Poll: 26% Of Young U.S. Muslims OK Bombs

One in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances, though most American Muslims overwhelmingly reject the tactic and are critical of Islamic extremism and al Qaeda, a poll says.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, one of the most exhaustive ever of U.S. Muslims, revealed a community that in many ways blends comfortably into society. Its largely mainstream members express nearly as much happiness with their lives and communities as the general public does, show a broad willingness to adopt American customs, and have income and education levels similar to others in the U.S.

Even so, the survey revealed noteworthy pockets of discontent.

While nearly 80 percent of U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings of civilians to defend Islam cannot be justified, 13 percent say they can be, at least rarely.

That sentiment is strongest among those younger than 30. Two percent of them say it can often be justified, 13 percent say sometimes and 11 percent say rarely.

"It is a hair-raising number," said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which promotes the compatibility of Islam with democracy.

He said most supporters of the attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation — a term Muslims often use to describe the conflict with Israel.

U.S. Muslims have growing Internet and television access to extreme ideologies, he said, adding: "People, especially younger people, are susceptible to these ideas."

Federal officials have warned that the U.S. must be on guard against homegrown terrorism, as the British suffered with the London transit bombings of 2005.

Even so, U.S. Muslims are far less accepting of suicide attacks than Muslims in many other nations. In surveys Pew conducted last year, support in some Muslim countries exceeded 50 percent, while it was considered justifiable by about one in four Muslims in Britain and Spain, and one in three in France.

"We have crazies just like other faiths have them," said Eide Alawan, who directs interfaith outreach at the Islamic Center of America, one of the largest mosques in the U.S. He said killing innocent people contradicts Islam.

Andrew Kohut, Pew director, called support for the attacks "one of the few trouble spots" in the survey.

The question did not specify where a suicide attack might occur, who might carry it out or what was meant by using a bombing to "defend Islam."

The survey estimates there are roughly 2.35 million Muslim Americans.

In other findings:

  • Only 5 percent of U.S. Muslims expressed favorable views of the terrorist group al Qaeda, though about a fourth did not express an opinion.
  • Six in 10 said they are concerned about a rise in Islamic extremism in the U.S., while three in four expressed similar worries about extremism around the world.
  • Only one in four consider the U.S. war on terrorism a sincere attempt to curtail international terror. Only 40 percent said they believe Arab men carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
  • By a 6-to-1 margin (75% to 12%), they say the U.S. was wrong to invade Iraq, while a third say the same about Afghanistan — far deeper than the opposition expressed by the general U.S. public.
  • Just over half said it has been harder being a U.S. Muslim since the Sept. 11 attacks, especially the better educated, higher income, more religious and young. Nearly a third of those who flew in the past year say they underwent extra screening because they are Muslim.

  • Overall, Muslim Americans were found to have a generally positive view of American society at large. Most (72%) say their communities are excellent or good places in which to live and are highly assimilated. Seventy-three percent also said that they had never been a victim of discrimination for being Muslim while living in the U.S.

    Sixty-two percent of Muslims said life in the U.S. is better for women than it is in predominantly Muslim countries.

    Nearly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the U.S. were born elsewhere — in Arab countries, Pakistan or other South Asian nations. Twenty percent of native-born Muslims are African-Americans; many are converts to Islam.

    Nearly half believe that Muslims who come to the U.S. should work at adopting American customs rather than remaining apart from larger society. Nearly two-thirds (63%) did not see any conflict between living as a devout Muslim and living in contemporary America.

    This may have fueled their overwhelming response when asked if they felt it was possible for the larger society to accept them: Seventy-one percent said that most people who want to get ahead in the United States, including Muslims, can make it if they are willing to work hard.

    More specifically, however, native-born African-American Muslims are the most disillusioned segment of the U.S. Muslim population. They are more skeptical of the view that hard work pays off, are less satisfied with the way things are going in the America, and more of them believe that Muslim immigrants should try to remain apart from mainstream U.S. society.

    By law, the Census Bureau does not ask about peoples' religions.

    Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,050 Muslim adults from January through April, including some in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. Subjects were chosen at random, from a separate list of households including some with Muslim-sounding names, and from Muslim households that had participated in previous surveys.

    The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

    The complete report can be accessed at the Web site of Pew Research Center.