A summary of polls about the ideological makeup of the Muslim-American community shows that the majority is moderate, but there is a formidable minority influenced by Islamist doctrine. A significant number are refusing to give answers or are still figuring out where they stand on issues like terrorism and Sharia Law.
The number one question is how many Muslim-Americans support terrorism. A 2011 Pew poll found very little support for Al-Qaeda, with only 2% viewing the terrorist group very favorably, 3% somewhat favorably and 11% somewhat unfavorably. About 70% view Al-Qaeda very unfavorably, an increase of 12% since 2007.
There are 2.6 million Muslim-Americans, a number that is expected to rise to 6.2 million by 2030. This means there are 130,000 Muslim-Americans who will admit that they view Al-Qaeda favorably and that assumes there are no supporters among the 14% who did not answer the question. Plus, the survey did not poll support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups.
Only 1% of Muslim-Americans say violence against civilians to defend Islam is “often” justified. About 7% say it is sometimes justified and 5% say it is rarely justified. Approximately 81% say attacks on civilians are never justified. Of course, the definition of “civilian” varies. Hamas supporters, for example, argue that there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. The survey did not poll support for attacks on soldiers.
The 2007 Pew poll found that about 49% feel mosques should stay out of politics and about the same amount feel the Koran should not be taken entirely literally. The survey concluded that Muslim immigrants are more moderate on this issue than those who were born here.
“Native-born Muslims express overwhelming support for the notion that mosques should express their views on social and political matters. By contrast, a large majority of foreign-born Muslims—many of whom are from countries where religion and politics are often closely intertwined—say that mosques should be kept out of political matters,” the report said.
Perhaps the most surprising findings were related to social issues. The Pew 2011 poll shows that 39% feel that homosexuality should be accepted by society, an increase of 12% from 2007. On the issue of multiple wives, a Wenzel Strategies poll released in October found 22% support allowing polygamy.
The findings related to Sharia Law and specific elements of Islamist doctrine were less comforting.
The Wenzel poll found that almost 40% strongly or somewhat agree that Sharia Law should be the supreme law of the country. A slight majority oppose that proposition, with 35% strongly disagreeing and 18% somewhat disagreeing. However, when presented with a more refined question about what to do if Sharia conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, 70% would follow the Constitution and only 9% would follow Sharia Law. About 21% were undecided.
There is high support for restricting freedom of speech in compliance with Sharia Law.
About 59% feel that criticism of Islam or its founder is not permitted under the First Amendment. Only 41% disagreed. Shockingly, 52% strongly or somewhat support criminal charges against those that criticize or parody Islam, while 33% oppose it. Nearly 15% strongly or somewhat support executing critics of their religion. About 70% strongly oppose it and around 11% only somewhat oppose it.
Only about 30% believe that Americans have the right to encourage Muslims to leave their faith. Around 45% disagree. Note that this question isn’t about whether people should proselytize to Muslims. It’s about whether doing so is a constitutional right.
The polls indicate that the Muslim-American community is more moderate than its counterparts overseas on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A 2011 Gallup poll found that over 80% support a two-state solution. However, the 2011 Pew poll shows only 61% believe a two-state solution that respects the rights of Palestinians is possible. About 20% feel it is impossible, matching Gallup’s result.
The Wenzel poll directly asked Muslim-Americans whether Israel has a right to exist. About 46% strongly agreed that it does and 21% somewhat agree. Only 8% strongly disagree, essentially supporting the elimination of the state of Israel. Another 8% somewhat disagree that Israel has a right to exist and 16% were unsure.
The campaign to demonize the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism efforts by Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups has been fruitful. The 2011 Pew poll found that 41% do not believe that the war on terrorism is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, while slightly more (43%) believe it is. (Although this is a huge improvement from 2007, when 55% felt the U.S. government had ulterior motives and only 26% felt it was sincere.)
One important observation from the Gallup poll is that the Muslim-American community does not feel represented by any major Muslim-American organization with Muslim Brotherhood origins. The most popular one was the Council on American-Islamic Relations, followed by the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America, in declining order of popularity.
Altogether, only 25% of Muslim-American men and 19% of Muslim-American women chose one of these organizations when asked which one most represents their interests. This is remarkable because these organizations have been around for decades without any major challenge from within the community. This may be connected to the 2011 Pew poll’s finding that 48% feel that the Muslim-American leadership hasn’t done enough to speak out against extremism and only 34% feel they have.
The polls show there is a sharp divide in the Muslim-American community between those who completely reject Islamist doctrine and those who subscribe to it, in part or in whole. There is a significant number that is on the fence. Unfortunately, the U.S. government overlooks it.
The nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, won’t say “Islamist” or “jihadist.” The White House is regularly visited by the self-proclaimed Islamist leaders of the Muslim-American community that have actually been rejected by the community. The coordinator of the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism efforts emphasizes that it is focused on violence, not ideology.
You cannot be an Islamist terrorist without first being an Islamist. You cannot spread Islamist doctrine unless you are first a believer in that doctrine. We must recognize that this is a broader ideological conflict than just Al-Qaeda.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.