,” only 34% believe there is “none at all”; 30% say “not too much,” and 15% say “don’t know” or refuse to answer.

8. And 48% of American Muslims say that “Muslim leaders in the U.S. … have … not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists”; 34% say that the leaders have “done as much as they should” (1% volunteered the answer “done too much,” and 17% said they didn’t know, or refused to answer).

So it seems to me that this survey suggests that extremists make up only a small percentage of American Muslims, but still make up a sufficient number that other American Muslims are worried about them. (Indeed, the worry of most American Muslims likely reflects both most American Muslims’ not being extremists — presumably, extremists generally aren’t worried about extremism — and their recognition that some are extremists.) I express no opinion in this post about what is to be done about that (e.g., to what extent this justifies surveillance of mosques and the like); but it struck me as worth noting.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

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