(Photo: An honor guard trumpeter plays during the ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York September 11, 2010/Chris Hondros)
Amid threats of Koran burning and a heated dispute over a planned Muslim cultural center in New York, Muslim leaders and rights activists warn of growing anti-Muslim feeling in America partly provoked for political reasons. “Many people now treat Muslims as ‘the other’ — as something to vilify and to discriminate against,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union. And, he said, some people have exploited that fear in the media, “for political gain or cheap notoriety.”
The imam leading the project to build the cultural center, including a prayer room, near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks said there was a rise of what he called “Islamophobia” and the debate had been radicalized by extremists. “The radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they’ve been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an interview with ABC news aired on Sunday.
Mistrust of Muslims has grown in recent years. A Pew poll released in August found the number of Americans with a favorable view of Islam was 30 percent, down from 41 percent in 2005. American feelings about Islam are partisan — 54 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Islam compared to 27 percent of Democrats. In November 2001 there was not the same partisan divide of opinions on Islam.
Some believe Obama could convert minds were he to mount the type of public relations campaign which saw Bush attend mosques and talk with Muslim leaders back in 2001. Alan Cooperman of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said, “Americans’ opinions of Muslims became more positive after 9/11 than they were before 9/11.”
Pew polls from 2001 found 59 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans two months after the attacks compared to 45 percent in March of that year, and that the biggest improvement was among conservative Republicans. Cooperman credited the increase to Bush’s outreach to show the Muslim community as a religion of peace.