By William Fisher
Most Americans are aware of the negative attitudes our country has toward American Muslims and Arab-Americans. But what they may not be so aware of is the depth of the vitriol with which they attack these two groups and the utter ignorance they apply to make their vitriol even more incendiary.
At a press conference earlier this week, Dr. James Zogby – who is president of the Arab American Institute – presented the results of a poll of 2100 Americans who were asked about their views about various aspects of Arab-America and American Muslim life.
The quick takeaway from Zogby’s presentation is that Arab-Americans and American Muslims are not just disliked – they are detested. They are despised.
Substantial majorities of Americans in various demographic niches believe people in these two groups are disloyal to the United States, though hundreds of thousands have been in the US for generations. It is estimated that there are approximately five to eight million Muslims living in the U.S. now.
In 2000, 1.2 million people reported an Arab ancestry in the United States. In December 2003, the U.S. census bureau released data for the first time on the Arab population of the United States. The data is from the 2000 census. The census does not break down the figures by religion, but the Arab-American Institute estimates that about 77% of Arab-Americans are Christians (42% Catholic, 23% Orthodox, 12% Protestant) and 23% Muslim.
The toxic attitudes of American citizens toward their Muslim and Arab countrymen have triggered a rash of attacks and threats. Zogby ran through a litany:
Of the findings, Zogby said, “The numbers from our latest poll highlight that Park 51, the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tone of the 2010 campaign season, anti-Sharia legislation, calls for Muslim loyalty oaths, and public attacks on American Muslims and Arab American public servants have taken a toll on American public opinion. Park 51 is to be the official name of the controversial community center located near the remains of the World Trade Center.
“Despite the fact that most Americans are unable to make the distinction between Arabs and Muslims, the vitriol that has been aimed at both communities is clearly swaying public opinion along age and party lines,” Zogby said.
Meaning that older people and Republicans have the most deep-seated enmity toward the two groups.
Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims have the lowest favorable/highest unfavorable ratings among the eight major religious groups covered.
Muslims are the only group with a net unfavorable rating.
There is a deep generational divide, which is reflected in a partisan divide. Younger Americans (18-25) rate Arabs and Muslims up to 17 points higher than the older generation. They also rate Arab Americans and American Muslims higher as well.
Younger Americans rate Catholics and the various Protestant denominations covered in the survey almost 20 points lower than do older Americans (65+). The younger group also rates Mormons 15 points lower. This is reflected in a deep partisan divide and even more so in a division between those who describe themselves as Obama or Romney voters.
For example, the ratings given to Arabs and Muslims by Obama and Romney voters are mirror reflections of each other. While Obama voters give Arabs a net 51%/29% favorable rating and Muslims a net 53%/29% rating; Romney voters give Arabs a 30%/50% net unfavorable rating and Muslims a 25%/57% unfavorable rating.
Democrats and Obama voters give no group a net negative rating. Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.
There is also a racial divide in attitudes toward Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.
Favorable attitudes toward Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims are significantly higher among African American, Hispanic, and Asian Americans.
Fifty-seven per cent of voters believe their ethnicity or religion would influence their decision-making of Arab Americans and American Muslims if they were appointed to important government posts.
Again there is a deep partisan divide on this question. By a two to one ratio, Democrats and Obama voters are confident that Arab Americans and American Muslims could do the job, but a strong majority of Republicans and Romney voters fear that the ethnicity or religion of members of these communities would influence their work.
Once again, age plays a significant role.
To make matters worse, the U.S. Government continues to perform its schizoid dance that confuses everyone involved. On the one hand, the government is reaching out to those it considers “good” Arab-Americans and “good” Muslims. It is praising these people whenever it can. On the other hand, it is sending agent provocateurs into mosques and Muslim neighborhoods to gather information on future terror plots. Muslim congregations are crying “entrapment.”
“In 2010, in the wake of the Park 51 controversy, AAI conducted a similar poll on views toward Arabs and Muslims. The data extracted from both polls indicates that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim political rhetoric has taken a toll on American public opinion, especially along age and party lines.”How’s that for understatement?
The Arab-American and American Muslim communities suffered through similar attacks in the days and weeks immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The government rounded up thousands of “Middle Eastern people” and jailed hundreds of them. Scores of violent incidents and threats against Arab-Americans and American Muslims were reported. Many took their complaints to court.
And now we are seeing a repeat performance.
For example, The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for an FBI hate crime investigation of an acid bomb attack on a Muslim school in that state. It was the second such incident targeting an Illinois Muslim institution .
Arab immigrants and their community centers, mosques and businesses have been hit by Molotov cocktails, bullets and bricks. Buildings have been defaced with graffiti. Numerous bomb threats have occurred. In one incident a drunken 75-year-old man, screaming, “You’re destroying my country,” tried to run down a Pakistani woman in a Long Island parking lot.
Two air rifle shots were fired at the Muslim Education Center (MEC) mosque in Morton Grove, Ill.
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice placed a priority on prosecuting bias crimes and incidents of discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of Arab and South-Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups.
On July 4th, Joplin, Missouri's Islamic Center — the city's only mosque — suffered roof damage after an unidentified man set it on fire by tossing a burning object onto the building.
The following Monday, there was a second fire, but this time the damage was far more extensive. Fire officials described it as a "complete loss."
A man armed with a hammer was caught on video apparently destroying a sign at a mosque in Rhode Island.
At least seven people were killed and twenty injured as a gunman took over a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The number includes the gunman, who was killed by police. Officials are treating it as a "domestic terrorist-type incident." The attacker is believed to have confused Sikhs and Muslims.
CAIR called for increased police protection at houses of worship across the country following the Joplin fire and the deadly attack on the Sikh temple.
What this ugly bigotry conjures up are pages out of American history’s Book of Shame. For there is where we find our Pilgrim Fathers destroying the lives of the people they found there. There is where we find the sepsis of the slave-trade economy. There is where we find the Italians, the Irish and the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. There is where we find 110,000 Japanese-Americans hauled off to camps in the middle of nowhere. And there is where we find the bloody swamp we know as Jim Crow.
Arabs and Muslims in America are going to have to fight hate and discrimination – many are doing so now. To be successful, they are going to need the proactive backing of the heavy hitters in our government – beginning with the President -- and in our business and financial communities over a substantial period of time. And these are not groups that embrace change unless there is absolutely no alternative. The more enlightened attitudes of the younger American generation offer some hope for healing.
While some observers have urged Mr. Obama to provide stronger and more consistent leadership on this issue, others are suggesting that now may be too soon; the wounds of 9/11 may be too fresh.
But time alone would not have given us the Civil Rights Act of 1965 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And – let’s face it -- it wouldn’t have mattered a whit if a posse of American Muslims and Arab Americans had killed Osama bin Laden. Nobody would have believed it!
This article originally appeared in the pages of Prism Magazine