Instead, something close to the opposite has happened. A surprising new ABCNews/Beliefnet poll shows that after starting out tolerant, public opinion has turned sharply against Islam.
|Unfavorable opinion of Islam||33%||24||+9|
|Think Islam doesn't teach respect for other faiths||35||22||+13|
|Think Islam encourages violence||23||14||+9|
The survey was completed just before the Beltway sniper-who is a Muslim--was caught; therefore, it is possible the negative numbers could worsen.
Why did public opinion shift?
The Bush Factor--The most significant moment in 2001 on this issue was when President Bush stood before the nation just days after the attack and declared, "Islam is a religion of peace." He followed that up with a series of symbolic gestures: hosting a Ramadan dinner at the White House (a first) last November, posing for pictures with the Qur'an on his desk, inviting American Muslim leaders to his office, and visiting a Washington mosque.
Since most Americans knew little about Islam, Bush was, initially, America's teacher. He did it for a mix of practical and idealistic reasons. In diplomatic terms, it was crucial that the United States gain support from government like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. To get that support, it was important that the war on terror not be viewed as a war on Islam.
|Feel you have a good basic understanding of Islam||25%||73|
But even before his election, Bush had made a point of reaching out to Muslims. When he talked about religion during campaign speeches, he invariably referred to "churches, temples and mosques" a rhetorical innovation not before embraced by presidential candidates of either party.
|View of Islam|
|Respects other beliefs||30||43|
|Doesn't respect others||41||31|
|Is a peaceful religion||49||55|
The most important figure was Franklin Graham, who has a much broader following than either Robertson or Falwell (except with TV show producers who love the controversial duo). What's more, he's personal friends with Bush and gave the invocation at the new president's inauguration. He is viewed as a mainstream evangelical leader.