Media Misusing Statistics When Reporting on Muslims

Posted on June 26, 2007


Sources: The Pew Research Org and Abiya Ahmed

The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.

US Muslims More Mainstream than Muslims in Europe

The Pew Research Center conducted more than 55,000 interviews to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. The resulting study, which draws on Pew’s survey research among Muslims around the world, finds that Muslim Americans are a highly diverse population, one largely composed of immigrants. Nonetheless, they are decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes. This belief is reflected in Muslim American income and education levels, which generally mirror those of the public.

Key findings include:

  1. Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.
  2. A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard.
  3. The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. (78%) say that the use of suicide bombing against civilian targets to defend Islam from its enemies is never justified. In this regard, American Muslims are more opposed to suicide bombing than are Muslims in nine of the 10 other countries surveyed in 2006; opposition is somewhat greater among Muslims in Germany (83%). Overall, 8% of Muslim Americans say suicide bombings against civilian targets tactics are often (1%) or sometimes (7%) justified in the defense of Islam. Muslims in France, Spain and Great Britain were twice as likely as Muslims in the U.S. to say suicide bombing can be often or sometimes justified, and acceptance of the tactic is far more widespread among Muslims in Nigeria, Jordan and Egypt.

In spite of the above positive findings, Abiya Ahmed in a recent article has pointed that many of the media have found a way to misuse part to the report to misrepresent muslims. “A major headline-grabber was that 26 percent of U.S. Muslims age 18-29 believe suicide bombings against civilians to ‘defend Islam and its enemies’ are often/sometimes (15 percent) or rarely (11 percent) justified. Of the total, 78 percent believe such tactics are never justified, 8 percent say often (1 percent) or sometimes (7 percent) justified.

Now here’s some perspective.

A December 2006 University of Maryland study — one that failed to create a similar media circus when released, and escaped a mention even now — shows that 51 percent of Americans think “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians (are) often, sometimes or rarely justified,” while 46 percent say “never justified.”

Further, 54 percent of Americans still support use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima, according to a 2005 AP poll — a decrease from 80 percent in 1945. Should we thus conclude that young Muslims are even more American since their attitudes mirror those of Americans in general? As the comparison illustrates, support for such tactics is considerably less among Muslims.

Undeniably, any such support among any group is worrying. But also worrying is mainstream media’s failure to cite these studies — whether due to bias or oversight — thus unfairly depicting Muslims as a lone group that encourages targeting civilians.”

Please click here to download the Pew Report on American Muslims.

Please click here to read Abiya Ahmed’s complete article.