Post 9/11, Americans say Muslims face most discrimination
But many also see Islam as a violent religion, according to a Pew Forum survey.
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Fifty-eight percent say Muslims face "a lot" of discrimination, according to an annual survey of religious attitudes by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life and the Pew Center for People and the Press, released Wednesday.
The groups surveyed 4,013 adults nationwide in August. This is the first year it asked about perceived discrimination of religious and social groups. Sixty-four percent of respondents said gays and lesbians face discrimination; 35 percent believe Jews do and 27 percent believe evangelical Christians face discrimination.
The survey sample composition means the majority of respondents – and of those who perceive discrimination against Muslims – are Christian. It's a finding that suggests Americans are tolerant pluralists, but Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says the full picture is more complicated.
In the same poll, he notes, two-thirds of people indicated that they see Islam and their own beliefs as quite different.
This bothers Kareem Shora, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). "It tells me that there's still that mentality out there ... [an] 'us versus them' approach." Meanwhile, he says, "the religion itself is established on the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Virgin Mary is actually mentioned more often in the Koran than she is in the New Testament."
Negative perceptions persist
The Pew survey also showed that 38 percent of Americans believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions, compared with 45 percent who don't. That's down from two years ago but still higher than it was in 2002, when 25 percent of Americans held this view.
This data suggests what ADC research has also found: That negative perceptions of Muslims didn't harden in the wake of September 11, but some time after. In fact, observers say, there was an outpouring of concern for Muslim-Americans in the months following the attacks.
"As ugly as some people got with hate crimes ... a lot of other people reached out to their neighbors and their friends and stood up for them," says Alia Malek, author of the forthcoming "A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Stories, American Roots." Ms. Malek, who was an attorney with the Department of Justice on 9/11, says the government initially reached out to Arab-Americans and Muslims.