Such terror warnings have stirred raw emotions as the U.S. struggles to talk about religion in the context of terrorism.
Tensions erupted last summer over plans to build a mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York City after critics assailed it as an insult to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., held House hearings earlier this year to examine whether American Muslims are becoming “radicalized” to attack the U.S., declaring that U.S. Muslims are doing too little to fight terror.
The Associated Press reported last week that with CIA guidance, the New York Police Department dispatched undercover officers into minority neighborhoods, scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
It is now common in U.S. mosques for Muslims to preface public remarks by saying that they know the government is eavesdropping but Muslims have nothing to hide.
Still, one factor behind the somewhat upbeat sentiment of Muslim-Americans is the 2008 election of Obama, who pledged to improve relations with the Muslim world. Muslim-Americans who vote largely identify themselves as Democrats, and fully 76 percent of those surveyed say they approve of Obama’s job performance, compared with 15 percent in 2007 who approved of Bush’s performance.
Regarding possible terror risks, about 21 percent of Muslim-Americans say there is “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of support for extremism in their communities, according to the Pew survey. About 81 percent of Muslim-Americans separately say suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified in order to defend Islam, and growing numbers also express an unfavorable view of al-Qaida — 81 percent compared with 68 percent in 2007.
In all, nearly half say that Muslim leaders in the U.S. must do more to speak out against Islamic extremists, compared with one-third who say Muslim-American leaders have done enough.
The findings offer an uncommon portrait of the Muslim-American community, which Pew estimates at roughly 2.75 million, or nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population. By law, the Census Bureau does not ask about people’s religions, so extensive details about Muslim-American views, their size and demographics as a group are not widely known.
Mostly foreign-born immigrants, Muslim-Americans are significantly younger, more likely to be male and more racially diverse than the public as a whole. They express a broad willingness to adopt U.S. customs and are just as likely as the rest of Americans to hold a college degree.
• When asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. say they think of themselves first as Muslim, rather than as American. Roughly 60 percent say that most Muslims come to the U.S. to adopt the American way of life and see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
• Foreign-born Muslims in the U.S. come from at least 77 different countries, led by Pakistan, Iran, the Palestinian territories, Bangladesh, Yemen, Jordan and Iraq. About 70 percent of foreign-born Muslims report they are now naturalized U.S. citizens, higher than the 47 percent rate for the broader immigrant population in the U.S.
• Muslim-Americans are more likely than Muslims in the Middle East to say a way can be found for the state of Israel to exist so that Palestinian rights are addressed — 62 percent say this, compared with a range of 13 to 40 percent in other countries surveyed by Pew. That 62 percent share compares with 67 percent among the general U.S. public who hold this view.
The Pew survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,033 Muslims in the U.S., conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi or Urdu from April 14 to July 22. Subjects were chosen at random, from a separate list of households including some with Muslim-sounding names, and from Muslim households that had answered previous surveys.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.