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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Americans are increasingly skeptical of Muslims. But most Americans don’t talk to Muslims

From The Washington Post:

Americans are more skeptical than ever of how Islam squares with their values and way of life -- and yet very few Americans actually seem to interact with Muslims at all.

Those are findings from separate surveys from the Public Religion Research Institute that suggest that how Americans perceive Muslims is tied more to headlines than personal experiences. The nonprofit just release its annual American Values Survey, which found that Americans' perceptions of Islam have turned "sharply negative over the past few years."

A majority of Americans (56 percent) say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life -- an uptick in recent years.

(PRRI has asked this question four times since 2010, according to polling archives. Their most recent survey was conducted in September and early October, before the Paris attacks and before GOP presidential candidates amped up their rhetoric when it comes to Islam and terrorism.)

But Robert Jones, the founder and CEO of PRRI, pointed out in an interview that aired Sunday with public radio news magazine Interfaith Voices that Americans are basing those opinions largely on people they don't interact with.

"Muslims make up only about 1 percent of the U.S. population," he told host Maureen Fiedler, "and they're also heavily concentrated in just a few cities around the country."

Before 9/11 in fact, Jones said, most Americans hadn't really thought much about Islam.

That's changed, of course. At first Americans gave Muslims what Jones called a kind of "grace period," largely thanks to President George W. Bush emphatically declaring America is not at war with Islam (a point Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton likes to make but Republican candidates have disagreed with).

But as the years in the war on terror dragged on, Americans' perceptions have soured about a culture and religion they still remain largely separate from.

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