Americans think Islam is 'at odds' with US values, see discrimination against Muslims

© Stephanie Keith
Seven in 10 Americans say that Muslims are discriminated against "a lot," according to a new poll. Over half of US residents believe that Islam is not compatible with American values or way of life, the poll also found.

Americans' tolerance of Islam has decreased by nine percent since 2011, as 56 percent of respondents to a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey ‒ titled "Anxiety, Nostalgia, and Mistrust"‒ said they hold a negative view of Islam, which is expected to be the largest world religion by 2070.

"Americans' perceptions of Islam have turned sharply more negative over the past few years," the PRRI survey found. The poll was conducted prior to the attacks in Paris last week, an event that has prompted calls from American politicians to disallow Syrian refugees from resettling in the US.

In the poll, Republicans led the charge against Muslims, with 76 percent saying Islam's values were "at odds" with American values and way of life. White evangelicals (73 percent) and white working-class Americans (67 percent) were other groups that showed high animosity toward Muslims.

"Majorities of every major Christian religious group say that Islam is incompatible with American values and way of life," the survey found, including white mainline Protestants (63 percent), Catholics (61 percent), and black Protestants (55 percent).

About 57 percent of political independents and 42 percent of Democrats agreed with the "at odds" assessment about Islam, while the overall rate was 56 percent.

With tensions high following the Paris attacks, as well as the ongoing conflict with Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), experts say that this American disdain for Islam and the heated rhetoric aimed at Syrian refugees have played into the hands of extremists.

“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies terrorism, told the Washington Post. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam'.”

Despite this suspicion, seven in 10 poll respondents identified Muslims along with gay and lesbian people as the groups most likely to experience "a lot" of discrimination. African-Americans (63 percent) and Hispanics (56 percent) also face high levels of discrimination, poll respondents said, while a majority (53 percent) said women do not face significant amounts of discrimination.

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Four in 10 Americans said discrimination against white people is as concerning as that against black people or other minorities. Half of white American respondents agreed with this assessment, as did 29 percent of Hispanic Americans and 25 percent of black Americans.

More than a third of poll respondents said racial tension is high in their communities, a number that has doubled from previous surveys, PRRI noted.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans who told the survey it "bothers" them when they "come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English" has reached 48 percent, up by eight percentage points since 2012.

“One of the things the survey is showing is an increased xenophobic streak in the American public,” Robert Jones, PRRI’s CEO, told Religion Dispatches.