Civil Society

Islamophobia is driving more US Muslims to become politically engaged, suggests report

Muslim American activist Linda Sarsour prepares to perform "Maghrib" sunset prayers during an immigration rally and Iftar "breaking fast" during the month of Ramadan outside ICE's New York field office at Foley Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

A new index on Islamophobia finds only 29% of Muslims are happy with the way the US is going. Image: REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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It has not been an easy year for Muslims in the United States. President Donald Trump’s travel ban – dubbed the “Muslim ban” – has been back and forth to the country’s highest courts. Meanwhile Trump retweeted discriminatory messages by a far-right party in the United Kingdom and has clamped down on immigration.

An annual poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) seeks to measure the level of anti-Muslim sentiment among the American public. And for the first time, the report also includes an Islamophobia Index, created by ISPU in collaboration with Georgetown’s the Bridge Initiative.

Muslim stereotypes

Image: Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

According to the index, 61% report having experienced religiously based discrimination in the past year more than once. That’s compared to less than 30% of all other religious groups and the general public as a whole.

The index measures sentiment ranging from 0 – the lowest level of prejudice – to 100. It posits various anti-Muslim stereotypes to people of different religions in the US, as well as to those who are not religious, and asks whether they agree with the statement.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that Muslims expressed one of the lowest levels of Islamophobia. However, people who are not affiliated with any religion had the lowest levels, suggesting that some Muslims may have begun to internalize others’ perceptions.

Image: Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

White evangelicals expressed some of the highest levels of Islamophobia.

For instance, when presented with the statement “Most Muslims Living in the United States are more prone to violence”, 13% of the general public agreed. Only 8% of the non-affiliated agreed, while 18% of Muslims did. Almost a quarter of white evangelicals – 23% – agreed.

Almost a quarter of white evangelicals also believed that “Muslims are hostile to the United States”. Only 12% of Muslims thought so, 13% of Jews, 6% of Protestants, 4% of Catholics and only 1% of the non-affiliated.

The index found that, the higher the belief in the stereotype, the greater the support for freedom-reducing measures.

For instance, higher scores on the Islamophobia Index are associated with more acceptance of targeting civilians by the military, or by small groups; greater agreement with limiting both press freedoms and institutional checks following a hypothetical terror attack, and greater support for the so-called “Muslim ban”, the surveillance of American mosques, and banning new mosques altogether.

Political might

According to the report accompanying the index, Muslims are becoming more politically engaged.

This could be because they are less satisfied with the direction their country is going in. Only 29% say they are happy with the way the US is going, compared to 41% in 2017 and 63% in 2016.

More than 90 American Muslims, nearly all of them Democrats, are running for public office across the country this year. Among them Democrat Rashida Tlaib, who, if elected, would be the first Muslim woman ever to sit in Congress.

Meanwhile, more and more Muslims are registering to vote. In 2016, 60% were registered to vote. Two years later, that number has reached 75%.

According to Pew Research, half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the US in recent years. And 48% say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months.

However, 55% say the American people, as a whole, are friendly towards them, and an additional three in 10 say the American people are neutral. Just 14% say Americans are unfriendly.

In addition, about half of US Muslims (49%) say that, in the past year, someone has expressed support for them because they are Muslim.

Overwhelmingly, they say they are proud to be Americans, believe that hard work generally brings success in the US, and are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives – even if they are not satisfied with the direction of the country as a whole.

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