Since the tragic day of Sept.11, 2001, Muslim Americans have spent good amount of our time and resources praying, preaching and marching for peace. I feel a slight level of comfort reporting that based on Gallup and PEW surveys, FBI findings and a RAND Corporation report, Muslim Americans are less tolerant of violence than generally depicted by the news. It is also a significant contribution of the Muslim community that 40 percent of all terrorism related cases since 9/11 were reported by Muslim Americans themselves to the law enforcement authorities.
It seems that the preachers of peace have fallen short.
Although both the Quran and the Bible contain the commandment that killing one innocent human being is like killing the whole of humanity, a large number of Americans believe it is justifiable to intentionally attack civilians. But more non-Muslim-Americans say that compared to Muslim Americans. There are multiple surveys that substantiate this point. The first time I noticed this was in 2007.
Public Opinion Surveys
A World Public Opinion (WPO) survey done in collaboration at that time with the University of Maryland reported that 51 percent of Americans believe "bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified," while only 13 percent of American Muslims hold a similar view, with a full 81 percent saying violence against civilians is never justified.
A recent Gallup survey (2011) asks the same question separately -- first for a "military attacks against civilians" and then "individuals and small groups attacking civilians." Muslim Americans came out as the staunchest opponents of both overwhelmingly as compared to their neighbors.
In response to military attacks against civilians, 78 percent of Muslim Americans said such attacks are never justified as compared to 39 percent of Christians and 43 percent of Jews. Only 21 percent Muslim Americans approve of it "sometimes" as compared to 58 percent of Christians and 52 percent of Jews.
Eighty-nine percent of Muslim Americans surveyed by Gallup rejected violent individual attacks on civilians as compared to 71 percent of Christians and 75 percent of Jews. Muslims are the least likely to justify attacks on civilians. Only 11 percent of Muslims justified that sometimes such attacks are acceptable as compared to 27 percent of Christians and 22 percent of Jews.
The same is true when it comes to opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslim Americans are way ahead in their opposition to wars as compared to their neighbors.
However, when the Pew survey first came out in 2007, it did not provide any relief for Muslim Americans from Islamophobic media frenzy. Most reporters used it as an opportunity to fan hatred against Muslim Americans, focusing on the smaller number of Muslim Americans who justified attacks on civilians without comparing it to Christian Americans, who did the same even in a larger numbers.
Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin proclaimed in the National Review that the poll "should be a wake-up call." Mark Steyn said it demonstrated the existence in America of "a huge comfort zone for the jihad to operate in," and on CNN, Anderson Cooper was horrified -- just horrified -- that "so many" American Muslims would support such violence.
Well, I was also horrified myself until I checked what our neighbors are saying about intentionally targeting civilians. As a peacemaker, I will only be satisfied fully when all Muslims and people of other faiths oppose killing civilians fully, whether that is by a military or a terrorist group. But these statistics do offer me comparative relief.
The same evidence of a peaceful Muslim community was provided by Michael E. Rolince, former FBI Special Agent in Charge of Counterterrorism, D.C. Field Office. He said the FBI conducted about 500,000 interviews without finding a single lead which could have helped the agency prevent the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
That number means that almost 40 percent of all Muslim households in the United States were probably touched by this investigation. Here is what this presidential award recipient with 30 years of counterterrorism and counterintelligence experience said on Dec. 17, 2005, one month after his retirement, at the Muslim Public Affairs Committee's annual convention in a panel titled, "Muslim Americans & Law Enforcement Partnership" (Here is an mp3 of his speech. His statement appears in the Q & A section):
"We conducted about a half a million interviews post 9/11 relative to the attacks of 9/11, and this is important because your community gets painted as not doing enough and you could have helped. I'm not aware -- and I know 9/11 about as well as anybody in the FBI knows 9/11 and that's not bragging that's just the reality -- I'm not aware of any single person in your community who, had they stepped forward, could have provided a clue to help us get out in front of this. The reality of that attack is that 19 people came here with what they needed. They spoke the language well enough to order meals and rent cars and hotel rooms. They had money coming in from overseas. Four people knew how to fly planes and 15 others were willing to be the muscle. They didn't need any witting help from anyone to do what they did. And thus far, and I'm not saying this is conclusive because 10 years from now someone might find something that changes it, we've not found a sitting single witting individual in your community, and that's a fact that gets overlooked because you get painted and that's why I'm so committed and remain committed to projects like this because what we are in the business of is facts and the truth."
Anxiety about Muslim Americans is at an all-time high thanks to a well-funded campaign of Islamophobia.
Rand Corporation Findings
A 2010 Rand Corporation report rightfully states that "The volume of domestic terrorist activity was much greater in the 1970s than it is today. It is important to note that Rand is mostly a Defense Department-funded think-tank. This report has a whole section called "The 1970s Saw Greater Terrorist Violence." The report asserts that, "Thus far, there has been no sustained jihadist terrorist campaign in the United States." And one possible reason for this, according to this Rand report, is, "The local Muslim community rejected al Qaeda's appeals and actively intervened to dissuade those with radical tendencies from violence."
I have presented here three types of evidence: multiple public opinion surveys proving that Muslim Americans are more peaceful than their neighbors, the conclusions of a top cop from the FBI that 500,000 interviews by Muslims did not yield a single piece of evidence that Muslim Americans had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a Rand corporation report that states that the terrorist threat in the U.S. is far lower than it was in the 1970s.
I hope that the American media and public policy leaders will become partners in reframing the conversation when it comes to domestic threats in the face of this overwhelming evidence.