Popular antipathy to a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero is so fierce
that even President Barack Obama, the nation's Islamophile-in-chief,
"clarified" his August 11 statement supporting the plan to say, "I will not
comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there." It is not
just a mosque, of which there are two in the neighborhood, but a symbol of
Islamic presence. The most recent CNN poll shows an overwhelming 70%-29% margin
When liberal politicians - like the president and New York's Mayor Michael
Bloomberg - defend the plan, what they mean is, "We want a big Islamic
statement near Ground Zero as a gesture of outreach to the Muslim world." When
the political right denounces it, they mean, "Muslim conquerors always build a
the ruins of the places they conquer, and we're not going to give the rascals
the satisfaction." That was predictable.
What is surprising is how passionately Americans oppose the Ground Zero mosque.
A revolt is brewing against America's liberal political elite.
It is hard to find consistent polling data about American attitudes towards
Islam. The largest polling organizations, Pew and Gallup, draw funding from
organizations with a vested interest in promoting a benign view of Islam.
Nonetheless, the results are striking: in a Gallup inquiry  published in
January 2010, Americans had an "unfavorable" view of Islam by a margin of
53%-42%, with 31% holding a strongly negative view. That contrasts with 15% for
Judaism and 4% for Christianity.
Similar results emerge from polls of respective support for Israel and the
Palestinians. All the data show overwhelming support for Israel; one recent
inquiry  shows that 60% of Americans believe that Washington should "take
Israel's side" in the conflict, against only 5% who want to take the
Palestinian side, a preponderance of 12 to 1.
Who likes Islam, and who doesn't? The lines appear drawn sharply. According to
a 2007 Pew Foundation survey, two-thirds of liberal Democrats have a favorable
view of Islam. Slightly over half of mainline (that is, liberal) Protestants
view Islam favorably, but only a fifth of white evangelical Protestants.
Source: Pew Forum
The least religious part of the American public has the most favorable view of
Islam as a religion, while the most devout part has the least favorable view.
For liberals (and especially for non-religious liberals) all religions are
equally bad, or equally good. They all worship some kind of flying spaghetti
monster, in Richard Dawkins' infelicitous phrase, or they all seek a vague sort
Devout Christians have a radically different experience of religion. They
believe that God loves everyone and act on this belief. More than 100,000 of
them serve as missionaries overseas, many in parts of the global south where no
other Westerners venture. Their charities are the last resort of the
Evangelicals give US$3,600 per capita per year to charity, the most of any
group except for Jews; a quarter of them tithe. Their charities show pictures
of the world's poorest on late-night television, and they risk their lives to
deliver help where no one else will. The largest such charity, ChildFund
(formerly Christian Children's Fund) has the lowest overhead ratio of any such
organization in the world. And they are more likely than other Americans to
have served in the armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The elaborate rationalizations offered by the liberal elite for Muslim violence
do not impress them. "Root causes" do not explain what they see on television
news. Pentecostalists do not perpetrate suicide bombings against Catholics, the
way that Sunni and Shi'ite kill one another in Iraq, Pakistan, and other Muslim
A million and a quarter Americans have rotated through Afghanistan and Iraq,
moreover, and what they have seen horrifies them. For the first time, very
large numbers of Americans have had direct exposure to the Muslim world.
American servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are the main source of
Americans' first-hand knowledge of the Muslim world.
The accumulation of first-hand information may explain why American attitudes
toward Islam have hardened since 2001. In November 2001, with the memory of the
World Trade Center attacks fresh in their minds, half of Americans told the Pew
Forum poll that there was not much difference between Islam and their own
religion. By 2007, the proportion had risen to 70%, the same percentage that
opposes the Ground Zero Islamic center.
Iraq is the first American war in which soldiers stationed overseas are not
fraternizing with the locals. Americans are not hostile to foreigners. On the
contrary, American soldiers abroad used to fall for the local girls in huge
numbers. American soldiers have brought three quarters of a million brides home
since World War II. Only a few hundred American soldiers  have requested
visas for Iraqi spouses or fiances, by contrast, a vanishingly small number.
Unlike all previous American wars, American boys and Iraqi girls don't fall in
love. Part of the problem is security - it's harder for Americans to fraternize
with the locals than in previous wars - but the bigger issue is cultural.
Americans and Arab Muslims come from worlds far less compatible than Americans
and say, Vietnamese or Japanese.
The viciousness of war in the Middle East, in particular the easy sacrifice of
civilian lives by contending forces. The Global Terrorism Database lists 1,868
attacks on religious figures and institutions through December 2008, including
848 bombings - all but a handful perpetrated by Muslims. It is not only that
Muslims seem just as willing to kill one another as to kill Christians or Jews,
but that they choose to do so in a fashion intended to horrify their enemies
and the world.
Never in American history has the gap been greater between the experience of
ordinary Americans and the picture of the world drawn by the intellectual
elite. Hollywood has not distributed a film about Muslim terrorists for a
generation. The major media go out of their way to portray Islam favorably. But
when a line is drawn in the sand over a public gesture to Islam, we find a
seven to three margin against.
We should conclude from this exercise that America remains a Christian nation
in marrow and bone, despite the atheism of its intellectual elite (only a fifth
of professors at elite American universities say they believe in God, compared
with about nine-tenths of the general population). 
Most Americans do not confuse a God of love with whatever radical Muslims might
worship. Former president George W Bush told them that Islam was "a religion of
peace", and Obama adds that Muslims "excel in every walk of life" (Americans
can't think of an example, excluding the stray convert among African-American
What Americans observe, though, is that Islam has produced a large number of
individuals enraged enough to kill themselves in order to murder Americans as
well as each other. Most Muslims, to be sure, are peaceable folk who want
nothing better than to live their own lives undisturbed. But every religion
must take ownership of a visible minority that favors violence, and the
American public can to some extend be excused for holding Islam to account.