Dark side of the survey


What a relief to read in a new Pew Research Center study that Muslims in America are "largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."


No more worries.

On the other hand, the study's findings may depend on how you define "largely."

Here's another way of putting the Pew results: While a majority of older U.S. Muslims have largely assimilated, more than a few younger Muslims think suicide bombings are justified.

Despite the upbeat treatment of the Pew study - and headlines that conveyed a positive message - the devil in the details is less reassuring.

In fact, the survey found that though a majority of the 1,050 surveyed (a fraction of the Pew's estimated 2.35 million Muslims in this country) are prospering, a significant minority are not assimilating and sympathize with radical Islam.

There is good news among the survey results, to be sure, especially if you're Muslim. In classically American fashion, 71 percent think that one can get ahead by working hard, and 78 percent report being happy. In delightful news, those who report being happiest are Muslims ages 18 to 29, who also make up 30 percent of the total U.S. Muslim population.

In less happy news, these young Muslims are also more accepting of Islamist extremism. Add to that disconcerting note the following:

Sixty percent of the young group consider themselves Muslim first, American second. Among all young Muslims, 26 percent think that suicide bombings are justified often, sometimes or rarely. Another 5 percent said they "don't know" or refused to answer.

Don't know? To kill civilians or not to kill civilians is not a tricky question.

If 26 percent are fine with suicide bombings and another 5 percent probably are, we may reasonably conclude that 31 percent of young American Muslims - or about 219,000 - support murdering innocents in the name of Islam. Peachy. Given that 9/11 was a supersize suicide bombing, it would seem we have a problem.

In another finding of Muslim American disconnect, fewer than half of all American Muslims believe that Arabs engineered the 9/11 attacks. Another third expressed no opinion or refused to answer.

That means that the vast majority of Muslims in America think ... what? That the United States attacked itself? That Israel did it?

While a majority of Muslims of all ages view al-Qaida "very unfavorably" (58 percent), an alarming number seem to be ambivalent. A whopping 27 percent said they didn't know how they felt toward the terrorist organization or refused to answer the question. An immigrant population that does not recognize the enemy of its adopted country cannot be said to have assimilated.

Nevertheless, the Pew study authors tell us that compared with Europe, we're in good shape. Yes, sure, "there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others," concede the authors. "Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world."

All of the study's conclusions depend, meanwhile, on whether one trusts its population figures, which Pew warns should be interpreted with caution. The truth is, no one knows how many Muslims live in the United States because the Census Bureau doesn't ask about religious identity. Muslim organizations put the figure at closer to 7 million, based on mosque attendance.

If there are 7 million Muslims in the U.S., 30 percent of whom are young, 31 percent of whom do not forswear suicide bombings, that could mean that as many as 651,000 young Muslim Americans sympathize with radical Islam and terrorism.

All things considered, it may be too soon to celebrate Muslim assimilation.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column usually appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is kparker@kparker.com.

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