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Muslim Americans- Pew Survey & the Media Twist (Background & Update #1 & #2)

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** The following bit is a little venting, followed by real analysis, please feel free to skip it to the Update#1** Cross-posted at Dailykos.com.

Prelude:

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This is what got to me that I had to share immediately. Compare these two headlines:
Some young US Muslims OK suicide attacks
vs.
Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream

They are talking about the SAME Pew research report, which was entitled as the second headline above. Of course, it is the first headline that has already made its way into Yahoo’s most popular news items!

Any average, casual reader would take the first headline as greatly alarming. Stating “some” means a significant number. Furthermore, stating US Muslims almost implies that these ‘dangerous youth’ would be “OK” with attacks on US soil. However, once you read the article, you see that out of the 20% who permitted the possibility of such attacks in their minds, only 2% agreed that it could be ‘often’ used. If you further read the actual report, only 1% say that it could be often used against civilian targets (pg 53).

Also, another interesting issue pops out. A commentator “a brother” asserted his belief that there was significant support and love of Bin Laden on another entry on MM. I had countered his suggestion with my own personal experience. Well, the report scientifically vindicates my position. So, in fact, there is not a ‘large’ or even a significantly ‘small’ Muslim poplution that ‘loves Osama’. Muslim “favorable” opinion of Al-Qaida is only at 5%. That is of the organization, perhaps it would be lower of the leader. Perhaps its an expression of their motivation and not their objectives and so on and so forth. The point being that 5% is the higher end of what ‘a brother’ was trying to portray as a ‘normal’ view. Furthermore, favorable is still a mild word compared to the assertions by ‘a brother’.

UPDATE 1: Authors, Title, Concerns, Demographics, Well-Being, Assimilation

Here are some more interesting results of the survey and my 2-cents worth of analysis:

  • Let’s start with the authors. A cursory evaluation does not point to any red herrings. The project was overseen by the Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut and another director. The senior project advisor, outside Pew, was Amaney Jamal. Other advisors included Ihsan Bagby and Ingrid Mattson. So, it seems that there was a genuine attempt for objectivity (Pew could not afford but to be so as a pollster) and the lack of any Islamophobic experts (such as Spencer, Pipes, etc.).
  • The title summarizes the report well and throws a positive spin on the results: “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream”.
  • Overall, let me state it very clearly: the report sheds a largely positive light on Muslim views about where they live and about the world in general. I do take issues with certain questions in the way they were asked, etc. I am particular concerned about the section that discusses Pew’s conclusion of the presence of only 2 million Muslims in America. I question the need, motive, and methodology of this conclusion and will address it another update. Regardless, overall Muslims answered the questions in a way that reflects a concern for their societies, a separation from radicalism and financial well-being. The views debunk much of what the Islamophobes have been trying to disseminate, that there is no such thing as ‘moderate’ Muslims. Baloney, and in your face, Pipes and Spencer! It is unfortunate that some of the media outlets cannot fend off their programmed Islamophobic and Islam-hating instincts to color this report in a negative way, as at least one headline portrayed (as mentioned above).
  • The study finds that 65% of Muslims in America are not American born, with nearly 40% arriving here after 1990. As an abbreviation, I will refer to the foreign-born Muslims as FOBs (no offense!). I find this result rather interesting and the conclusion I draw from it is that it is significantly skewed. I cannot imagine that 40% of the country’s Muslims came to the shores after 1990, that just does not pass the smell test.
  • The categorization of FOBs was interesting. Divided between Arabs, Pakistanis and a few other nations, Arabs may find this sort of division a bit too simplistic and also a bit offensive in the sense that Arabs probably don’t consider themselves so monolith as this report would suggest. Egyptians don’t think the same as Lebanese, for instance, and it would have been prudent to be a bit more specific.
  • Also interestingly, the study finds that of the native-born Muslims (will be abbreviated to NBMs), 20% or half are African-Americans, and nearly equally 20% of the native-borns are also converts. So, what does this imply? Nearly all the converts that were accounted for were African-Americans, leaving Hispanics and Caucasian Muslims grossly under-represented.
  • As for the foreign-born Muslims, 24% are Arabs, 18% desis. This too seems a bit skewed, I would expect the desis to be equal or greater than Arabs. In any case, the fact that they are about equal is reflected in Masjid politics around America!
  • Most Muslims recognize that hard work and good ethics can get them ahead (71%). Interestingly, FOBs believe in the “American dream” more than NBMs. As expected, 10% more FOBs are in an “excellent” financial situation compared to NBMs. It is no surprise as one succeeds in life, his outlook becomes more positive in general and the belief in the ‘system’ consequently increases.
  • Muslims in America hold a distinctive edge over Muslims in Europe, in terms of financial well-being, employment, etc. Muslims have about 2% more low-income folks as compared to the European nations, where Muslims poor exceed general public average by about 20% i.e. 20% more poor among Muslims than the average population sample. As can be imagined, personal financial well-being, education usually trickles into more ‘educated’ views about the world situation, less affinity towards extremism, etc.
  • Pointing to the more ‘solid’ foundations of converts, it is in fact the FOBs who would like to adopt ‘American customs’ (whatever that means) than NBMs. NBMs have ‘been there, done that’, and have recognized that a Muslim identity is more important than the ‘melting pot’ concept. Maintaining identity does not mean that one isolates oneself from the community; rather, it implies contributions to the society while still maintaining one’s distinct identity as a Muslim.

UPDATE 2: Muslim Women, Radicalism, Foreign Policy, Muslim Youth and Social Views (homosexuality, etc.)

  • Another interesting question was whether ‘life was better here for WOMEN than in Muslim countries’. Ok… why not ask if life was better here for MEN than in Muslim countries, and you would have probably got the SAME result. Why am I emphasizing this? The purpose of this question and the corresponding obvious answer (majority of Muslims feel that Muslim women have a better life here than in Muslim countries) seems to express the notion that women are being treated as second-class citizens in Muslim countries. Yet, most Muslims do not share that belief. So, the way the question was posed is disingenuous, because the answer may have been expressed with a different reality in mind, i.e. Muslim women have a better life in America compared to the Muslim countries in terms of standard of living, health, etc. just as the answer would have been if the question were treating men. As one gets into the details of the report, it is clearer that when asked differently, 80% of ‘practicing’ Muslims believe that Islam treats men and women equally well. While 50% of the minority that stated that “religion was not important in life” believed that Islam treats men better. What does this tell us? To me, this screams that the jaahil ‘only-in-name’ Muslims have a skewed version of the treatment of women in Islam. And of course those who do not share or understand our faith can be equally tempted by the misconceptions and twisted media coverage, to believe that there is Islamically rooted misogyny.
  • Obviously, the majority of Muslims feel that life has become more difficult for Muslims since 9/11 (53%). I was expecting this number to be much higher. Perhaps the people who don’t feel that life is more difficult for them are the same ones who have succeeded in ‘adopting American customs’. Nearly 25% of Muslims have been explicitly discriminated against—that is quite damning evidence. Imagine that… a QUARTER of the sample has faced discrimination of some kind. A slap in the face of those who believe that Islamophobia is a figment of Muslim imagination. And considering that half of this same sample was probably not the very ‘pious’ kind based on their desire to adopt American culture, just shows how wide the discrimination/singling-out net is falling over American Muslims.
  • Thankfully, the majority of Muslims still have good moral conscience to be against the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. On both, they are much more against it than the general population sample.
  • As I mentioned earlier, only 1% of Muslims believe in the justifiability of suicide attacks on civilians, and only 5% have a favorable opinion of Al-Qaeda. Note that the question did not ask, and again I find this highly disingenuous, whether they would justify suicide attacks on US soils. Because I doubt that they would have even gotten 0.1% of the Muslims agreeing on that. It is also actually encouraging that considering the open-endedness of the question, only 1% did in fact show support for such attacks. Normally, I expected that more people that would agree to such attacks in Israel, but the sample shows that nearly all American Muslims treat such actions wrong, regardless of where they occur. That is a positive sign of Islamic awareness.
  • One extremely positive data point on the youth is their increasing awareness of Islam. While “uncles” (30+… OMG, I fall into the uncle category now, though I am completely at home with the youth!) believe only at 40% that they are Muslims first, youth on the other hand are increasingly conscious about their identity, with a full 60% identifying themselves as Muslims first. While the report insinuates, actually states, that young Muslims are “more observant, more radical”, the data is not as obvious. First of all the survey has a self-advertised +-5% margin of error. Consider that 80% of youth believe that suicide bombings are NOT justified compared to 85% of 30+ age. That is within the margin of error. In fact, 74% of youth have an unfavorable view of Al-Qaida, nearly 10% more unfavorable than the 30+ age group. That is OUTSIDE the margin of error. So, looking at the survey from the ‘positives’, a different picture emerges.
  • Even if we were to admit that is a slightly higher tendency for youth towards radicalism as only in suicide bombings (why choose only this aspect to show radicalism??), it does not justify the exuberance of the Islamophobes and the sensationalist headline-makers (as seen in the headline quoted above). So, according to the report, the only point of data that supports this ‘radical Muslim youth’ view outside the margin of error is the 15% vs. 6% (youths vs. 30+) supporting the possibility of suicide attacks (general, not against civilians). Let me add then, just anecdotally speaking, more young folks are prone to reckless actions as well as a possessing a ‘macho’ view of the world. Check the car insurance rates for youth! Young people usually have little appreciation of life and death, and this feeling of immortality adds to the recklessness. Of course, it does not mean we ignore the results for the sake of this anecdotal evidence. Rather, this data should not be sensationalized, and instead Muslim leaders in the community should stress to the youth that suicide attacks is not like driving in the fast lane, but rather involves life and death decisions involving other human beings.
  • A bit unexpectedly, Muslims prefer larger role of the government in providing more services. This shows an increased maturity among Muslims about the need for social services, especially a greater demand from the government to help the poor (over 70%). This is almost 10% higher than the general public, indicating the quality in Muslims in possessing Islamic compassion for the less fortunate in the society. There is another important lesson in this… Muslims did not discriminate in the question of services to the poor, even though the majority of the recipients would not be Muslims. So, this debunks the idea that Muslims only care about Muslims, and want to kill the rest! Rather, Muslims care about their communities and societies, not limiting themselves just to Muslims, even more than those who don’t share their faith.
  • Surprisingly, views towards homosexuality were not as lopsided as one would have accepted. Nearly 30% stated that ‘homosexuality’ should be accepted. By correlation, one could assume that 30% of Muslims in America are either liberally/progressively inclined or don’t really have much of an Islamic faith. Now, there are some people who may share the libertarian belief of ‘live and let live’, but that sort of political maturity probably represents a very small proportion of Muslims, not enough to take away significantly from the subjective correlation I stated here.

UPDATE:  Here’s an interesting letter to the SF Chronicle that really sets the whole issue of “Muslims supporting suicide attacks” in a new perspective:ABIYA AHMED

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Bay Area

Santa Clara
Editor — I’m at a loss as to why The Chronicle chose to publish Carson Watson’s narrow-minded and misleading June 3 letter attacking Islam and American Muslims.

Watson blames Islam for poll results that reveal that a small minority of American Muslims believes that suicide bombings can “sometimes” or “rarely” be justified — not “completely justifiable,” as Watson falsely claims.

Perhaps Watson should compare such results with a 2005 Gallup poll that found that a solid majority of Americans to this day approves of the atomic bombing of Japanese civilians in World War II. I’m curious what simplistic conclusions Watson would be tempted to draw about our own “civilized” Judeo-Christian heritage given this data.

Next:
UPDATE 3: Religious Beliefs/Sects, Identity/Assimilation, Challenges, Political Values and Foreign Policies
UPDATE 4: Analysis of Muslim Population in America- Methodology, Criticism and Other Sources.

Other References: Otherized Again? The Pew Report at Sunni Sisters
Please feel free to post other references in comments.

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Hassan

    May 22, 2007 at 1:47 PM

    “Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants’ nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.”

    I always thought we were above 6 million here.

  2. Amad

    May 22, 2007 at 3:41 PM

    I will get to the population question as well… in Allah ma’as sabireen :)

  3. Hassan

    May 22, 2007 at 6:30 PM

    I was going through google news, and I can not understand so many news outlets, focusing on “25%” of muslims under age 30 that support suicide (and those too with conditions). I always heard the saying, some people look at glass half empty, while others see glass half full. Why in this case they are looking at glass somewhat empty. Also perhaps 25% was acceptable amount for news outlets to take this matter out of proportion, and since they could not find 25% of muslims supporting it, they played with numbers and said 25% under age of 30.

    I have a statistics. A whopping 100% of Americans under age of 10 can not solve calculus. That is alarming, what has happened to education system here.

  4. Mujahideen Ryder

    May 23, 2007 at 12:45 AM

    Wow. Good stuff. I’ll read this at work. Time to sleep!

  5. Judge Dredd

    May 23, 2007 at 12:13 PM

    6 million?

    Now I have come accross that figure before. I seem to remember ………….there was a controversy though…….nope….just can’t seem to recollect the story.

    >

    Good analysis and summary Amad.

  6. Hassan

    May 23, 2007 at 4:02 PM

    This got to be one of best post in this blog. Amad bhai, do you even have actual job now? :)

    I could not have read whole research myself, so thanks for parsing

  7. Amad

    May 23, 2007 at 4:10 PM

    ASA, Hasan, glad to be of service. I do have a life, and also a wife… so, thank my wife ;) [need to earn some brownie points, as I still have to work on this post and starting school next week!!].

    I would recommend folks to visit Dailykos’s cross-post of this. There you can witness compassionate and sensible Americans placing comments that are reasonable and lack the bigotry that one can see on most forums. Here is a little exchange to give you a flavor of this:

    How can anyone said suicide bombing is okay?
    I don’t get. This poll gives me makes me pause. These are people in our Country who actually believe killing innocent people is sometimes justified. by Lady Bird Johnson

    and the replies came fast and furious (not by Muslims, mind you, but intelligent American friends):

    Are you serious?

    Have you ever listened to the pro-war faction in this country? They don’t give a shit that thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis have died in our war of choice over there. They’ll justify it to you till the cows come home.

    So yeah, there are LOTS of people in this country who actually believe killing innocent people is sometimes justified and 99% of them ain’t Muslim. Not to mention death-penalty supporters who don’t care that that system also sometimes kills innocent people.

    You know, maybe I’m a super-geek but whenever I hear this kind of thing I am reminded of the scene in Star Wars where the one rebel fighter pilot deliberately crashes his ship into the bridge of a much larger Empire ship…he is cheered as a hero by both the movie and the audience, and yet he was a suicide bomber.

    And don’t tell me all that is different because it is a war. Everyone who backs a war is justifying the killing of innocent people. Is it sometimes a necessary evil? Maybe, but don’t act like Muslims are somehow different/worse from everyone else on this. by Eric K

    and another one:

    Given that the USA has wracked up over 600,000 innocent deaths in Iraq alone this century, you’ve got a funny perspective on which people have the bigger problem with ethics. by LondonYank

    To another sarcastic comment about Muslim women being second-class citizens (burqa, beating, all the usual right-wing crap), here is one of the few replies:

    There are extremists in all religions, including Christianity. The practices you cite are not based on the Quran, and are not universal throughout the Muslim world. You’re taking anecdotal problems and portraying them as being ubiquitous. Are all Christians just like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham? by Korkenzieher

    I have to say Dailykos bloggers are quite cool!

  8. Pingback: Mujahideen Ryder’s Blog - Not the average Muslim blog… » Yasmeen Hamidi, Haroon Moghul and Zaheer Ali on CNN discussing the Pew Report on Muslims in America

  9. Mujahideen Ryder

    May 23, 2007 at 4:40 PM

    Oh snap! It tracked back automatically. Nice!

  10. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » (UPDATE#3) Pew Survey- Muslims: Democratic, Socially Conservative, Concerned Citizens

  11. Pingback: Debbi Schlussel is back with her Islamophobic nonsense « Ahmed Ismail

  12. abu ameerah

    May 24, 2007 at 4:23 PM

    Mashallah, Mashallah!

    I never knew you were such an analytical guy, Amad!

  13. Pingback: Irshad Manji’s Shrill Responses Obilerated by a calm Dalia Mogahed | MuslimMatters.org

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