President Obama is visiting Turkey, which looks to be the occasion of his promised “major address” in a muslim-majority country. In some sense it’s a “safe” choice, as Turkey is seeking EU membership and clearly is trying to position itself between the western and islamic worlds. I think that a major address in Cairo would have been far more significant, especially in building credibility amongst the muslim masses for Obama’s rhetoric about respect and engagement with the muslim world. Maybe next time.
In stark contrast to the President’s agenda, however, is the astonishing finding by ABC News’ poll (PDF) that finds 48% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion towards Islam, the highest since 2001. 29% believe that mainstream Islam encourages violence towards non- believers (a point of view that is internalized as dogma in the Republican Party especially). It’s worth noting the demographic breakdown:
There are political and ideological differences here as well. About two-thirds of liberals and moderates see Islam as peaceful, as do 62 percent of Democrats and independents; fewer conservatives or Republicans agree, 49 percent and 51 percent respectively. And just 26 percent of conservatives and 33 percent of Republicans see the religion favorably.
Islam also is more apt to be seen unfavorably by less-educated adults, Southerners and senior citizens than by their counterparts.
Compared with the first ABC poll to ask the question in October 2001, unfavorable views of Islam have increased by 23 points among senior citizens, 19 points among conservatives, 18 points among Republicans and 12 points among Southerners. There’s one group – liberals – among whom unfavorable views of Islam have declined, by 11 points.
That’s not all, though. Another poll by the Pew Center finds that 10% still believe Obama is a muslim! That’s the same level as during the campaign. Note that though the majority of that group are opposed to him, there is still a core who are actually supporters. This really speaks to the existence of a basal level of Islamophobia in the population at large, for the muslim smear to have such staying power this long (and in the face of such obvious and overwhelming evidence to the contrary). As thabet at Talk Islam notes wryly, some recent events (heavily promoted by the right-wing blogsphere) probably helped perpetuate it.
Here’s the PDF of the ABC poll embedded below for convenient viewing: