Last week Jen Quraishi wrote an excellent summary of Pew’s latest study on American Muslims, aptly titled “Report: Muslim Americans Are Incredibly Normal.” The Washington Times did a largely straight write-up of the study, except for this paragraph:
When asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. say they think of themselves first as Muslim, rather than as American. Roughly 60 percent say that most Muslims come to the U.S. to adopt the American way of life and see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
Nearly half of American Muslims think of themselves as Muslims first! Sounds sinister—until you consider that description applies to “nearly half” of American Christians as well, with the percentage of Muslims identifying themselves by religion before nationality (49 percent) being only three points higher than the number of American Christians who say the same (46 percent).
The Times writeup also flags an interesting statistic from the Pew report I haven’t seen highlighted elsewhere: a plurality of Muslim Americans, 43 percent, now see American efforts to combat terrorism as “sincere,” up from 26 percent in 2007. That’s in spite of the Obama administration’s aggressive FBI sting operations, its asserting the authority to kill Americans suspected of terrorism abroad, its failure to close Guantanamo and the perpetuation of a litany of Bush-era national security policies. When it comes to drone strikes or escalating troop levels in Afghanistan, Obama has actually out-hawked his predecessor.
Despite all that, Muslim Americans like and trust Obama more than they trusted Bush, with 76 percent approving of the president’s record. Obama’s effort to “reset” U.S. relations with Muslims abroad doesn’t appear to have worked. At home, though, Obama’s outreach seems to be working pretty well. That’s despite the fact that, as the Washington Post reported Tuesday, Obama has avoided certain personal public gestures that his predecessor willingly made (like visiting a mosque, for example).
I can’t help but wonder if part of the difference has to do with the persistent conspiracy theories about the president being a secret Muslim—on some level, obviously, the president gets what it’s like to be singled out for being “different.” But perhaps it’s also that Obama’s gestures of tolerance, such as his support for the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, represent much more of a political risk for him than they did for Bush. Or it might just be that Democrats, the Dubai Ports World fiasco aside, never completely succumbed to the kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric common in the Republican Party today. The bigger difference may simply be that in the age of full-blown Sharia panic, the contrast between the president and the opposition makes Obama’s inclusive rhetoric all the more meaningful.