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Some of the results of the Pew Research Center poll of Muslims in America were startling: twenty-six percent of Muslims between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine affirmed that there could be justification in some (unspecified) circumstances for suicide bombing, and five percent of all the Muslims surveyed said that they had a favorable view of Al-Qaeda. Given the Pew Center’s estimate of 2.35 million Muslims in America, and the total of thirteen percent that avowed a belief that suicide bombings could ever be justified, that’s over 300,000 supporters of suicide attacks. And 117,500 supporters of Al-Qaeda.
It is unfortunate that the Pew Center pollsters were not equipped with a follow-up question for those who expressed support for suicide bombing, asking them about the circumstances in which they would consider it justified, and whether they would ever consider it justified in the United States. As columnist Diana West has noted: “the fact that a significant young chunk of American Islam believes such violence has a place in society indicates something closer to the end of unfettered political opinion. It may signal the beginning of physical coercion as a factor in the American political process.” The pollsters might also have asked those who professed support for Al-Qaeda whether they were working or would be willing to work to further that organization’s goals in the United States – but perhaps that kind of question shades too far over into what law enforcement officials should be doing.
In any case, the implications of this poll are far-reaching. Yet virtually no one is dealing with those implications. The mainstream media generally reported the poll results as indicating that the overwhelming majority of Muslims rejected extremism and were comfortably assimilated into American society, without dealing in detail with those troubling minorities. Headlines in major newspapers included “Poll: Most Muslims seek to adopt American lifestyle”; “Poll: US Muslims Feel Post-9/11 Backlash Despite Moderate Outlook”; “Muslims assimilate better in U.S. than Europe, poll finds”; “U.S. Muslims more content, assimilated than those abroad”; and “Pew Study Sees Muslim Americans Assimilating.”