Monday, June 18, 2007

"Searching the minds of American Muslims"

About a month ago, on May 22, the Pew Research Center released a report on Muslim Americans entitled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream. Headlines announcing the results and commentary on the study continue to appear in the press.

They include major news outlet headlines such as these:

Troubling signs in poll on Muslims in America (LA Daily News)
Pew Poll finds some US Muslims support suicide bombing (Reuters)
Poll: 1 in 4 U.S. Young Muslims OK With Homicide Bombings Against Civilians (FOX)
Some U.S. Muslims Approve Suicide Strikes (MSNBC)
Poll: 26% Of Young US Muslims OK Bombs (CBS News)

and columns in smaller papers (in order from the "oh-good, we-in-White-Christian-America-can-breathe-easier" to the "beware-of-Satan-lurking-in our-midst" type headlines):

Good News: American Muslims are mainstream (Southern California InFocus)
Searching the minds of American Muslims (Star Tribune)
Muslim first, Arab second, American third (Baltimore Sun)
America must not ignore a dangerous percentage (Laurel Leader Call)
Recognize the Islamic threat (Ranaoke Times)

You can see for yourself. Just do a Google news search. Yikes! Just what American Muslims need - more sensationalism and more media-ignited bigotry.

I wasn't satisfied with the headlines that popped up and searched for alternative information on this study.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali, Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective, made some interesting points about the Pew study. In his article, "Hidden agenda of PEW Center’s million dollar survey of American Muslims", for The American Muslim, argues that the report grossly undercounts the Muslim population in this country by as much as sixty percent, putting the total of U.S. Muslims at 2.4 million instead of the 6 or 7 estimated by many researchers and Muslim organizations.

This undercount, maintains Mr. Ghazali, constitutes "the latest attempt to undercut the influence of American Muslims." This undercount has a strong political basis, Ghazali argues. He writes:

Religious denominations, like all interest groups, can gain or lose political clout based on perceptions of their size, according to J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the case of the U.S. Muslim community, Melton says, its efforts to influence policy in the Middle East would get a boost if it were viewed as being larger than the country’s Jewish population, which is estimated at 6 million. “It’s a political question: How does it sway votes?” he argued.

Ghazali further cites David Harris, The American Jewish Committee’s executive director, who has "warned that the increasingly visible American Muslim lobby posed a challenge to U.S.-Israel relations."

It's always interesting to read a variety of analyses.

Again, Ghazali's article reminds me of my earlier piece on the census. Undercounting generally hurts the undercounted groups, but often benefits those asking the survey questions - those in power.

And the role of the media? If the mainstream media can maintain the general populace's paranoia regarding the Muslims, then maybe the Bush administration can continue to rage its War on Terror largely unquestioned?


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