Nearly 80% of all Muslim Americans say suicide bombings in defense of Islam are never justified, although one in four younger Muslims say such attacks are acceptable in some circumstances, according to a nationwide study released Tuesday.
The survey of 1,050 Muslim adults by the Pew Research Center paints a picture of a richly diverse, complex and still largely immigrant community that for the most part has blended comfortably into American life.
Most Muslim Americans are moderate, mainstream and middle class, the study shows. They are largely assimilated, happy with their lives and have adopted such core American values as a belief that hard work will lead to success. Their income and educational levels also are comparable with those of most Americans, the study found.
In a conference call with reporters from his Washington office, Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut said the support, although limited, for suicide attacks among those surveyed was one of the few troubling aspects of the study.
"Overall, this is a very, very positive story for the vast majority of Muslims," Kohut said. "This is a group living as most Americans live ... a group that is assimilating or aspiring to assimilate."
Nonetheless, he said, the study also found pockets of sympathy and support for extremism among Muslim Americans, especially among the young.
Overall, although 78% of respondents said suicide bombings of civilian targets to defend Islam could not be justified, 13% said they could be, under some circumstances. That view was strongest -- 26% -- among those younger than 30.
But for all Muslim Americans, support for such tactics appeared to be far lower than among Muslims in many other nations, including several Western European countries. In Pew surveys last year, about one in four adult Muslims in Britain and Spain said such attacks were justified in at least some cases. Support in Muslim countries often exceeded 50% in studies last year.
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, questioned the figures, saying he believed the number of U.S. Muslims approving of suicide attacks was much lower.
"If the question was, 'Do you believe Islam justifies the killing of an innocent civilian?' I think you'd find the number negligible," he said.
Al-Marayati also said those who said they supported attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation, either in the Palestinian territories or in Iraq. And he said many young American Muslims are increasingly influenced by extreme ideologies they find on the Internet or satellite television stations.
"We don't believe there is a radical movement in the student population right now, but we need to intervene to make sure that doesn't happen," said Al-Marayati. His organization plans to release its own survey of Muslim American youth next month.
The poll question at issue briefly described possible rationales for suicide bombings and other violence against civilians, then asked, "Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?"
The study was based on telephone interviews with 1,050 adult Muslims, some of whom were interviewed in Arabic, Urdu or Farsi, in addition to English. The margin of error for the poll, conducted between January and April, is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The Pew researchers estimate that there are 2.35 million Muslims in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau does not ask about religious beliefs or preferences, and the estimates of Muslims in this country have ranged from 1 million to 7 million or more.
In other findings, the poll showed that about two-thirds of American Muslims are immigrants, and nearly 40% are relative newcomers, having arrived since 1990. Of the rest, about a fifth are native-born African Americans, many of whom are converts to Islam.
The poll also found that those U.S.-born, African American Muslims are the most disillusioned segment of the community, tending to be more skeptical of the view that hard work pays off and less satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S.
In other findings:
* About 63% of U.S. Muslims say they are Democrats or lean that way. About 11% are Republican or lean Republican. Most hold liberal political views on the scope of government, but tend to be social conservatives.
* More than half say it has been more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. since the attacks of Sept. 11, with 54% saying the government singles Muslims out for extra surveillance or screening.
* Forty-seven percent said they consider themselves Muslims first, rather than American. The Pew researchers said earlier surveys showed that 42% of American Christians and 62% of white evangelical Protestants in this country also identified themselves primarily by their religious affiliation.
Information about the poll is available at pewresearch.org/
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