Islamophobia worse in America now than after 9/11, survey finds
· Majority says Islam has most violent followers
· Analysts blame politicians and media coverage
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Friday March 10, 2006
More than half of Americans believe there are more
violent extremists within Islam than in any other
religion and that the faith encourages violence
against non-Muslims, according to a Washington
Post-ABC News poll yesterday.
Negative feelings towards Islam are much more
pronounced now than in the immediate aftermath of the
September 11 2001 terror attacks, the survey found.
A majority, 58%, of those interviewed now believe that
Islam has more violent followers than any other
religion. The poll of 1,000 was conducted by phone
last week and has a three-point error margin. Since
January 2002 the proportion of those who believe
mainstream Islam promotes violence against
non-believers has risen from 14% to 32%.
Analysts blame the surge on a confluence of factors:
the proposed takeover of US ports operations by a
Dubai firm (now abandoned); the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan; the election of Hamas in the Palestinian
territories; and, above all, the riotous protests
across the Muslim world against Danish cartoons
depicting the prophet Muhammad. "The coverage of the
controversy over the cartoons showed that sort of
violent extremist in a way that a lot of Americans
found troubling," said Carroll Dougherty of the Pew
Research Centre for the People and the Press.
American attitudes towards Islam were not out of step
with Europe, Mr Dougherty said, adding that there was
more tolerance in the US towards the use of
headscarves than in countries such as Germany or
France, where there is strong support for a ban.
But nearly half of Americans, 46%, said they held
unfavourable attitudes towards Islam - compared with
24% in January 2002. The Post quoted analysts as
saying that the demonisation of Islam by politicians
and the media during the past four years had led to an
erosion of tolerance.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11 2001,
George Bush made a number of statements disassociating
Islam and the general Arab and Muslim population in
America from al-Qaida. He also visited a mosque, a
symbolic gesture that helped build a more positive
image of Islam.
"It seems counter-intuitive, but from the president on
down there was a very strong message from Washington
that this was not representative of Islam," Mr
Dougherty said. "In the intervening years there has
been an absence of this sort of positive message."
James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab
American Institute, told the Post he was not surprised
by the poll's results. Politicians, authors and media
commentators have demonised the Arab world since 2001,
"The intensity has not abated and remains a vein
that's very near the surface, ready to be tapped at
any moment," Mr Zogby said. "Members of Congress have
been exploiting this over the ports issue. Radio
commentators have been talking about it non-stop."
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