Perceptions of Muslims and Islam in the United States in Light of the Presidential Election
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This event took place on Thursday, November 10, 2016
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Welcome. I am Joel Rosenthal, president of Carnegie Council. I am delighted to see you all here this evening.
I am sure you are all thinking the same thing that I am—now that the election is over, there is a lot to discuss. I am genuinely delighted to have this opportunity to discuss things together with you this evening along with our panelists.
Our topic tonight is "Perceptions of Muslims and Islam in the United States in Light of the Presidential Election." This topic was selected well in advance of the outcome of the election, and this event is one in a series of critical election-year issues organized by the Council's program on U.S. Global Engagement, directed by David Speedie, and it is made possible by generous support from Krishen Mehta. Krishen, thank you very much for all of your support.
As we all know, attitudes toward Muslims and Islam were an important element of the 2016 election campaign, from the dramatic intervention of the father of a Muslim U.S. Army officer killed in military action to threats to ban all Muslim immigration. Voter sentiment toward Muslims, perhaps more so than any other minority, was a concern for both presidential candidates. Now that we have a president-elect, two of our foremost scholars and expert commentators on Islam in America will discuss the likely fallout of the election, discussing both public attitudes toward Muslims and perceptions of Muslims themselves as to how they and their faith are viewed in the United States. Both of our speakers are very good friends of the Council. We admire their work, and we thank them for coming back to be with us this evening.
Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland at College Park. Shibley has conducted extensive polling on views of Muslims and Islam.
Juan Cole is the Richard Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of, among many books, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East and Engaging the Muslim World.
I have asked both of our speakers to give us about 10 minutes of remarks, and then we will move directly to question-and-answer. As we go through the remarks and the first bit of conversation, think about being interactive. We really want to have a conversation with all of you tonight.
With that intro, I am going to turn it over to Shibley, who has a bit of a presentation and some comments to make, and then we will move to Juan and then Q&A. Thank you all for coming. Shibley?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Thanks so much. Thanks for hosting us. It is always great to be back at the Carnegie Council, a place I have a lot of affection for, and for the people who are here, as well as our friend David Speedie, who is missed tonight.
It is also good to see Krishen and to acknowledge his support to the Council. He has been a great friend and supporter of our work as well at the University of Maryland. And it is good to be with Juan, my colleague. I am very pleased to be here.
Let me give you a little bit of a flavor of what I am finding in my polls on this issue. But I want to start with a couple of points before I do my presentation. This is obviously a very critical time, having had a surprise outcome in our election. Everyone is, obviously, still trying to figure out what it means for our country and for the world. This particular issue of Islam and Muslims has been a huge issue in the campaign. It has been an extraordinary issue to the extent that this campaign has not been about issues, by and large, but it was one of the ones that had been put out there for sure in a very negative way that had an impact on sentiments here and abroad.
I want to give you a flavor. Today there was a report that two female students wearing hijabs at two colleges, one in California and one in Louisiana just today, were assaulted by men who invoked Donald Trump's name in attacking them. I tweeted that today, and I got a tweet from someone who replied, "What do you expect when they so blatantly flaunt their faith?" Obviously, this has been one outcome of this ugly year. [Editor's note: According to this Washington Post article the story about the woman being attacked in Louisiana was fabricated.]
It is not that this is new, of course; you have to look at it scientifically in terms of what happened over the year. We do know from multiple studies that have taken place over the past year that crimes against Muslims have spiked over the past year. But, despite that, I want to show you something that should not take us to the wrong conclusion about the American people, or even about why people elected Donald Trump. I happen to think that many of his supporters, if not most, have not embraced him on issues, that many people actually voted for him despite his position on issues.
I do polling on this as well, and we released a poll just a couple of weeks ago, with an article I wrote with a colleague of mine on Reuters, that suggested that it was mostly people who just wanted change and were prepared to roll the dice and they saw him as an agent of change for good or for bad—not necessarily people who agreed with him.
Two-thirds of the American public said, "The system is rigged against people like me;" over 70 percent said they wanted the vote to "send a message to the Establishment;" 98 percent wanted "significant change in America;" 49 percent wanted that change to be revolutionary versus 47 percent who wanted this to be incremental; 86 percent thought there were many Trump supporters who were not saying so—and by the way, that turns out to be right because what we found in the actual outcome of the election is many women voted for him, and it is hard for a woman to go out and say, "I'm going to vote for Donald Trump"—he got a majority of white women in America, 54 percent of white women; he got 63 percent of less-than-college-educated white women with less, 45 percent of college-educated women who are white.
So we are talking about something broader, and it is not an embrace of his positions. We find in much of the polling that he took positions that the public does not accept or does not agree with. This is not really an issue about people who elected him, therefore they are agreeing with his positions on issues. That is one thing I want to put on the table.
I say that because on this specific issue of Islam and Muslims there has been something fascinating that happened over the past year, something unexpected. Frankly, I have been studying American public attitudes toward Islam and Muslims for some time—and I am not the only one; there were many polls that started particularly after 9/11—as you know, a lot of people have had to deal with this issue of American public attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. So we have had a track record to measure it against over a long period of time.
One of the things I wanted to do particularly for this election year was to have a series of polls. I started exactly a year ago in November of last year, when the campaign was just getting started, and the last one I released just four weeks ago in October. I asked many questions but three that were basically indicative that we have measured over time: Whether the views of the Muslim people are favorable or unfavorable; whether the views of Islam as a religion are favorable or unfavorable; and whether the thought that Islam and the West have compatible values or whether they believe in the clash-of-civilizations thesis. Those are three baseline things, besides a lot of other questions.
I want to show you what happened over the past year in the midst of this discourse that often was racist, and certainly anti-Islamic, and in a year during which we had some horrific attacks on American soil—the San Bernardino and then the Orlando attacks. What happened here in the public in terms of reaction?
Let me start with the Muslim people. If you are looking at the slides, you can see I have four polls: The black is November 2015; the green is May 2016; the purple is June 2016, immediately after Orlando—I did that one week after the Orlando attack; and then the most recent one in October 2016.
What we see here is incredible improvement in people's attitudes toward the Muslim people. We start off with 53 percent favorable views of Muslims a year ago; now we have 70 percent favorable views of Muslims a year later in the middle of this heated campaign. If you look at it, it's progressive, it happened, and it's outside the margin of error. These are substantial samples. The most recent was 1,500, all fielded by Nielsen Scarborough, the very same methodology we've done. Margin of error in the most recent one was only 2.5 percent. This is what we find.
The breakdown by party of course is different, and it has been different. Clearly, the unfavorable views among Republicans are very strong—41 percent unfavorable versus only 17 percent for Democrats—so we knew we had a polarized country. But overall the trend has been progressively for the better.
When you look at Clinton supporters versus Trump supporters, you have the same thing: Favorable, very favorable, somewhat favorable combined, you find—again just comparing May and June of last year—among Clinton supporters you had in October 2016, 81 percent favorable versus only 52 percent favorable among Trump supporters. That actually changed a bit.
I want to just go to the Muslim religion—same trend. Look at the attitude toward the Muslim religion. By the way, attitudes toward the Muslim religion have always been more negative than attitudes toward the Muslim people. We have had that really since 9/11, and we can talk about why that is the case—I have my own views; Juan may have his own views—but that has been true.
Look at the numbers regarding the Muslim religion. What we have here is it went from 37 percent favorable a year ago; now it is 49 percent favorable. And again it is progressive; that is the nice thing about it.
What is your attitude toward the Muslim religion broken down by party? Look at the difference. Big difference: 66 percent favorable by Democrats; 29 percent favorable by Republicans. So it is a very partisan set of attitudes; and the same thing if you break it down by candidate.
I could tell you just one other thing, that the same trend held across the board from last year until now, across the four polls, on attitudes, whether Islam and the West have compatible values. More and more people have come to say they have compatible values; fewer and fewer people have come to say they are not compatible.
So you might ask how is this possible in the middle of this year—what is going on here? I can give you an answer, and then I am going to go with a conclusion. I told you the nice story. I want to tell you the negative story in a minute.
It is possible because the country is so polarized in the middle of the presidential campaign. What we found, particularly for the first three polls in a row, from last November through June, was that almost all the improvement in attitudes came from Democrats and Independents; Republican views did not move at all. Those who were supportive of Trump for the first three polls actually became more negative toward Islam and Muslims during those three polls.
First of all, it is part of the polarization where, in essence, people were responding—what we saw was what the language on the right was doing, but there was a counter-narrative coming from the other side.
And there was a reaction. It was not only that people were reacting to a view that they rejected that was extreme, but it was also that the Democrats, many Independents, and some moderate Republicans had an incentive to put forth a counter-narrative in the middle of the campaign because Trump used this as such a high-profile issue that those who wanted to go against him had a vested interested in creating a counter-narrative. So Democrats put forth a forceful counter-narrative: It is about terrorism and not about Islam; we should protect our civil liberties—the president said that; Sanders said that; Clinton said that. There was a forceful counter-narrative because everybody understood that part of the war is a war of narrative during the election year. So it had an impact on the majority of the people.
I happen to think that even those who ultimately supported Trump were not supporting him because they were embracing his views—some of them were, but not all of them; there are people certainly whose views are extreme, but that is not why the people were voting for him.
Let me go with a very quick conclusion. Despite that picture, I wanted to put just one slide on the table to compare the evolution of American public views toward particularly the Muslim religion, because when you look at attitudes that I showed, you can see that attitudes toward the Muslim religion have been much more unfavorable than toward the Muslim people.
If you look back, the first slide I am showing on top is October 2001. This was done by ABC News right after 9/11. Actually, at that time, more people had a favorable view of Islam as a religion than had an unfavorable view of Islam, surprisingly, after 9/11. The views of Islam as a religion started going down really after the Iraq War and Afghan War and the war on terrorism—not so much 9/11 itself. They bottomed out in 2011. Actually, I did a poll in 2011 where only 33 percent had a favorable view of Islam and 61 percent had an unfavorable view of Islam.
Here in October 2016, it is a mixed bag, because the favorable views are back now to where they were at 9/11. So in some ways, we are actually going back to that baseline that happened right after 9/11. But look at the unfavorable views—they actually increased still, even by that measure, from 39 percent to 49 percent. Americans, despite all of that trend that I showed you of improvement overall, are very divided on Muslim religion.
When you look at the partisan divide, Republicans overall, regardless of Trump supporters—particularly evangelicals, about whom I am doing a lot of research as well—have an extremely unfavorable view of the Muslim religion. That remains to be the case despite the picture that I gave you.
One other slide I want to show. A question I asked in the spring, which was just as a baseline to see whether people are prepared to vote for a Muslim-American president if they agreed with her or his positions on issues—if they were fully in agreement on issues, would they vote for a Muslim president? I gave them, by the way, an evangelical candidate as well. I am just showing here the Jewish versus Muslim because that is a good baseline.
You can see that with a Jewish presidential candidate, 65 percent say yes, they would vote for a Jewish candidate; only 8 percent say no; and others don't know. With a Muslim-American presidential candidate, you can see only one-third say yes, even despite the favorable views of the Muslim people, and 34 percent say no—so about the same number—and then 31 percent don't know. So it is still a problem.
One final comment I want to make before I turn it to my colleague. That is that, despite what I said about the fact that the rhetoric of the campaign has not had what people had expected; that is, the majorities of Americans have actually gone the other way—they rejected the narrative of extremism in their attitudes toward Islam and Muslims.
But it does not take majorities to create the kind of thing that we are seeing now, because all it takes is these passionate extremities who are empowered and mobilized by political leadership that gives them the space to operate, to create the fear that the Muslim community has in America, to create the kind of incident that I talked about earlier in the morning with two female students being attacked simply because they were wearing a hijab. That is the one that we have to all be worried about as we move into the new presidency.
JUAN COLE: Thanks so much to the Council for this nice invitation and to Mr. Mehta for his support.
It is great to be on the same podium with Shibley Telhami. Shibley is the man who has the numbers. We historians are squishy and soft.
Let me frame my remarks more with regard to history and to suggest that we are in a moment very much like the moment during World War I and after, which is called—it has many names—the "Red Scare," but there was also an immigration scare. Actually, the Red Scare and the immigration scare were very much part of one another because immigrants were tagged as having an alien ideology across the board. It was a time when thousands of Americans were imprisoned for thought crimes. It was a time when the attorney general at will rounded up immigrants and deported them without any due process. Some notorious Scots were sent back to Glasgow. It was about different groups than the hysteria today, but it had a similar character to it. And it was a time of what is called the "second Ku Klux Klan," which grew in importance to the point where it took over Indiana.
If one thinks about that period, why was it like that? It was, in part, the tail end of a big wave of immigration, beginning roughly in 1880 and going into the 1910s. We were a country of, I don't know, 100 million people or so—don't hold me to the statistics exactly—in 1900, and 20 million people came in. So it was a lot of people; it was a big proportion of the country. Actually, that was not so unusual, because from 1860 until 1924 the percentage of foreign-born in the United States was typically 13-14 percent, which is higher than it is now.
One of the things that happened over time was that the places from which the immigration came changed. Germany initially supplied a lot of the immigrants. Because of the two world wars in the 20th century, German-Americans have kept it quiet that that is what they are—no pride parades, no celebration of ethnic identity—but 40 million of the American people are German-Americans.
But then, toward the end of the 19th century and into the 1910s, the Italians came; what we would now call Lebanese came, and about 10 percent of them were Muslim, so it was the first big wave of Muslim immigration in the United States; the Poles came; and the Jews came.
By the 1910s you started to have white Protestants forming militia gangs to patrol their neighborhoods. One of the reasons we got Prohibition was that it was felt that these rowdy Eastern and Southern European immigrants—a lot of them were single males when they came over, and after work in the factories they would gather in the saloons and become rowdy and attack respectable women and so forth—so there shouldn't be any liquor in the country.
And then you had riots. Lincoln, Nebraska, had a riot against Greek-Americans in 1908. The scare of Eastern Orthodoxy apparently was too much for Nebraska.
As I said, it seemed to me a very similar kind of era. And, of course, many of the Eastern European and Southern European immigrants had been socialists in their home countries, so then they were tagged as "pinkos" here, and that caused a lot of enmity and rancor and was one of the reasons that they got deported—if they got involved in union activities, for instance, they would be targeted by the Department of Justice. I think we may have to get used to that phrase, "targeted by the Department of Justice" in the next few years; but it wouldn't be anything new.
In 1924, as a result of this agitation over immigration, leftist ideology, a number of issues, Congress passed a new immigration law. There were disputes over the basis for the immigration law, but it was ultimately based on the proportion of people who were here in 1880. There was some question that maybe it should be 1890; but no, too many non-white Northern European Protestants had come by then. So 1880 was the base. It did not completely exclude the Italians, because some of them had already come, but it had a bias toward Northern European Protestants.
The Lebanese were not welcome anymore. I think the quota for Lebanon and Syria together was 400 a year. They had country quotas. They let the people in the world know how many of those kinds of people they wanted to come every year. I think probably all of Norway could have come—that would have been all right. But not so for Asians; Asians were completely excluded—nobody from Thailand, the Philippines, Japan—and this broke a treaty that they actually had made with Japan to let a few hundred in every year, but that stayed. And there was a Chinese Exclusion Act—but this was on top that—that stayed until the 1940s, until Chinese were allowed to come again.
The whole thing only broke down in 1965 as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, in which the country finally became ashamed—because this was more or less a Nazi law; it was about racial hierarchies. It was very clear; you just have to look at the quotas. So they replaced it with a new law that actually set a ceiling of 25,000 per country in the world for potential immigration. Of course, the immigrants had to meet certain standards and so forth.
The conservatives in Congress at the time were worried about an open immigration policy of that sort, and they were determined to try to tilt it again toward Northern Europe. So they put in a clause that allowed relatives to have special perquisites in bringing people over. They were expecting that, as immigration had traditionally been predominantly from Europe, that would continue, and so this would give a bias in the law toward European immigration. But it turns out that Europe was doing just fine in the 1960s and 1970s, had a very strong postwar recovery, and people were not so interested in coming from there anymore, and about half came from Latin America every year and people came from Asia. That clause that allowed relatives to have special perquisites became available for chain migration from Latin America and Asia, so it backfired on the conservatives in Congress.
That is how we get Muslims in the United States because, as of 1965, sociologists think there were only about 100,000 in the country. But, since 1965, if up to 25,000 could come from every country in the world, one of the advantages the Muslims have is—you know, the poor Chinese, they only have like four countries, but the Muslims have a lot of countries, 56 Muslim-majority countries plus all the places where they are a minority—so they could be a significant proportion of the people who came in.
Moreover, there were push factors: there was the Lebanon Civil War; there was trouble in Afghanistan. For one reason or another—Southeast Asia had its troubles too—Muslims were particularly caught up in situations where there was a reason for them to want to leave their homeland beyond just economic aspiration.
I would argue that we are now very much in 2016 where we kind of were in 1916, and we are having the equivalent of a red scare, only now it is a Muslim scare, and many of the same anxieties are being expressed, and I am afraid we might be having the third big wave of the Ku Klux Klan. It is a kind of nativism, but it is coming in response to this massive wave of immigration we have had since 1965.
In recent years, a million people a year have been coming legally to the United States, about half of them from Latin America. Obviously, over time that is changing the ethnic makeup of the country—personally I think in good ways. I think it is easy to demonstrate that immigrants are not taking jobs away from the native-born; they do not have necessarily the same English skills or the same kind of workplace stills, so they tend to fill different niches than the people who were born here for the most part. I think the sociology on this is fairly clear. But there is a widespread perception that this is not the case, that they are taking jobs or that they are competing for jobs and driving down wages and so forth.
I think there are obvious reasons for which it is not a red scare this time but a Muslim scare. The rise of al-Qaeda, which I would think the Americans tend to forget that it was U.S. policy to encourage radical right-wing Muslims to organize to kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan—I call it the Reagan jihad—and it was partly American foreign policy that got those guys going. Once they got going as a discrete political and paramilitary group, they came back and bit the United States on the behind. The attacks that have occurred in the West from these groups who went from being a pawn mainly deployed by the United States in the Cold War to being adversaries, replacing the Soviets and the communists in the post-Cold War period, has been a big reason for which an anti-Muslim sentiment has grown up.
Of course, it is extremely unfair. In most Europol studies of terrorism in Europe in recent years, 1 percent of European terrorism was committed by Muslims. The vast majority of it is by Basque and other European separatist groups, and then the far left and the far right account for most of the rest. Although there are a lot of Muslims in Europe, they do not account for very many of the terrorist attacks. In some years, of course, like last year, this will be a bigger statistic. But, nevertheless, it is small.
Most Muslims are perfectly well-behaved people, and of course immigrants tend to be more law-abiding than the native-born because they don't want to be deported, they are afraid of the police, and so on and so forth, and this is true of Muslims as well. A very tiny group of Muslims—I think in the United States 144 or so Muslims—have been involved in some kind of terrorism since 9/11. There are 3 million Muslims in the United States, so it is a very tiny group.
But, of course, they can create an image for the rest, and that is exacerbated by the fact that I think one of our two major parties—the Republican Party—latently has adopted anti-Muslimism as part of its ideology. President-Elect Trump is only one exhibit in this. You had the Oklahoma legislature legislating against Muslim law and so on and so forth. That helps to explain those statistics about why, although in general in the American public there is I think an increasing willingness to separate out the radicals from mainstream Muslims, there is resistance to this on the Republican side, and the resistance is particularly strong among evangelicals who support the Republican Party.
One last thing to say is that it is very concerning that many of the tropes and the kind of language that is used among Islamophobes against people who have an irrational fear of Muslims in the United States are very similar to the language that was used for decades and centuries against Jews.
There was a blood libel against Jews, that they would steal Christian babies and use them in their rituals; there is a blood libel against Muslims, that they plot out murders from their mosques. We have had a number of incidents in which mosques have been forbidden—quite illegally—by certain city councils, and the city council members would say things like, "Well, we don't want them to expand the space they have to plot out murders from their mosques." It is alleged that the Quran tells Muslims that they have to kill non-Muslims and so forth, which is ridiculous. The Quran forbids murder and says that if you kill a human being, it is as though you killed all humankind; so one murder from the Quran's point of view is like genocide.
I will leave it there, and we can open for questions.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you both.
It is a fascinating discussion of narratives and images, and you use the word "trope" and so on. The statistics are counterintuitive. I get the story. But I think what probably a lot of people are concerned about now is we are going from campaign, from rhetoric, from symbol, from trope, to official government policy, a new administration. So it will be President Trump, and when he says "Muslim ban" that is different than candidate Trump looking for votes, and Juan used a chilling phrase about "targeted by the Department of Justice," as if this can happen.
I wonder if you both could think about the transition we are going to go through now—all of the data was absolutely fascinating; the story is absolutely fascinating—from story to policy at some level.
The Trump administration—I know we are in the very earliest hours here—but I do not know if there is any outreach, if there is going to be any representation within the administration to Muslim communities and so forth—I am sure at some level, but it may be at a low level.
What is your level of concern in terms of where this is going to go as we move into official government policy? This is for both of you, just to kick it off.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: It is a really good question obviously, because I think presidents matter, in terms of at least helping create a narrative. I happen to think—I really enjoyed the historical story because it puts it in perspective and really broadens your view of it; historical perspective is one way to look at it.
The more recent history of relations between the United States and Muslims is that I happen to think that after 9/11, for obvious reasons, the United States has become the "other" in many of the Muslim narratives—not all of them but certainly in the Arab world—for the decade, particularly because of the Iraq War—it is more of a post-Iraq War. A lot of people interpret the war on terrorism as a war on Islam, more or less—it has become part of the "other" in their identity that trumps many other, even some regional, conflicts. For Americans, Muslims and Islam had become the "other" that defined the American identity after 9/11.
That is a big thing. I do not think we are over it yet. I think that is still part of the picture. I do not think it is gone. That is why we still see the problem about Islam as a religion; it has not gone.
But I do think that the rise of Obama helped mitigate that. To the extent that you want to say that Obama did something good—you can agree or disagree with his policies; we can talk about any of these—to the extent that he succeeded in something, it was writing a different narrative about the relations with Islam, Muslims, and Muslim countries. That had an impact in my opinion. It certainly solidified that narrative, at least among his supporters and many other Americans who were not fully invested in this. It may not have helped on the right, but it has helped.
For me, it would be a very fascinating—perhaps more than fascinating because it is consequential—where you have a president of the United States who may want to rewrite the narrative again. I worry about it.
But here is the thing that heartens me a little bit. We talk about Americans. We are not one America—I mean, come on, let's be real. We are at least two Americas. We have seen that, because the ideological differences are huge on some of the issues related to Islam and Muslims and the Middle East—and race politics in America, which we also poll on—the differences between Republicans and Democrats are 50 to 60 percentage points. That is not one country; that is more than one country.
What we have is a diversity of views. If you want to define who the people are who are defining one camp or the other, the one that is far more tolerant, far more globalist, far more even people who identify themselves more "I am more a citizen of the world than I consider myself to be an American"—you are talking about the Millennials, you are talking about women, you are talking about Hispanics, you are talking about African-Americans—the core constituency of the Democratic Party—and that is moving in the direction of more acceptance of toleration. No question. We see that in the polls.
On the right, it is a complicated story, because I do not think most of the support for Trump is coming from the right. As I said, he won some of the people who voted for Obama because they wanted change. You could look at it, particularly in the Rust Belt states, where you had some counties that went for him and now went for Trump. So it is hard to poll.
In my own polling, that polarization is mostly centered on the evangelicals within the Republican Party when it comes to attitudes toward Islam and the Middle East. By the way, they constitute probably 30-35 percent of the Republican Party; some people say even maybe 40 percent in some places. When you ask them that question, by far they have the most unfavorable view of Islam and Muslims.
It is driven by all sorts of things: A narrative of their own; some of it is religious, pushed by their own religious leaders; some of it is tied to Israel because Israel is such an important issue. If you take the evangelicals out of the Republican Party and then you look at the public opinion of the Republican Party on matters related to the Middle East, it is not so far off from the rest of the country.
What you have here is a polarization that is going to be affected by what signals are going to come from the commander-in-chief, but not necessarily in the same ways. What I fear is: (1) increased polarization; (2) empowerment of those—few, yes; a minority, yes, but nonetheless sizable minority—extremist racists who will be emboldened to do things that are hurtful to not only Muslims but hurtful to America, hurtful to America's image, and hurtful to what America stands for. It is a real fear I have.
JUAN COLE: I think there are two issues here.
One is government policy. Remarks that Mr. Trump has made in the past year suggest that he would like to go back to the 1950s, in a way, and create a class of Americans who are second-class citizens. That is what Jim Crow was for African-Americans; there was a separate set of laws—what they could do, where they could go, which bathroom they could use, which school they could go to, and so forth. They were constrained in a way that white Americans were not, and that was formalized in state law and was allowed by federal law until certain court cases came up and until the legislations of 1964.
Trump has suggested that there might be a registry; Muslims might have to register. He was asked what is the difference between that and the Nazis having the Jews register, and he did not answer that question.
It would be possible for him to designate Muslim-majority countries as special security risks and to have extra caution about people coming here from those countries; that could be done by an executive order. It could not be done, I think, probably on a religious basis; he would have to designate the country, but that would be easy to do, and it is the kind of thing that is done all the time in the State Department. So that is an issue.
Government appointments, access to government jobs, security clearances, all of those things—again certain special laws, special regulations could be implemented with regard to Muslims.
One countervailing factor here is that some members of his likely administration would not agree with these things. For instance, Chris Christie appointed a Muslim court judge, and when he was criticized for that by fellow members of the Republican Party, he said, "I'm not going to put up with that Islamophobic bullshit." That does not sound very much like the president-elect. So there could be pushback inside the administration in some instances.
The other issue besides government action is—I think Shibley is absolutely correct—it is always, I think, intellectually in bad taste to bring up the Nazis, but I think we really have to get used to the fact that what happened in places like the Sudetenland, which was part of Czechoslovakia, was that Nazi gangs started fights; and when there was pushback against them, Hitler came out and said, "Well, our Germans are under attack; we need to have the Sudetenland join the homeland," and so he took it away from Czechoslovakia. But it was this gang activity on the ground that started that process. You could see pogroms, basically, if that kind of rhetoric continued and was encouraged from the highest office in the land.
QUESTION: Don Simmons.
Mr. Cole likened the current Muslim scare to the red scare of a century ago. That feels and sounds true to me.
I was astonished at the polling results of Mr. Telhami, particularly that those identifying themselves as Republicans had—I guess maybe it was Trump supporters—very much the same degree of approval today—or last month I guess it was—as in October of 2001; Democrats much better.
I am just wondering how those things are consistent one with the other. For example, would people be responding to polls in different ways or with different psychology as we got to the end of the election campaign?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Responding to polls in a different way during the campaign versus after; is that what you are saying?
QUESTIONER [Don Simmons]: Are they telling the truth?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: To the extent that people tell the truth in polls, yes. You could say that some people may have a self—like in support of Trump, a lot of people were wondering whether it became uncool to say that you support Trump, and maybe there was some reason to expect that. But you would not see that kind of change that is incremental that has taken place unless people are—you are not going to see it because there is a profound new interpretation of Islam and Muslims. It does not happen over a year; that is too rapid of a change.
I interpret it as a polarization, where people are invested in two different narratives. So people who rally against Donald Trump—the Independents and Democrats—are saying, "We reject what you're saying," and they are being cheered on by the Democratic candidate and the president to provide this narrative, "No, let's reject it; we are an inclusive country."
If you are a Democrat, particularly in the heat of the campaign, where are you going? You are going to Democratic sites, you are going to MSNBC, you are going to reinforce your views. If you are a Republican, you are going to your sources and you are doing that. So I think it is a function of polarization.
The issue for me is: Now that this is over, are we going to see a decline from this high level of favorable views of the Muslim people at least? It is possible. I actually think that probably over the next year, depending on what President Trump will do and say, we may actually have a decline in the next year from the level that I measured in October of this year.
QUESTION: Youssef Bahammi, the Halsten Enterprise.
It is a historical moment indeed. It is the first time in history that a president-elect in the United States does not have a public or government background.
Regarding the topic, I think it is mostly about interfaith; it is a matter of demonizing or not a certain topic—Islam—as any other topics related to religion or race have been demonized in many other contexts.
When I see some congressmen, for example, in the legislature of the state of Michigan and the kind of laws that they want to pass that are like the sharia law, I am sorry, but the American people have to defend themselves. I agree with President Donald Trump regarding that matter, and I am sure that on the other side of the aisle President Barack Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and President Bill Clinton will be against somebody who is going to harm the core values of the U.S. Constitution as well.
QUESTION: Krishen Mehta.
Shibley, you started with the comment about the woman in the hijab being attacked. There are many incidents today of hate crimes in this country; similar to after Brexit in the United Kingdom, the hate crimes went up.
I have a two-part question: What can be the message to this woman who comes out of Grand Central and is walking home, who is now walking not in an Obama America but in possibly a Trump America? What kind of reassurance can we provide, realizing that in reality this election, from a popular vote standpoint, agreed with the values of Secretary Clinton in terms of what America is all about?
For these young people who are worried about these hate crimes, how can we create an environment in which these issues become American issues and not just Muslim issues or Asian-American or black issues? What can we as a public citizenry do to make those people feel more safe?
JUAN COLE: I do not know what he is referring to about Michigan.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: You were talking about state legislatures trying to outlaw sharia.
QUESTIONER [Youssef Bahammi]: There is a strong Muslim presence on the Congress and governorship of the state of Michigan, at least historically during the recent years. I am just aware about some congressmen who spoke about many laws that do not resemble the makeup of the federal Constitution.
JUAN COLE: With regard to sharia, I said that the Republican Party has a latent plank of anti-Muslimism. There have been a number of state legislatures that have passed laws that American judges and legislators may not make reference to or draw on traditions of Islamic law. This seems to me to be symbolic politics because I am unaware of legislators or judges that typically do refer to Islamic law. I think it is a nonissue.
But it is actually the case that the United States has common law. So if two parties in Dearborn, Michigan, where there is a big Muslim community, made an agreement with one another with reference to sharia, I think the courts would attempt to enforce it. So there are aspects of Muslim law as it applies to Muslim practice that would end up being affirmed by the courts, not on the basis of sharia but on the basis of American common law. Common law assumes that custom is a kind of law, so if people do things in a certain way, then it has a certain kind of legitimacy.
I think it is the case that Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans are a not insignificant voting bloc. Because the states are so close—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey had very close elections—even a few tens of thousands—in Southeast Michigan we probably have on the order of 400,000 Muslim-Americans; in Ohio, in Cleveland and Toledo and so forth, there are big Muslim-American and Arab-American communities. So in some elections they actually can tip the state. This has happened in Michigan in the past in state contests.
It seems likely to me that a lot of Muslim-Americans—who previously had kept their heads down, had not gotten involved very much in politics, maybe didn't bother to vote—we are going to see them emerge as more of a bloc, over the next four years likely, so the effect they can have in the swing states may be amplified.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: When I heard that report today—of course, we have heard many reports like that, but just coming today, just a couple of days after our election—and hearing that the people who assaulted these women assaulted them principally because they were wearing hijab and where they invoked Donald Trump's name—they invoked it directly, according to—and one of them was apparently wearing a hat or a T-shirt saying "Donald Trump"—I thought, "What would I want my president to do?"
I would want my president to say, "not in my name." I would want my president to stand up and say, "This is unacceptable in America." I would want my president to stand up and say, "We don't attack people because of their faith." And if you do not, you are not doing your job. That is what I worry about.
Will President-Elect Trump and then President Trump use that podium to make that kind of statement, or will he just not react at all, or continue even more with a narrative that empowers people like that more? We all are hoping that the office will transform, that the rhetoric that we heard during the campaign was just campaign rhetoric—we can only hope. But right now it is definitely dangerous.
QUESTION: This question is for Shibley: Have you taken a poll of Muslims, about how they feel about the West and Christianity and Jewish groups and things, because I have seen five or six videos that have Muslims going on a rant and saying, "We hate the West; we hate everything about them; we want to do this and that to them." You come away from that and you say, "Well, I can understand why there's friction between these groups." Have you taken that poll, the reverse?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I have done years of polling in the Arab world particularly—in six Arab countries I have done that 10 years in a row—and I have a book that came out a couple of years ago, called The World Through Arab Eyes, and it has two chapters on attitudes toward the United States particularly and how they have shifted over time. So yes, we do that. [Editor's note: For more on this book, check out Telhami's 2013 Carnegie Council event.]
What we find in those polls is that over that decade particularly, from 9/11 all the way until 2011, the beginning of the Arab uprisings, and until the end of the Bush administration, we were involved in a war on terrorism that a lot of Arabs interpreted to be a war on Islam. Attitudes toward the United States were very negative throughout, but that did not translate into embracing violence against the United States.
When we look at that, we find exactly what we see in America. In America, what you see is a majority of Americans actually have favorable views of Muslims, but you have an extremist minority that the Muslim world is reporting on. I get on Al Jazeera and I say, "Yes, it's true, but don't implicate the American people because that's not where the Americans are."
It is not that you discount the fact that all you need is a minority, because all you need for extremism is a passionate minority. They can define the relationship, they carry out the attacks, they can mobilize a community, they can impact politics, they can create a poisonous atmosphere. That is all you need.
It is one thing to talk about how people view the "other," particularly in the middle of a conflict, and another thing to say, "What do they want to do about it?"
We also see that the most intensely negative views were, of course, when the Iraq War was underway. It started improving a little bit—it is still negative—as we pulled out of Iraq, and particularly after the election of President Obama.
Right now, frankly, the Arabs particularly, but many Muslims—and remember, we cannot talk about "the Muslim world"—I don't even know what a Muslim world is, by the way; we do not have a Christian world—we all label it, but we do not have a Christian world. What is a Christian world? Can you imagine talking about Russia and Venezuela and America as being part of a Christian world because we have nominally Christian majorities in these countries? I do not know.
When we talk about Muslim-majority countries, they are incredibly diverse. Some have good relations with the United States; some have bad relations with the United States; attitudes in some countries are more positive. The fact is, it is not always the case that the religion is going to be what defines the person. We talk about that in general, and that is what I see in the data related to here in the United States—that one has to differentiate between the views of the majority and the passionate views of the minority that can have an impact on behavior.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Safi Chaudhry.
My question is quite brief: Being a young Muslim and living in America, I just wanted to know what can we do to proactively counter any possible hate that might arise with the Trump presidency?
JUAN COLE: I think it is really important for Muslim-Americans to become more organized and active and outspoken. I think about half of Muslim-Americans are first-generation Americans, and so they have a reference point of their home countries. In their home countries, not necessarily democratic places, you kept out of trouble by being quiet and just being engineers—something that does not have a political implication.
The United States is a volunteer society. People have come here and gotten involved in things. Actually, I think it is the other way around here: If you are quiet here, people think, "Ah, that person's a patsy, and let's take advantage of that." So you get into trouble by being quiet rather than by being vocal.
I think Muslim-American families often—as with many immigrants—want their kids to do something that has an obvious future—so law, medicine, engineering. When is the last time you saw an engineer interviewed about international affairs on CNN? They would go to the political scientist; they would go to the journalist. Unless the Muslim-Americans are producing political scientists and journalists, they are not going to have a voice on media. They have to come out.
The other thing is that all the polling shows that attitudes toward Muslim-Americans by native-born Americans differ radically as to whether they know one. Muslim-Americans who are more insular, who go to the mosque and they just see people from their original country—maybe even not other Muslim-Americans—they are doing themselves a disservice.
Join the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), run for the school board, join a book club. You have to represent. The more Americans know them—apparently this is not always the case with all groups, but it seems to be the case with Muslims—the more they like them. I know it is not the first instinct of especially first-and-second-generation people—they want to make their way and keep their heads down—but I think they are in a position now where they are going to have to step up.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: By the way, the poll shows that. I poll on this, about "Do you know any Muslims? Do you know some Muslims but not well? You know some Muslims very well?" People who do not know any Muslims have the most unfavorable views; people who know some Muslims but not well have better views; people who know some Muslims very well have even better views. That seems to hold across the entire population for Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and across other demographics, so it is definitely the case in the polling.
QUESTION: My name is Peter Russell.
We are looking forward to a period when we may not have someone like our current president, who will speak out and help build understanding and acceptance, and we are not in a political phase where you have the counter-narrative you talked about. Can you tell from your past polling what you think about the future should be or can be the voices that step up and help create a more rounded picture and more acceptance? I think Professor Cole answered part of that in talking about the Muslim community itself. Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Charlie Liebling.
In light of the presidential election, at some point Congress is going to have to pass—they've been threatening to do that for years—some kind of immigration law. What do you both expect we are going to get, particularly in regard to the Islamic world, especially since around the world most of the wars are in Muslim countries and so most of the refugees are Islamic? The basic question is: What are we going to get in our laws?
JUAN COLE: I could say something about this. First of all, the 1965 law has been extremely resilient. I frankly expected it to be changed after 9/11. I thought, "This is a 1924 moment, so surely Congress will do something." I was amazed that the Bush administration and the Republican Party kept it in place. I think it is because the corporations want it.
The United States benefits from a brain drain. Our immigrants are for the most part not menials. There is a certain amount of agricultural labor migration—in Maine the French Canadians come down and pick potatoes, and you have strawberry pickers in California, and so forth—but if you look at the million immigrants a year, they are fairly well-educated people often. They have skills and they are contributing to the country. A disproportionate number of them form companies; they are entrepreneurial.
The people who think about grand strategy, who think about America's place in the world—we are entering a multipolar world now. It is no longer the Cold War and it is no longer the sole superpower, so we are in competition with whom? China; India is coming up; Russia.
China and India are big countries. They have over a billion people each. Is the United States really going to be able to compete with them through the 21st century if we are a tiny little place? Having continued immigration so that we have the demographic weight to remain a superpower may be important.
So, for various reasons, I am not entirely sure that, even under this incoming president, the Congress will change the law very much.
With regard to refugees, actually a majority of refugees who have come in, say, in the last 15 years, are not Muslim. We have accepted on the order of 750,000 refugees since 2002. Almost all of them have been very well behaved, and there has been almost no problem with them in terms of terrorism or whatever. So this meme that emerged in the presidential debates and the primaries is simply untrue. There are some things that could be a matter of opinion—we could argue and go back and forth about them. But the refugees who came in were extremely well vetted with an 18-month process, the majority of them women and children, the majority of them Christians and so forth, have been just fine and have not been a threat to anybody—this is not a matter of opinion; we have very good statistics on this. I do not actually think the refugee issue is a major one.
I guess I do not agree that the major wars in the world are necessarily in Muslim countries. We have a big one in Syria which has displaced a lot of people. Areas of the world go through disturbances. Sub-Saharan Africa, where you have a lot of Catholics and Christians, has had problems. The Congo—in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, there was a world war in the Congo in which 40 countries were involved and in which on the order of 3 to 5 million people were killed. This has caused a refugee problem in Europe.
Whatever came on American evening news about that war is completely off our consciousness. For some reason, if some little thing happens in the Middle East, we are really fixated on it and it bulks large in our consciousness. But you can knock off 5 million Africans—eh, we don't notice that. So I think our perceptions maybe are a little skewed.
I can remember when I was younger that it was Southeast Asia that was full of trouble, right? The Cambodians had 6 million people; they ended up with 5 million people—lots of towers of skulls.
It may be that Syria and Iraq are going through a rough patch now, but there have been lots of places in the world that have had their rough patches. It does not seem actually to be the Middle East that has the worst statistics on this.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I will address the final question, which is on the narrative.
I think when you look at America today, the most striking thing about it is the degree of partisanship, how divided we are on almost every issue in the world—not that there has not been partisanship historically, but some of the American scholars are saying that just in the past couple of decades America has become very partisan in a way that is making the system not work. We have had dominance by one party or the other and the machine worked, and then we had change. But it seems like the minute we elect a new president the other party is working to bring him down. It is just so built into the system.
In this particular case, President-Elect Trump is going to come in. He will have Congress on his side; he will have the ability to reshape the Supreme Court. Maybe there will be a period of at least two years of something for him to shape.
If you are on the other side and you are hearing from the president rhetoric that goes against your core beliefs and your ideology, I do not think he is going to be able to unify the country, and people will put out a different narrative, inevitably.
So the burden actually is going to be on the president, because it is not just about Muslims or Islam or Hispanics; it is about the country, it is about bringing the country together, it is about the ability to transcend the divide. If you are going to take the tone that goes against the core values of half of America, they are not going to take it lying down, and you will have a counter-narrative and a polarized country.
So the burden is really on—that is why I think are all kind of anxious because I think we do not know whether this will happen, given what we have seen in the election, but I hope it does.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Shibley, thank you. Thank you, Juan. Thank you all.
We have our own narrative here, which is thoughtful, informed, fact-based, and interactive. This was really a great conversation. I want to thank you all for participating.