Chicago Tribune: Thoroughly modern Muslims

While most Muslim Americans overwhelmingly condemn suicide bombings and other forms of Islamic extremism, according to an unprecedented poll unveiled today, 13 percent of Muslim youth endorse suicide bombings as an acceptable way to defend their religion in certain circumstances.

But why was the question asked to begin with?

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Research Center, which conducted the study, said it’s a question most Americans care a lot about. And while he acknowledges the 13 percent figure might cause alarm, he warned that it should not be taken out of context. The survey also showed American Muslims to be concerned about the rise of Islamic terror around the globe.

Overall, he said, the survey paints the picture of a community that is increasingly modern, middle class and mainstream.

“It’s not a piece of cake since 9/11,” Lugo said. “We’ve had experiences of tolerance and bigotry, and despite all that, this looks to be a community on its way to becoming thoroughly American and thoroughly mainstream. Despite those difficulties it doesn’t appear to be leading to higher alienation. Putting the two together to me is the big story coming out of this.”

But Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago’s Council on American Islamic Relations, says the question about suicide bombers raises questions about the motivations behind the survey. While the Pew report included charts comparing Muslim and Christian prayer life and church and mosque attendance, it did not reflect how Christians felt about using terrorism to defend their faith. That survey question was reserved solely for Muslims, Rehab pointed out.

“There is no indication to suggest more than any other person [Muslims] have a predisposition to violence,” he said. “From my interactions with the youth community, all types, very conservative and traditional or very liberal and progressive, the consensus on the ground is no one justified terror whatsoever, no matter what their political inclination is. Random targeting is shunned even in the context of war. It’s something we talk a lot about in my sermons, in youth programs. There is not any confusion on that.”

Instead, the survey should have questioned the impact of “Islamophobia” on the American Muslim community, which he compares to anti-Semitism. Surveys like this do not help, he said.

Do you agree? Do studies like this exacerbate “Islamophobia” or pose legitimate questions? ——

Copyright © 2007, Chicago-Tribune