By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 7/26/2005 4:41:14 PM ET 2005-07-26T20:41:14

The deadly July bombings in London put Americans on alert but created no backlash against American Muslims or Islam, according to a poll released Tuesday. The poll also showed a decline in the percentage of Americans who believe Islam is more violent than other religions.

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life was conducted after the July 7 attack on subways and buses in London killed 52 people, leading U.S. authorities to tighten security at transportation facilities. The attack was blamed on four British Muslims, leading some Islamic commentators and others to express concern that Muslims in general could be targeted for retribution.

But the survey found that the percentage of Americans who have a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans continues to rise, from 45 percent in March 2001  — before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States — to 51 percent in July 2003 to 55 percent today. That’s almost exactly the same percentage who hold the same view of evangelical Christians (at 57 percent), compared to 77 percent for Jews and 73 percent for Catholics.

And the more a respondent knows about Islam, the more likely he or she is to regard Muslim Americans favorably, the survey found, indicating that efforts to raise public knowledge about Islam since 2001 are paying off.

Acceptance of Islam rising
Even with recent reminders of radical Islamic terrorism, fewer and fewer Americans believe that Islam itself is more violent than other religions. Two years ago, 44 percent believed Islam “is more likely to encourage violent behavior among its followers,” Pew said. That figure dropped to 36 percent in the new poll.

However, the numbers reflect a deep ideological split. By 2-to-1, conservative Republicans were more likely to hold this view than were liberal Democrats. And overall, Americans hold Islam in less regard than other religions; only 39 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the faith itself.

Particularly striking is the poll’s finding that, by a significant margin, Americans refuse to see themselves as at war with Islam. A clear majority, 60 percent, say the conflict is with a small radical element, compared with only 29 percent who see it as a conflict between the West and Islam itself, down from 35 percent in August 2002.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. political leaders and religious figures have worked hard to educate Americans about the peaceful preaching of Islam to stave off a backlash against Muslim Americans. The Pew poll has mixed news for them.

Nearly four years after the 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, two-thirds of Americans say they still know little or nothing about the religion. Barely half could even identify the Quran as its equivalent to the Bible.

However, the more they knew about Islam, the more likely respondents were to look favorably on it: 44 percent of respondents who reported a high knowledge of Islam said it had a lot in common with their own religion, compared with 12 percent who reported a low knowledge. Likewise, those who knew a lot about Islam were most likely, at 61 percent, to have a favorable view of Muslim Americans.

The survey interviewed 2,000 adults by telephone from July 7 to July 17. It reported a margin of sampling error of 2.5 percentage points.

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