Poll: 40 Percent of Americans Have a Negative View of Muslims
The release of the film American Sniper has generated a wave of anti-Muslim abuse in the U.S., according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Hate speech has increased sharply on social media since the release of the film, which tells the story of an American Navy Seal who fought in Iraq, the committee said in a statement released on Jan. 21. “We want Mr. (director Clint) Eastwood to say that Arabs in America are just as American as the next person,” said Abed Ayoub, the national policy director for the committee, in an interview with The Anadolu Agency. Perhaps the worst aspect is the repeated theme that; “This is America, and Muslims don’t belong,” which is a shocking attitude from the country that is a “melting pot” of so many different ethnic and religious groups, Ayoub said.
But the film is clearly just a trigger for emotions that have been building up for a long time; since 9/11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in the U.S., according to studies by the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life study taken at the end of 2013 showed that 41 percent of Americans had a positive opinion of Muslims. The number of Republicans exhibiting prejudice was closer to 60 percent, the study showed. A more recent poll by the Arab-American Institute found that the high-opinion figure had dropped to 32 percent. Once again, the most negative attitude came from members of the Republican Party, the poll showed.
Attacks against Muslims have significantly risen from 2005 to 2013, with a total of 691 incidents occurring in 2013, according to Human Rights Watch statistics. HumanRightsWatch.org said that since Jan. 7, the day the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris occurred, there have been over 50 attacks and threats towards Muslims. Never mind that since 9/11, the Muslim-American community has helped security and law enforcement officials prevent nearly two of every five al Qaeda terrorist plots threatening the United States, and that tips from the Muslim-American community are the largest single source of initial information to authorities about these few plots, FBI statistics confirm both trends.
On Feb. 2, a woman wearing a hijab on a plane was insulted by passengers and, allegedly, even by the staff of the Delta airlines flight. “This is America,” one female passenger yelled.
When the incident was reported, social media carried more hate speech reactions, the level of abuse on social media that followed the incident was shocking, ADC President, Samer Khala said in a statement on Feb. 3. “Move back to the desert. Our Country, our rules,” said one Facebook user.
All of the abuse ignored the fact that the woman and her entire family were American citizens, born and bred in the country. In fact Muslims constitute 1 percent of the total number of American citizens, according to U.S. Census statistics. Yet according to FBI statistics, they are the victims of 13 percent of religious-based hate crimes, which doubled in 2014. Texas has been the scene of some particularly ugly anti-Muslim demonstrations. There have been repeated appearances in front of the state legislature in Dallas with protestors carrying signs like “Sharia-Free zone,” or “I stand against Islam.”
Recently, a member of that legislature proposed a bill that would propose to limit the application of sharia law. Sociologists see the incitation to Islamophobia in the U.S. as coming from the political far right. “Using disingenuous and mendacious distinctions between Islam and Islamic Shariah, between Muslims and radical Muslims; a coalition of individuals and groups associated with the far right and conservative perspective are using law as cover for prejudice and are seeking to make the very practice of Islam unacceptable in America,” explained Muqtedar Khan, a sociologist with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington in testimony before a Congressional Committee last year. Khan said: “An emerging anti-Muslim ideology is using hateful symbolism such as ‘Quran burning’, falsely claiming that ’80 percent of American Muslims are extremists’, and political gamesmanship like ‘banning the shariah’ to create and sustain an atmosphere and culture of extreme hostility, suspicion, and hate towards Islam and Muslims.” “It is this hateful ethos that is putting Muslim rights at risk. It encourages people to ill-treat Muslims and allows law enforcement to act without regard for the constitutional rights of Muslims.”
Sadly, it is clear that attitudes towards Muslims in the U.S. are not improving, and that incitation by the far right has helped to harden those attitudes. But the more recent poll does have one favorable note: Opinions about Muslims in America from people who actually knew Muslim-Americans are far more positive than those who have not, the poll by the Arab-American Institute showed.
This article was originally published on Daily Sabah and can be read here.