Some of the results of the Pew Research Center poll of Muslims in America were startling: twenty-six percent of Muslims between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine affirmed that there could be justification in some (unspecified) circumstances for suicide bombing, and five percent of all the Muslims surveyed said that they had a favorable view of Al-Qaeda. Given the Pew Center’s estimate of 2.35 million Muslims in America, and the total of thirteen percent that avowed a belief that suicide bombings could ever be justified, that’s over 300,000 supporters of suicide attacks. And 117,500 supporters of Al-Qaeda.
It is unfortunate that the Pew Center pollsters were not equipped with a follow-up question for those who expressed support for suicide bombing, asking them about the circumstances in which they would consider it justified, and whether they would ever consider it justified in the United States. As columnist Diana West has noted: “the fact that a significant young chunk of American Islam believes such violence has a place in society indicates something closer to the end of unfettered political opinion. It may signal the beginning of physical coercion as a factor in the American political process.” The pollsters might also have asked those who professed support for Al-Qaeda whether they were working or would be willing to work to further that organization’s goals in the United States – but perhaps that kind of question shades too far over into what law enforcement officials should be doing.
In any case, the implications of this poll are far-reaching. Yet virtually no one is dealing with those implications. The mainstream media generally reported the poll results as indicating that the overwhelming majority of Muslims rejected extremism and were comfortably assimilated into American society, without dealing in detail with those troubling minorities. Headlines in major newspapers included “Poll: Most Muslims seek to adopt American lifestyle”; “Poll: US Muslims Feel Post-9/11 Backlash Despite Moderate Outlook”; “Muslims assimilate better in U.S. than Europe, poll finds”; “U.S. Muslims more content, assimilated than those abroad”; and “Pew Study Sees Muslim Americans Assimilating.”
Meanwhile, two of the leading Islamic advocacy groups in the United States, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), shrugged off the unpleasant aspects of the poll and stressed its findings about how well assimilated Muslims were. Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, “I don’t see a rise of religious extremism in the Muslim community….If you look at the totality of the survey results, the views of American Muslims more or less mirror the views of people of all faiths of America.” He did not cite, however, any evidence for this mirroring – any survey, for example, of Christians or Jews indicating any significant percentages of support for, say, the Ku Klux Klan, or abortion clinic bombers. Terrorism expert Steven Emerson, meanwhile, confronted Edina Lekovic of MPAC on CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow show, reading an editorial in praise of Osama bin Laden published in the UCLA Muslim Students Association’s newspaper in 1999, while she was editor of the paper. Lekovic denied having been the editor of the paper at that time, but Emerson has made available a pdf of the paper’s masthead that lists her as editor. Kudlow had asked Lekovic what Muslims in America were doing to combat the jihadist views expressed by some in the poll, and she stated that they were doing a great deal, but offered no specifics – and the incident with Emerson damaged her credibility. In fact, neither the CAIR nor the MPAC website contains any announcement about any program or initiative of any kind designed to lessen support for suicide bombing and Al-Qaeda within the Muslim community in America.
And therein lies the problem. The mainstream media’s soothing reports about the poll not only misled the American public about the poll results; they also failed to call American Muslim advocacy groups to account for those results. The first question in every media analyst’s mind should have been, What do Muslim groups plan to do to combat the spread of the jihadist ideology of Islamic supremacism among Muslims in America? Pointing out that most Muslims in America eschew that ideology is not enough; what about the others? Almost six years after 9/11, no pressure is coming either from the mainstream media or law enforcement for Muslim groups in the United States to institute comprehensive educational programs against jihadism in their mosques and schools. This poll, however, shows how much such programs are needed – as well as a national debate about how these groups should be regarded if they refuse or fail to implement such programs.
But instead, we are supposed to be reassured that those holding jihadist sentiments number only a few hundred thousand. The public discourse about Islamic jihad has been dominated by fantasy since 9/11 and before that, and if anything, the fog is thicker now than ever.
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