Just ask Donald Trump, leading candidate for Republican presidential nomination. “Islam hates us,” he hollers, and Trump even wants to block Muslims from entering the U.S. His close opponent Ted Cruz agrees with him on that subject, too.
Unfortunately, the American public is following that trend, too, and with apparent and even acknowledged ignorance. Even though a huge 83 percent of U.S. citizens admit they know nothing about it, a 47-percent plurality believe that the Muslim faith is in conflict with the American way of life.
But not only are those fears and freakisms invalid, but it’s Muslims in the United States who actually hold strongest to the country’s freedoms. And who feel that those freedoms specified in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – speech, press, religion, peaceful protest, and government petition – are still quite strong. They even have higher faith in these rights than other Americans do.
This public perception of the Muslim faith, then – that it somehow restricts principles of freedom or suppresses the public – is very far off. In fact, since these First Amendment rights were the foundation of this country, Muslims in the U.S. are actually much more American than most Americans.
Muslims are also more likely to believe that freedom of speech has grown stronger over the last two decades. While still rather split, a plurality of 37 percent of Muslims think it’s stronger today, while a 40-percent plurality of all American adults think freedom of speech is now weaker.
Restrictions on religion in the U.S., for example, received “moderate” scores in government restrictions (1.6) and social hostility (1.9) in a 2007 study by Pew Research. By 2013, however, those scores for the U.S. rose to 3.0 in government restrictions and 3.1 in social hostility. That’s not as bad as repressive countries like Pakistan, but the U.S. still ranks lower than far-off nations like South Africa and the Congo.
This is happening to our other First Amendment rights, as well. While we rank fifth in freedom of speech, the U.S. is continuously slipping in freedom of the press, and now ranks 49th in the World Press Freedom Index.
And according to the Social Progress Imperative, the United States has “relative weakness” in freedom of assembly in comparison to other nations. We also only rank 15th in tolerance of others, 15th in personal freedom, and just 24th in personal rights.
So if we’re going to make any improvements in these basic principles – the same ones that were the basis of the creation of this nation – then maybe we should lighten up on xenophobic typecasting of the Muslim faith.
It’s an extension of the dominant American religion of Christianity, after all. Just like Christians, Muslims believe that Christ was born to the Virgin Mary by the grace of God, and that He performed miracles, rose from the dead, holds the throne in the kingdom of Heaven, and will return one day for rapture.
And while many associate Muslims with terrorism, those attacks and actions are not based on religion. Those are attacks by extremist Muslim groups, and in retaliation on political bases, not religious ones. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were once allies of the U.S., for example, and received aid from the Reagan and Bush Administrations.
In fact, our oldest allies are Muslim nations. The first nation to recognize the United States as a nation independent from England was Muslim, and our oldest and still on-going treaty (230 years) is with a Muslim country.
There have been assaults in the U.S. by Muslims, but not on grounds of their religion. They were political retaliations. And the number of attacks in America by Christian groups outnumber those by Muslims by astronomical proportions. Timothy McVeigh, the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta, and continuous attacks on women’s health clinics are just a few examples of Christian terrorism in the U.S.
Maybe all Americans could rebuild confidence in First Amendment freedoms, and to the same level as U.S. Muslims, if we could take down those incorrect typecasts. That would involve listening to and even seeking out differing opinions, and respecting them despite any differences.
And to do so, maybe we should follow our Muslim citizens' examples. They are, in fact, slightly less likely to believe that Americans won't listen to different opinions.