December 10, 2015

Americans fear terrorism, mass shootings — and often Muslims as well

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Left to right, top: Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, who shot and killed eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College (photo courtesy of CBS); Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif. (photo courtesy of Reuters); and Robert Lewis Dear, accused of killing three people in the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado (photo courtesy of Reuters); left to right, bottom: Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people at a Bible study meeting in a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C.; Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 in San Bernardino (photo courtesy of Reuters); and Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing four Marines (photo courtesy of Reuters)

Left to right, top: Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, who shot and killed eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College (photo courtesy of CBS); Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif. (photo courtesy of Reuters); and Robert Lewis Dear, accused of killing three people in the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado (photo courtesy of Reuters); left to right, bottom: Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people at a Bible study meeting in a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C.; Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 in San Bernardino (photo courtesy of Reuters); and Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing four Marines (photo courtesy of Reuters)

(RNS) Terrorism and mass shootings trouble an overwhelming number of Americans today, and the religious identity of the killers influences how they are viewed.

A new survey, conducted in the aftermath of the San Bernardino, Calif., killings by two radical Muslims, found that 96 percent of U.S. adults see terrorism as a critical issue or an important concern.

Mass shootings also are a critical or important issue for 94 percent of Americans, according to the Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service poll. And they take this fear personally:

  • Four years ago, only 53 percent told PRRI that terrorism was a critical issue. Now, it’s 75 percent.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) say they are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism, up from 33 percent in 2014.
  • 2 in 3 of those surveyed (67 percent) called mass shootings a critical issue, and another 27 percent say it’s an important concern.

Terrible news of mass shootings in 2015 — including in Charleston, S.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Roseburg, Ore.; Paris; and now San Bernardino — could be driving the responses, said PRRI research director Dan Cox.

“The fear level seems terribly high given the actual likelihood of this happening to an individual. That speaks to the deep-seated feelings of anxiety that people have and their response to some of the current, heated political rhetoric,” said Cox.


READ: Americans fret about Islam, immigrants, the future — and each other


Muslims are the focus of the hottest news — and some of the ugliest political rhetoric — right now.

The FBI describes the California shooters, Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook, as ISIS-radicalized Muslims out to terrorize the United States by mowing down Farook’s co-workers.

GOP presidential contender Donald Trump, whose call for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. came after the survey was conducted, has fulminated for weeks against allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.

And his rival Ben Carson has said Islam is not in accord with American values.

The PRRI/RNS survey found this rhetorical climate might have influenced views on whether American Muslims are seen as “an important part of the U.S. religious community.”

Overall, 57 percent of Americans say yes, they are. However, views on the virtue of such diversity vary by religious identification — and by how personally afraid of terrorism someone feels.

Agree or Disagree: American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. By religious affiliation. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)

Agree or Disagree: American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. By religious affiliation. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

Those who see Muslims as important to U.S. religious life include:

  • Nearly 7 in 10 (67 percent) of those with no religious identity
  • Majorities of nonwhite Protestants (56 percent) and Catholics (55 percent)
  • Only about half of white mainline Protestants (51 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (47 percent)

Jews, Muslims and other minority religious groups were too small to be analyzed in statistical comparisons. The survey’s results are based on phone interviews with 1,003 adults, conducted Dec. 2-6. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points overall but larger for subgroups.

“Despite the heated rhetoric we are hearing from people like Donald Trump,” Cox said, “the majority of the public (53 percent) are in favor of letting Syrian refugees come to the U.S. if they go through stringent security checking.” Among those who oppose this, a majority (57 percent) cited security fears.


READ: For Syrian refugees, faith groups want a US welcome mat


Fewer than half of Protestants — whether they are white or black, evangelical or mainline — say they support U.S. entry for Syrian refugees. By contrast, 57 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of those who claim no religious identification favor such resettlement.

Which comes closer to your view about how the U.S. should deal with Syrian refugees who want to come to this country? By religious affiliation. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)

Which comes closer to your view about how the U.S. should deal with Syrian refugees who want to come to this country? By religious affiliation. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

The statistics do reveal some dissonance.

Most Americans (83 percent) say they know little or nothing about the religious practices and beliefs of Muslims. And 62 percent say they seldom or never have conversations with anyone they know to be Muslim.

Even so, 47 percent overall say they believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life. More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) disagree, while 1 in 10 (10 percent) offer no opinion or refuse to answer.

And a majority (53 percent) said Muslims have not done enough to combat extremism in their own communities. In 2011, only 46 percent held this view.

The survey also suggests a double standard in American attitudes toward violence, one based on a killer’s religious identity.

Three in 4 (75 percent) say self-identified Christians who “commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christian.”

But only 50 percent say self-proclaimed Muslims who commit violent acts in the name of Islam “are not really Muslim.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national correspondent for RNS)

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  • Be Brave

    100% of Christians and Muslims are human beings.

    Don’t look for perfection in any of them any time soon.

    For that you need to listen to humanism pitching its wares.

  • Jon

    Yep, confirmation of Christian privilege here in the US. An example of Christian privilege is being able to openly hold the double standard that those who commit acts of terrorism based on your religion are “not really Christians”, while those who do the same thing based on their non-Christian religion show that their religion is harmful.

  • Jim McCrea

    This country loves to fear “the other:” Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Atheists, ad nauseum.

    Trump and other fear-mongers (mainly in the Teapublican party) know this and know how to play it for all it is worth .. to them, of course.

  • “75 percent say self-identified Christians who “commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christian.”

    Yet Christianity demands we “Judge with righteous judgement” (Jesus) which absolves the perpetrator of all responsibility. It is criminal.

    Look:

    2,500,000 Americans died in 2015 mostly of natural causes.
    600,000 were heart disease, 500,000 were cancer. 88,000 were diabetes.
    33,000 died in car accidents. 1,600 were small children in car accidents.
    20,000 deaths were suicides committed with handguns.
    86 gun deaths happen every day.

    Yet, 14 Americans died of terrorism in the entire year.

    Clearly, Americans are breathtakingly ignorant and distracted.
    The imminent danger to Americans is from:
    Owning a gun, not wearing a seatbelt, smoking, eating poorly and not getting exercise.

    Terrorism does not register on the statistics above ZERO!