Anti-Muslim beliefs are losing in the US

A US survey shows that opinions of Muslim Americans, and opinions about them, have moved beyond the stereotypes bred by the September 11 attacks.

Shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, 350 assaults were reported against Arab and Muslim Americans. It was what the terrorist attacks were no doubt supposed to accomplish - an atmosphere of fear and distrust that bred ignorance and xenophobia.

As the 10-year anniversary of those attacks nears, such negative attitudes have persisted for too long. Crucially, in the United States and elsewhere, falsehoods and stereotypes propagated about Muslims are, slowly, being broken down.

As The National reported yesterday, a major study by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre surveyed 870,000 people in the United States of various religious backgrounds. Some of the findings are obvious (except to someone who is blinded by prejudice).

For example, Muslim Americans were very unlikely to identify with Al Qaeda. Muslim groups were more likely than any other religious community in the United States to reject violence against civilians, whether it was perpetrated by national armies or militant groups.

No surprise, you might say. What is worrying is that many Americans, and others, might be surprised.

What also might surprise some was that 70 per cent of Jewish Americans did not associate Muslims as Al Qaeda sympathisers. After a decade of joint initiatives between Muslims and Jews in the United States meant to build bridges, it is still important to highlight that hate propagated from both sides does not represent the majority.

There were problematic findings as well. A minority of 11 per cent of Muslim respondents, small but significant, said that violence carried out by non-state actors was justified. It is unclear whether this is semantics - one man's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter" - but it is a sentiment that must be addressed. Of course, every community, not just Muslims, confronts the same issues.

Stereotypes against Muslims are not a thing of the past, and are even expressed in horrific new ways, as the senseless Norway attacks showed. But this survey's findings suggest progress since September 11. The acts of terrorists and maniacs do not represent the rest of us.

Published: August 4, 2011 04:00 AM