Between March 26 and March 29, the Washington Post and ABC News conducted a telephone survey in which they asked a random sample of 1,000 Americans about their perceptions of Muslims and Islam. The release of the poll was timed around President Obama’s visit to Turkey. I will leave it to NRO readers to look at all of the specifics and generalizations of the poll as reported by Post writers and pollsters Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta.
There is a plethora of oversimplified and mostly unhelpful conclusions. But that has not stopped the mainstream media from treating the poll results as fact and using them to support misguided commentary. It comes as little surprise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s propaganda arm, the Arab News, has fawned over the poll.
If the goal of this poll was to shame Americans — and especially conservatives and the faithful — into being more “tolerant,” it will probably fail. Most Americans need to see a lot more anti-Islamist and reform activism from Muslims before their perceptions about Islam will change much. The questions and statistics contained in the poll seem to brand conservatives as intolerant and liberals as ecumenical. The Post’s analysis portrayed Muslims as one harmless faith group.
What if the poll had told respondents that it was not seeking their opinions about the personal faith practices of Muslims, but was instead seeking their opinions about political Islam (or Islamism)? What if the poll had defined political Islam as a supremacist, theocratic, transnational political movement that operates under the banner of Islam? What if the poll had asked Americans about their perceptions of the real goal of both peaceful and violent Islamists, which is to implement sharia law? What if Americans were polled on some of the common tenets of political Islam, which are shared by Muslims from al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood to all those who advocate for some form of Islamism or Salafism?
Indeed, how many Americans actually understand the difference between “Islamists” (proponents of political Islam) and “Muslims” (those who simply practice the faith of Islam)? How would Americans feel if they understood the incompatibility of Islamic jurisprudence as it is practiced in the so-called “Muslim world” with Western ideals of freedom and democracy? What would Americans say if they knew that many Muslims want to create Islamic states instead of secular-liberal states? Do Americans feel that secular liberalism is the root cause of terror?
These are some of the hard questions that should have guided the Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Islamist terror cannot be solved through appeasement or the avoidance of political Islam. The real threat will only dissipate when we realize that the Muslim community is not monolithic. There is an ideological civil war brewing between Islamists and anti-Islamists. The Post-ABC poll ignored this completely, as did President Obama during his trip to Turkey. Such neglect is harmful to real inquiry, investigation, understanding, and security.
– M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist.