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Poll: Fewer Americans Link Islam to Violence


Acts of terrorism by Islamic extremists have not translated into less favorable views of Muslim Americans. That's according to a new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey also finds a decreasing number of Americans who think Islam is a violent religion. NPR's Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DeROSE reporting:

The poll, taken after the July 7th terrorist bombings in London, asked 2,000 respondents for views on American Muslims, Islam in general, knowledge of the religion and whether respondents think Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. The study finds a majority of Americans, 55 percent, say they have a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans.

Professor JOHN GREEN (Political Science, Akron University, Senior Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life): And we had expected that it would decline given the terrorist activities.

DeROSE: John Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a professor of political science at Akron University.

Prof. GREEN: You would think that given the association of terrorism with certain groups and Islam that American opinion would be going the other way.

DeROSE: The 55 percent favorability rating is 10 points higher than in the spring of 2001, prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks. But Green says the numbers weren't all rosy. US attitudes towards Islam as a religion remain generally less positive than opinions on Muslim Americans. The report shows just 39 percent of those surveyed think positively about the faith itself. But overall, Green says the findings are positive.

Prof. GREEN: I think it does suggest a certain growing sophistication on the part of American public to understand that Islam is a great religion that is diverse and that the source of terrorism is really a very small group within that larger religious community.

DeROSE: Only about a third of those surveyed said Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Director of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life, Luis Lugo, says there was very little support for the notion that differences between Islam and the West are so fundamental they cannot be bridged. However....

Mr. LUIS LUGO (Director, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life): Almost close to half are of the view that it could develop into a larger conflict, perhaps even approaching what some have called a clash of civilizations.

DeROSE: Differences showed up in people's attitudes toward Islam and Muslims based on their political tendencies. For instance, by a 2-to-1 margin, people who describe themselves as conservative Republicans have a more negative view of Islam than do those calling themselves liberal Democrats. Lugo says knowing Muslims and having some general knowledge of Islam leads to more accepting views.

Mr. LUGO: Perhaps even a little bit of sympathy for the fact that there are crazies within any religion, including their own, and so I think there may have been that kind of sympathy factor at play.

(Soundbite from public service announcement)

Unidentified Man: We often hear claims Muslims don't condemn terrorism and that Islam condones violence. As Muslims, we want to state...

DeROSE: Greater awareness of Islam, education campaigns and public service announcements, such as this one from the Council of American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, are leading to warming attitudes toward Muslim Americans, says CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

Mr. IBRAHIM HOOPER (Spokesman, Council of American Islamic Relations): It may be that the message against extremism and against terrorism that the American-Muslim community is putting out is getting heard.

DeROSE: Cooper says the goal of these campaigns is to help people stop thinking of Islam as a foreign faith and begin to view it as one among the many American religions.

Jason DeRose, NPR News, Washington.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason De Rose