- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the general public thinks Muslims are second only to homosexuals in being discriminated against, a new survey shows.

Nearly six in 10 Americans — 58 percent — think Muslims are subject to “a lot” of discrimination, according to two combined surveys released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed — 64 percent — said there was “a lot” of discrimination against homosexuals.

However, 38 percent of those polled, down from 45 percent two years ago, think Islam encourages violence more than do other faiths.

The biggest shift was among conservative Republicans, 55 percent of whom said Islam encourages violence, down 13 percentage points from when the same group was polled in August 2007. When asked the same question, white mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics and conservative Democrats all showed drops of nine percentage points compared with 2007.

Black Protestants stayed the same at 30 percent. White evangelicals who think Islam encourages violence dropped four points from 57 percent to 53 percent.

Forty-five percent of the adults polled said they personally know a Muslim. Men (51 percent) were more likely than women (40 percent) to know a Muslim and blacks (57 percent) more likely than whites (44 percent) or Hispanics (39 percent) to know one. Liberals (51 percent) personally knew a Muslim more than conservatives (41 percent).

The surveys said young people ages 18-29 are overwhelmingly (73 percent) more likely to say Muslims are the most discriminated against, compared with those over 65, only 45 percent of whom say Muslims get the brunt of discrimination.

Americans’ familiarity with Islam’s most basic tenets has increased in the past eight years, the survey said, with 53 percent able to identify “Allah” as the Islamic name for God and 52 percent able to identify the Koran as Islam’s sacred book. Forty-one percent could answer both questions; 36 percent said they were unfamiliar with either term.

When asked to identify which religion is most different from their own, Islam led the pack with 45 percent of those polled saying it was most different. Buddhism (44 percent) and Hinduism (40 percent) were close behind. However, Islam is a monotheistic faith with roots in Judaism and Christianity, whereas Buddhism and Hinduism believe in multiple or no gods.

Higher levels of familiarity with Islam as well as personally knowing Muslims are associated with favorable attitudes toward the religion. Of the group judged to be most familiar with Islam, 34 percent said the religion encourages violence. With those of medium familiarity, 42 percent said Islam encourages violence.

However, of those judged to have the least familiarity, the level sank, with 37 percent saying Islam causes violence.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the conclusions of the Pew study match his group’s tracking of bias against Muslims. Mr. Hooper said his organization’s research shows that discrimination against Muslims has increased since the group began tracking it in 1995.

“It’s unfortunate,” Mr. Hooper said. “But I don’t want to get into that idea that we are more of a victim than any other minority group. We don’t want to see anyone targeted by bias or intolerance.”

Mr. Hooper also agreed with the Pew study’s conclusion that those who are more familiar with Islam were less likely to link the religion to violence.

“Our research has shown time and time again that when people know more about Islam, prejudice and stereotyping [go] down,” he said. “I think that just confirms what we’ve seen a number of times in the past.”

The surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life were conducted Aug. 11-17 among 2,010 adults. The margin of error is 2.5 percentage points. Some findings also came from another survey of 2,003 adults conducted Aug. 20-27.

• Ben Conery contributed to this report.

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