Four weeks after the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center released its study of Muslim Americans (IW analysis here), the Pew Research Center followed suit by publishing a survey (PDF here) of far greater value due to its broader range of topics, more direct questioning, and extensive demographic cross tabs. Though the media, like Pew, have emphasized the mainstream attitudes of most U.S. Muslims, the data indicate that radical views are held by a small but important minority that cannot be ignored. These and other interesting results are highlighted below:
Radical Muslims remain uncommon in the U.S. — but not uncommon enough. Muslims' opinions of al-Qaeda are 5% favorable (2% very, 3% somewhat) and 81% unfavorable (70% very, 11% somewhat); 14% did not answer. This is a step forward, as only 68% recorded disapproval in 2007. Furthermore, 8% of U.S. Muslims — a larger percentage than in Pakistan — say that suicide bombing or other violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified to defend Islam. Perhaps most troubling, 21% of U.S. Muslims see a great deal or fair amount of support for extremism among their own.
Underlining the significance of homegrown Islamism, more U.S.-born Muslims than immigrants hold radical views. Native-born African-American Muslims lead with way: 11% have a favorable opinion of al-Qaeda, 16% say that attacking civilians can be religiously justified at least sometimes, and 40% see support for extremism among U.S. Muslims; each value is double the one characterizing Muslim Americans as a whole.
Despite pseudo-academic studies smearing those who sound the alarm about radical Islam as "Islamophobes," Pew finds that 60% of Muslims are very or somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. — almost as high as the figure for the general public (67%). Are many Muslim Americans "Islamophobes" as well?
The Pew poll, like Gallup's, erodes the Islamist meme that life in America is miserable for Muslims. Pew finds that 56% of Muslims are satisfied with the country's direction, compared to 23% of the general public. Muslims also are happier with their lives, have a more positive financial outlook, and feel more confident that hard work leads to success.
Pew combines the percentage of Muslim respondents (about 0.5%, roughly the same as Gallup) with census data to estimate a population of 1.8 million Muslim adults and 2.75 million total Muslims in the U.S. — barely a third of the number often claimed.
It is reassuring that most U.S. Muslims hold mainstream views, but history shows that Islamists need not be a majority to be dangerous. The moderate and largely silent masses do not offset a hundred thousand radicals, if not more, who approve of al-Qaeda and serve as potential recruits.
Congressman Peter King, who called Pew's results "disappointing" and reiterated the need for hearings, has the right perspective: "Seventy percent of American Muslims are opposed to al-Qaeda. We are at war with al-Qaeda. One hundred percent should be opposed to al-Qaeda."