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Growing Proportion of Americans Expressing Unfavorable Views of Islam

More Americans are expressing unfavorable views about Islam. A recent public opinion poll shows 25 percent of Americans now say they personally are prejudiced against Muslims. And a majority of Americans think Muslims are more prone to resort to violence.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam. That is seven percentage points higher than during the months right after the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

Laila Al Qatami, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, says the behavior of some Muslims, especially the violent protests over cartoons making fun of the Prophet Muhammad, contributed to the anger some Americans are feeling. "When there is violence and looting that is associated with all other acts, it does not do the image of Islam around the world any good. People see that and it confirms whatever bias they may have in their minds."

She believes many Arab Americans think there was bias in the recent decision by the U.S. Congress to block a Dubai-owned company from operating some American ports, since non-Arab companies already operate several ports in the United States. Members of Congress cited U.S. national security as the main reason for the decision, but Laila Al Qatami says some Arab Americans see it as subtle discrimination.

Recent public comments from some high-profile evangelists are also seen as inflammatory. The Reverend Franklin Graham called Islam, in his words, "a very wicked religion", and the Reverend Pat Robertson said, in his words, "Islam is a religion of violence."

Media coverage of terrorism, and the violence in Iraq, may also contribute to hostility to Muslims.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, says stereotyping of Muslims by the U.S. media has had a negative effect.

“I think that it is true that the statements, the kind of coverage that the American audience has been receiving about Muslims and Islam leads one to just one conclusion: that Islam is bad and Muslims are violent. The media has failed to capture the reality of the Muslim world and only focused on the actions of the few."

But Laird Anderson, a journalism professor at American University in Washington DC, says the news media is not solely to blame, that there are cultural misunderstandings too.

"The Koran and the Prophet Muhammad -- from my understanding -- taught peace and all of a sudden, we do not get peace, we get violence. That is confusing, so how a tolerant society is going to be able to accept violence and terrorism from a base that espouses tolerance itself? The Koran and the Prophet Muhammad, that is confusing to the American people."

Rev. Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, is working to promote religious understanding.

"We live in a global village, and we live in a multi-faith global village, and it is our responsibility as people of any one faith to learn about other faiths and in that process to deepen understanding, to build trust and to work together to solve community problems"

His hope is that patience and education together will reverse negative attitudes some Americans may have toward Islam.