The first nationwide survey of Muslim Americans revealed that more than a quarter of those younger than 30 say suicide bombings to defend Islam are justified, a fact that drowned out the poll's kinder, gentler findings suggesting that the community is mainstream and middle class.
"There are trouble spots," noted Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, which conducted the survey of 1,050 adult Muslim Americans -- two-thirds of whom were foreign-born -- January to April. The results were released yesterday.
"We should be disturbed that 26 percent of these young people support an ideology in which the ends justify the means," said Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the Arizona-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
"But the survey also found that only 40 percent of the overall American Muslim population would even admit that Arabs were behind 9/11. They're in denial, refusing to take moral responsibility, and the radicals will feed on this," Dr. Jasser said.
Farid Senzai of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding said he had "concern" about evidence of youthful radicalism.
The revelation that some young American Muslims condone violent bombings led coverage from CBS News, the Associated Press, Reuters, the Detroit Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations.
"I'm not surprised that the press picked up on the bad news, because that's what sells. I'd like to see another ethnic group get asked the same question," said Laila Al-Qatami of the District-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"What's also missing were responses about what it means among Muslims to be an American, or their opinions about education, health care and domestic issues. Failure to include this stuff lends an impression that American Muslims are different," she added.
The survey, which estimates the U.S. Muslim population to be 2.3 million, emphasized the more positive findings, billing the group as "middle class and mostly mainstream," socially assimilated and happy.
"Clearly, this public comes across as much more moderate than much of the Muslim public in most of the world. They are decidedly American in outlook," Mr. Kohut said.
Indeed, seven out of 10 of the respondents rated their communities as good or excellent and said they would get ahead through the "American work ethic," a greater percentage than found in the general public. Seventy-three percent have never been discriminated against as a Muslim on these shores, and 78 percent said they were either "pretty happy" or "very happy" with their lives.
Practicing their religion was a positive as well: 74 percent said they were satisfied with the quality of mosques in their neighborhood. Most identify themselves as Democrats (63 percent) and seven out of 10 voted for Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, in the 2004 presidential race. Sixty-one percent say homosexuality should be discouraged.
Yet many are troubled by politics or policy: 69 percent disapprove of President Bush, 75 percent disapprove of the Iraq war and 48 percent disapprove of the war in Afghanistan. Only 26 percent say the war on terrorism is a "sincere effort," compared with 67 percent of the general public.
Where are their hearts? It depends on the age group. Sixty percent of the younger-than-30 demographic said they were "Muslim" first, and a quarter were Americans first. Among the total population, 47 percent consider themselves Muslims first and 28 percent are Americans first.
Social factors also come into play. The survey found that 54 percent are dissatisfied with the general state of the nation, 53 percent say life has gotten more difficult for Muslim Americans since September 11, 2001. More than half believe that their population has been singled out by the U.S. government for surveillance.
Among respondents who were converts, 91 percent were U.S. citizens. Of the total number of converts, 59 percent were black, 55 percent followed Sunni traditions and 67 percent had converted from a Protestant denomination.
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