A large proportion of mainstream Americans think Islam is incompatible with American values, according to a survey by the New America foundation and the American Muslim Institute.
The “Americans’ Views of Muslims Survey” was conducted leading up to the midterm elections in November 2018 – a time period when myths and misinformation about Muslims have figured prominently in some local, state, and federal elections, the New America said adding: “The research provides insight into public perceptions of Muslim Americans at both the national and local levels in Houston, Orlando, Tampa, and the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, where over samplings were done.”
Available data indicates that Americans are increasingly leery of Muslim Americans and that they do not view Muslim communities as part of mainstream society. And since 2015 there has been an alarming increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes across the country.
According to the findings announced on Thursday (Nov 1), 56 percent of Americans believed Islam was compatible with American values and 42 percent said it was not.
About 60 percent believed US Muslims were as patriotic as others, while 38 percent they were not.
The study said that although a big majority of Americans – 74 percent – accepted there was “a lot” of bigotry against Muslims existed, 56 percent said they were concerned about extremism spreading within the Muslim community.
The joint study found that Republicans were more likely to hold negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam, with 71 percent saying Islam was incompatible with American values. About 56 percent of Republicans also admitted they would be concerned if a mosque was built in their neighborhood.
A slight majority of Republicans disagreed with the statement that having more than 100 Muslim candidates in the midterm elections was a positive thing.
Discrimination against Muslims is evident to respondents and skepticism around hate crime reporting is low. A majority of non-Muslim Americans (71%) agree there is a lot of discrimination against Muslim Americans, levels akin to discrimination against Transgender people (68%) and Blacks (67%).
Robert McKenzie, a senior fellow at the New America foundation and one of the authors of the study, said there were a number of factors that contributed the shaping of anti-Muslim sentiment, and that they were not limited to the political right.
Rabiah Ahmed, an American Muslim media relations specialist, told Al Jazeera rising Islamophobia had consequences beyond the Muslim community.
“I think Islamophobia is not just a Muslim problem but an American problem, so it needs to be addressed by all sectors of society,” she said.
Ahmed argued that Muslims could not afford to not engage with other communities, and had a duty to “plug information gaps” to dispel negative ideas about the community.
However, she also said politicians, segments of the media, and religious leaders from other communities had played a role in stoking anti-Muslim bigotry.
“Just as Muslims have a responsibility to lean in, other faith based communities also need to lean in. So when they see their priest preaching divisive rhetoric about Islam, they need to stop that.””Fears of Muslims comes from the acts of extremists (and) it comes from the Islamophobia industry, a very well connected, very well funded industry, which makes it their mission to try to marginalize and disenfranchise American Muslims.
The New America foundation report comes amid a notable rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in US political discourse and within the media.
Last month, a report by Muslim Advocates found 80 instances of “clear anti-Muslim rhetoric” by candidates running for political office.
That included unfounded claims that Muslims were plotting to establish Islamic law in the US.
US President Donald Trump also used anti-Islam rhetoric in his election campaign, and has introduced executive orders targeting Muslims, such as his infamous ban on Muslims from several predominantly Muslim countries entering the US.
Rising anti-Muslim bigotry also comes amid a rise in hatred targeting other religious and ethnic minorities.
Within the last week, there has been a spate of far-right violence in the US, with a foiled pipe bomb campaign targeting anti-Trump politicians and media outlets, a racially motivated shooting of two African-Americans in Kentucky, and the mass killing of 11 Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.