Muslim-American Support for ‘War on Terror’ Plummets

While the Bush administration expresses frustration that its motivations in the "war on terrorism" are questioned throughout the Islamic world, it has a similar problem with Muslims at home, according to a major survey [.pdf] of nearly 2,000 followers of Islam across the United States.

A plurality of 38 percent of Muslims in the United States believe Washington’s military campaign in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq constitute a "war on Islam" rather than a "war on terror" while only 13 percent said they currently support the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

And more than three-quarters of Muslims questioned in the survey by Georgetown University’s project, Muslims in American Public Square (MAPS) and Zogby International said the "best way" for Washington to wage the war on terror would be to "change Mideast policy."

The survey, which also found an overwhelming rejection of the Bush administration’s policies by the vast majority of U.S. Muslims, was the latest in a biennial series produced by MAPS, and is widely considered the most comprehensive and authoritative poll on Muslim-American attitudes.

The last MAPS survey, released in December 2002, found that Muslim Americans by and large still backed President George W Bush’s "war on terrorism," although many expressed wariness about Washington’s intentions after its successful campaign in Afghanistan and the abuse of the civil liberties of Muslims – particularly undocumented immigrants – after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The number of Muslims living in the United States is a source of controversy, particularly between the Muslim and Jewish communities, which both vie for the status as the largest religious group in the country after Christianity. But because of the division between church and state in the United States, the census does not include religious data.

While most analysts agree there are about 6 million U.S. Jews, estimates of the number of Muslims range from a low of 2 million to a high of about 7.5 million. Zahid Bukhari, who directs the MAPS project at Georgetown, said he believes the best estimate is 5 to 6 million.

However, U.S. Muslims are disproportionately concentrated in a relatively few states, at least four of which – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida – are considered "battleground" states in the November presidential election.

The communities are made up principally of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from South Asia, the Arab world and Africa, and of African-Americans whose parents, or who themselves, have converted to Islam.

In the latest survey, 34 percent of respondents were of South Asian ethnicity; 26 percent Arab; 10 percent African-American, and seven percent from Africa, with the remaining 12 percent falling into an "other" category.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents were not born in the United States, but nearly 90 percent were citizens; 82 percent were registered to vote, and 88 percent of those said they were "very likely" to vote Nov. 2. The survey was conducted from August to mid-September.

The sample reflected the relatively high educational achievement of Muslim Americans. Fifty-nine percent were at least college graduates, while 33 percent had an annual income of at least $75,000. Forty percent of the group described themselves as politically "moderate," while 19 percent said they were "liberal" and 16 percent, "conservative."

The main political finding of the survey was an overwhelming repudiation of Bush and the Republican Party.

"The results of this survey are truly astonishing," said Bukhari in a statement. "For American Muslims, there has been a sea-change in political alignment and outlook since 9/11. The political realignment in the Muslim community is unprecedented in all of American history."

While the December 2001 survey found a plurality of Muslims voted for Bush over former Vice President Al Gore, 76 percent of the 2004 respondents said they intended to vote for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, compared to only seven percent for Bush.

When independent Ralph Nader, who is descended from Lebanese immigrants, is added to the mix, he gains 11 percent, almost all of it from Kerry’s column, while Bush remains at seven percent. The rest are undecided.

One-half of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats – up from 40 percent in 2001 – while only 12 percent said they were Republican, down from almost twice that percentage three years ago.

The reasons for Muslims’ switch from Bush to Kerry, according to Bukhari and Zogby, appear related to several factors, most obviously the high opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, a higher percentage of Muslims than other subgroups say that the United States is not moving in the right direction, and they also put a higher emphasis on domestic policy issues – on which Kerry consistently is rated higher than Bush among the general population.

The respondents showed a strong distrust for the Bush administration’s reasons for going to war, particularly in Iraq.

When asked to volunteer what they thought were the most important reasons for taking up arms, 39 percent named "controlling oil," while 16 percent said the administration wanted to "dominate the region" and another 16 percent said it was trying to "protect Israel."

Only seven percent of respondents agreed that Bush wanted to "free the Iraqi people" or "spread democracy" in the Middle East.

Only 15 percent of respondents either "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed with the assertion that going to war in Iraq was "worth it." Ten percent "somewhat disagreed," but a whopping 69 percent "strongly disagreed."

In December 2001, the survey found that 51 percent of Muslim-Americans agreed with Bush’s military campaign in Afghanistan, but that percentage has now fallen to 35 percent. On Iraq, approval for the war is at 13 percent, while an overwhelming 81 percent said they oppose it.

Asked whether they agreed the war in Iraq would bring greater instability to the region, 82 percent said yes, compared to 12 percent who disagreed. Asked whether it would bring more democracy, 28 percent agreed, compared to 63 percent who said no.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.