Poll: Anti-Muslim sentiment grew after bin Laden death

July 21, 2011

(RNS) Many Muslim Americans had hoped that the death of Osama bin Laden
would improve their image among other Americans, but according to a new
survey, just the opposite has happened.

Rather than being mollified, anti-Muslim sentiment has intensified
since Navy Seals killed the al-Qaida leader in a May 1 raid in Pakistan,
according to a new report by researchers from the Ohio State University
School of Communication, Cornell University's Survey Research Institute,
and the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

In the weeks before bin Laden's death, nearly half of respondents
described Muslim Americans as "trustworthy" and "peaceful," researchers
said. After bin Laden's death, that figure dropped to one-third of
respondents.

For Muslims, perhaps the most troublesome finding was that these
negative shifts had occurred among political liberals and moderates, a
constituency that had been seen as the most sympathetic to Muslims after
the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Conservatives have been the least likely group to support Muslims.
Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington-based Public Religion Research
Institute, noted last month that while overall favorable views about
Muslims had dropped from 41 to 30 percent since 2005, most of that
erosion of support was among conservatives.

Researchers attributed the rise in negative views about Muslims to
wall-to-wall media coverage that accompanied bin Laden's death that
focused on terrorism, bin Laden's religious views, and the role of
Muslim-majority Pakistan in sheltering bin Laden. 

 

"The frenzy of media coverage reminded people of terrorism and the
Sept. 11 attacks," Ohio State researcher Erik Nisbet said, "and it
primed them to think about Islam in terms of terrorism."

Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Muslim
advocacy group in Los Angeles, agreed the media contributed to negative
images of Muslims, but said Muslim Americans need to do a better job
answering questions about their religion.

"The average American can't distinguish what Pakistan does from what
the average American Muslim thinks," Al-Marayati said.

The poll was based on 500 interviews between April 7 and May 1 (when
bin Laden was killed) and another 341 interviews between May 2 and May
24. The number of respondents who said Muslims living in America
"increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack" rose from 27 percent
before May 1 to 34 percent after.

The survey also said the number of respondents unwilling to have a
Muslim as a close friend rose from 9 to 20 percent; people who agreed
that Muslims are supportive of the United States declined from 62 to 52
percent; and the percentage of liberals who said Muslims made America
more dangerous tripled, from 8 to 24 percent.