RFE/RL: What did your survey find out about what it's like to be a Muslim in the United States since the attacks of September 11, 2001?
Luis Lugo: They have experienced more acts that most people would consider to be bigotry or intolerance [and] suspicion about them, as Muslims. There has been some verbal harassment. Not much in terms of actual incidents of violence, but significant concern, no question about it. And significant numbers report that they personally have been the target of intolerance of various kinds -- maybe a quarter to a third of American Muslims.
RFE/RL: Yet your findings seem to indicate that Muslim immigrants to the United States don't feel isolated from mainstream society.
"Muslims overall -- certainly when compared to Muslims in Europe and Muslims throughout the Muslim world -- were much more negative on suicide bombings."
Lugo: Muslims feel at home in the United States. They are happy with their lives, happy with their communities, they buy into American values such as hard work leading to success. [They are] very, very much in the American mainstream when it comes to educational and economic attainments, and generally quite committed to the United States. I was personally surprised at the high number who indicated that they had already become citizens. Of those who arrived prior to 1990, more than 90 percent [are now U.S. citizens]. And even those who arrived in the 1990s -- more than 70 percent say that they have become citizens. Clearly this is not your typical European arrangement.
RFE/RL: I was interested to see that nearly half of the Muslims surveyed consider themselves Muslims first and Americans second. Is this a Muslim thing?
Lugo: It is not just a Muslim thing, it is a religious thing. We find that this is true across the board for highly religious Americans. If you look at the numbers for Evangelical [Christians], for instance, which is a very religious segment of the American population, 62 percent will tell you they consider themselves Christians first and Americans second. And no one questions Evangelicals' patriotism.
A Muslim girl in New York holds a book about the Prophet Muhammad (AFP)
RFE/RL: Many Muslims outside the United States harbor a lot of anger against the United States government because of the war in Iraq. Some of that anger has prompted many young Muslims to join militant groups to fight what they view as Western aggression. Is this anger shared by Muslims in the United States?
Lugo: What we find on the question of Islamic militancy, Islamic radicalism and suicide bombings more specifically is that American Muslims across the board overwhelmingly reject those kind of tactics and those kinds of groups, including Al-Qaeda. We also find that there is a high level of concern among American Muslims about the rise of Islamic extremism, both around the world and also in the United States. And in that way they differ from many Muslims throughout the world, who express much lower levels of concern. We did find that, with respect to suicide bombings, Muslims overall -- certainly when compared to Muslims in Europe and Muslims throughout the Muslim world -- were much more negative on suicide bombings. Only 8 percent [support suicide bombings in some cases]. If you look at numbers in Europe, they're twice that level, and in the Muslim world, Several times that level."
RFE/RL: What about young American Muslims?
Lugo: In the younger age cohort -- that is to say from 18 to 30 -- the number who said that suicide bombing is sometimes justified in the defense of Islam was double what it was for Muslims as a whole -- that is to say to 15 percent. And then an additional 11 percent said that at some point [they] imagine that being used, which brought the figure up to 26 [percent].
My own reading of it is that the figure we ought to be focusing on is that 15 percent who say it ought to be often or sometimes justified. And it raises the question, 'Why is that number higher among Muslim youth?' And it could be a variety of things. We should keep in mind that the Muslims are highly concerned about the rise of terrorism. They are very negative on the U.S.-led war on terror. They are of the view that this is not a sincere effort -- to tackle terrorism -- that something else is at work here. They're very negative on the Iraq war -- much more so than the American public.
"Muslims in the United States are assimilating into the mainstream of American society despite their own reports about it being more difficult for them as Muslims in this country, post 9/11."
RFE/RL: Another issue that breeds resentment of the United States among Muslims is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do American Muslims take the same view as those in, say, Jordan or Yemen?
Lugo: The finding on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian issue was very, very interesting here. That policy -- American Muslims are much closer to American public opinion than they are to views in the Islamic world. A majority of American Muslims expressed the view that it is possible both to guarantee the existence of the state of Israel and to meet the needs and guarantee the rights of Palestinians, which we thought was a very, very interesting finding.
RFE/RL: Another interesting finding in your survey is that nearly half of the respondents believe it is important to embrace American values. Can you elaborate?
Lugo: We were very interested to see the extent to which they have bought into the promise of America, which is that if you work hard, you're going to get ahead in this society. This is reflected in their socio-economic standing. Again, we're surprised that they were at the same level -- educationally, economically -- basically as the rest of society, despite the fact they're so recent as immigrants. Again, this is very much in contrast to what we find in Europe and may account for why Muslims in the United States are assimilating into the mainstream of American society despite their own reports about it being more difficult for them as Muslims in this country, post 9/11.