A Detroit-area Islamic organization, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, released a survey of Detroit Muslims, A Portrait of Detroit Mosques: Muslim Views on Policy, Politics and Religion, on April 6, 2004. Written by Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, and conducted in mid-2003, the survey's key thesis, according to the sponsoring organization itself, is that "The vast majority of Muslim Americans hold ‘moderate' views on issues of policy, politics and religion." Bagby also emphasized this point in a newspaper interview: the results, he said, show that "the mosque community is not a place of radicalism."
Bagby's study received fair media coverage and some headlines dutifully reflected the official line:
- Detroit Free Press: "Muslims' goals: Be active, be moderate."
- Detroit News: "Metro Muslims eschew radicalism: Study shows most hold moderate views, want to integrate."
- Scripps Howard News Service: "Survey Finds Muslims are Moderates."
In addition, before the study's release, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the leading militant Islamic organization in the United States, trumpeted the results on its website; and its spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, lost no time exploiting the alleged results of Bagby's study. One article describes him pointing "to a new survey of the views of mosque leaders and congregants in Detroit … as an example of the fundamental moderation of U.S. Muslims."
But do the survey results actually say this? Emphatically not; Bagby's results indicate anything but moderation, as some specific numbers suggest:
- By a ratio of 67 to 33, Muslims in the United States think "America is immoral."
- About (the graph does not allow complete precision) 90 percent of Muslims favor universal health care.
- Fully 79 percent favor affirmative action for minorities.
- Asked about the job being done as president by George W. Bush, 85 percent of Muslims disapprove and a mere 4 percent approve.
Comments: (1) As in the case of Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002-2003, a report released a week earlier in Europe (and which I covered in an update to my article "Locus of Euro-hate"), we have here a case of survey research being distorted by its sponsors to hide the actual results. This is intellectual fraud and political deception.
(2) There is plenty of reason to doubt the results of this survey, whose methodology on the face of it appears highly unscientific. We are told that questionnaires were distributed at twelve mosques in metropolitan Detroit for anyone to pick up and fill out; and a vague "almost 1300 mosque participants" filled out the questionnaires during the misty period of "summer 2003." Some of the answers, in particular the 81 percent of respondents endorsing the application of Shari‘a (Islamic law) in Muslim-majority lands, suggest that the views of mosque-goers significantly differ from the Muslim population as a whole. So, the news about Muslim opinion may not be as non-moderate as Bagby's evidence suggests.
(3) That said, abundant evidence exists to indicate that the views of Muslims living in the United States differ from those of the American population as a whole, some of it provided by CAIR itself. Other data is anecdotal or derives from survey research. In other words, Bagby's study of Detroit Muslims confirms an established pattern of survey research discerning estranged and radical political views among American Muslims. It would be reassuring on many levels were this not the case. But a problem does exists and wishing it away does not address it. It does need to be addressed.