May 24, 2007 - According to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week, Muslim-Americans are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.” The poll showed the majority surveyed have close non-Muslim friends, believe in a strong American work ethic and feel there is little conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. Overall, an encouraging picture, right?
Not according to a cavalcade of major media outlets. On Tuesday and Wednesday, coverage of the poll was downright foreboding. “Supporting Terror?” read the CNN crawl at the bottom of the screen as John Roberts interviewed a group of young moderate Muslims about the poll. On CBS News online, the headline incorrectly stated that 26% OF YOUNG U.S. MUSLIMS OK BOMBS. And in USA Today, more misinformation and scare tactics: POLL: 1 IN 4 YOUNGER U.S. MUSLIMS SUPPORT SUICIDE BOMBINGS.
The fear-inducing reports were based on the responses to a couple of questions in the Pew survey: is suicide bombing justified? The outcome: “Very few Muslim Americans—just 1%—say that suicide bombings against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances,” according to the Pew poll. As for U.S. Muslims under 30, Pew reported that 15 percent believe suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified. The numbers were tucked inside a 108-page report that also found a large majority of U.S. Muslims rejected the idea of violence against civilians, had very unfavorable views of Al Qaeda and were concerned about the rise of Muslim extremism in the United States.
So why, amid all the other encouraging data, would such a large number of media outlets mine the poll for evidence that Muslims—even the ones next door—are dangerous? Hussein Ibish, executive director of the Foundation for Arab American Leadership, says the answer is as disturbing as it is predictable. “It suggests there is an appetite for negativity about U.S. Muslims in the American media,” he says. “There’s two templates post-9/11 for coverage about American Muslims. One is they are scary—be very afraid. The other template is the sorry, poor pathetic victims of hate crimes. It’s villain or victim—a ridiculous set of choices—and coverage of this poll has fallen into the villain category. It’s irrational, because if you read the poll, it is actually quite positive.”