Religion and Democracy in the United States: Danger or Opportunity?

By Alan Wolfe; Ira Katznelson | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
MUSLIM AMERICANS
Enriching or Depleting American Democracy?

AMANEY JAMAL

SINCE 9–11, Muslim Americans have increasingly been viewed as suspicious entities in American society. Not only is there a pervasive and dominating fear that Muslims have violent tendencies aimed at destroying all things American, but even those Muslims who profess allegiance to America are thought inherently incapable of sharing core American democratic values because they embrace a rigid and intolerant Islamic faith. Thus, not only are Muslim Americans viewed as other conservative religious groups, like the Christian Right, as groups that uphold inherently intolerant and regressive beliefs; this group is also viewed as antiAmerican and as people who, through the use of violence, can undermine American freedom and democratic liberties altogether. We have seen the manifestation of these stereotypes in both policy and popular discourses. In fact, these two overarching themes structure the interactions between mainstream society and the Muslim population.

Although the horror of 9–11 has in many ways shaped these negative interactions, the catastrophic event has raised the opportunity to better understand the Muslim-American experience before and after 9–11 In the first-ever national poll of Muslim Americans, the Pew Research Center found that Muslim Americans are very much a mainstream religious minority in the United States.1 They share many of the same religious values of the general American public. Mostly middle class, Muslim Americans are concerned with issues similar to those that occupy the general American population. Yet, differences emerge between the two populations as well. Muslim Americans are more worried about the effects of 9–11 on their own communities and are more critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

These survey findings not only provide us with the unique opportunity to compare Muslim Americans to the general population but also offer us the ability to better understand significant patterns and variations that emerge within the sample of Muslims. This chapter first offers an overview of the Muslim-American community. Where applicable, it

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