Islamophobia is decreasing, peace forum hears

A strong plurality of Americans opposes banning Muslim or Middle Eastern immigrants or visitors from entering US: Poll

Abu Dhabi: Islamophobia and prejudicial stereotypes that broadly paint Muslims in a negative light are decreasing across the world, the Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies forum heard in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.


The forum, which attempts to clarify to the world that Islam is a religion of peace and justice, heard experiences and best practices from across the world on how to address Islamophobia.

Dr Catherine Orthborn, executive director of Shoulder to Shoulder, USA, spoke of the campaign which is a coalition of 35 national denominations and organisations, from the Union for Reform Judaism to the Council of Catholic Bishops, Sojourners and the American Baptists, the Christian Reformed Church and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, in partnership with the Islamic Society of North America.

Dr Orthborn told the forum that all of these groups came together in 2010 when anti-Muslim bigotry was at a high level in order to say publicly that religious communities in the United States will not stand idly by when one community comes under attack. Too many communities have been the targets before, and we have to stand together — shoulder to shoulder — to say that an attack on one is an attack on all.

Dr James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D. C.–based organisation which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community, told the forum that American favourable attitudes of Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans and American Muslims have risen to their highest levels in the past decade, with majorities now having favourable attitudes towards both Arab Americans and American Muslims, and a plurality positively inclined towards Arabs and Muslims.

The fourth edition of the three-day event, which will run until Wednesday at St Regis Hotel Abu Dhabi, tackles the topics of global peace and the fear of Islam.

Dr Zogby, also managing director of Zogby Research Services specialising in research and communications and undertaking polling across the Arab world, said there are increases in positive ratings among every demographic and partisan group — including those who self-describe as Trump supporters. “Nevertheless, there remains a deep partisan split — with Republicans still decidedly more hostile to both Arabs and Muslims than Democrats or Independents. It is clear that an environment of bigoted policies and hateful rhetoric has strengthened the persistent partisan divide in these attitudes,” Dr Zogby said.

He said the division between Democrats and Independents on the one side and Republicans on the other is even more pronounced on matters of policy affecting Arabs and Muslims.

“A strong plurality of Americans opposes banning Muslim or Middle Eastern immigrants or visitors from entering the US. But while Trump supporters favour banning immigrants and visitors from the Middle East, by a 60 per cent/21 per cent margin, only 12 per cent of self-described Trump opponents support such a ban, with 72 per cent opposing,” Dr Zogby said.

Dr Zogby said when it comes to identifying the best way to resolve the issue of undocumented immigrants, overall 55 per cent of all Americans favour allowing them to remain in the US and providing them a pathway to citizenship. The partisan split is deep — 73 per cent of Democrats and 52 per cent of Independents favour a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, while 68 per cent of Republicans are opposed.

A majority of Americans oppose allowing law enforcement to profile Arab Americans or American Muslims, and recognise there has been an increase in discrimination against both communities.

The partisan split on policy is seen also through Americans’ perceptions of discrimination.

“Once again, these numbers are the result of strong support from Democrats and Independents: over seven in ten Democrats and over one-half of Independents taking a supportive position on these issues,” Dr Zogby said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are divided on profiling, and a slight plurality deny that growing discrimination has been a problem. While a plurality of Americans recognise there has been an increase in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, Americans remain divided on party lines — 60 per cent of Democrats agree anti-Arab hate crimes are increasing, and 53 per cent of Republicans disagree.

Dr Zogby said the most disturbing manifestation of this divide is the attitude of Republicans towards Arab Americans or American Muslims working in government — since attitudes in this area directly affect the ability of both communities to fully participate as citizens.

“For example, a slight majority of Americans are confident Arab Americans could carry out their responsibilities as government employees without their ethnicity influencing their decision-making, but a plurality of Republicans disagrees. Attitudes are even more negative with regard to American Muslims,” he said.

How does partisan divide affect foreign policy?

The Arab American Institute’s poll, presented at the Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies forum, showed the partisan divide is reflected in foreign policy concerns as well.

Dr Zogby said with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Americans still have significantly more favourable attitudes towards Israel — 61 per cent favourable towards Israel, 33 per cent favourable towards the Palestinians. But among Democrats, the gap narrows to 55 per cent to 43 per cent; and among younger Americans, it is an even closer 49 per cent favourable towards Israel, and 42 per cent toward the Palestinians.

How should Trump administration conduct Israeli-Palestinian policy? The poll showed by more than two to one Americans say it “should strike a balance” between the two sides.

Dr Zogby said here again, there is a deep partisan split. “While 58 per cent of Democrats want balance, and only 11 per cent say US policy should favour Israel, 41 per cent of Republicans want Trump to favour Israel, and 37 per cent support a balanced policy,” Dr Zogby said.

Dr Zogby added independent voters’ attitudes in this area are similar to those of Democrats. On the sensitive matter of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a slight plurality favours keeping it in Tel Aviv, but a substantial 52 per cent have no opinion or are unsure.

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