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Negative campaign against Arabs and Muslims has consequences

Jul 10,2017 - Last updated at Jul 10,2017

While, as president, Donald Trump has worked to cultivate a relationship with Arab leaders, the antipathy towards Arabs and Muslims that he and his party have cultivated in recent years continues to have a worrisome impact on American public opinion and policy.

Recent polling, conducted three weeks after Trump’s summits in Saudi Arabia, establishes the persistence of a deep and disturbing partisan divide in American attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims.

On many questions, the views of Democrats and Republicans are exactly opposite, with Republican attitudes towards the two communities being extremely negative and the views of Democrats being overwhelmingly positive.

For example, even after Trump’s visit, only 18 per cent of Republicans have a favourable view of Muslims, and only 20 per cent have favourable views of Arabs.

This stands in marked contrast to the 59 per cent and 58 per cent of Democrats who are favourably inclined towards Muslims and Arabs, respectively.

These are some of the observations that can be gleaned from the latest Zogby Analytics poll conducted for the Arab American Institute in mid-June of this year.

The AAI/ZA poll surveyed 1,012 voters nationwide.

AAI/ZA had annually examined US opinion on these issues for two decades in order to better understand attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims, and the challenges faced by Arab Americans and American Muslims. As a result, it is possible to observe changes over time.

It was during the 2010 congressional elections that the GOP first attempted to exploit fear of Muslims for partisan political purposes.

While the effort did not have an appreciable impact on the election itself, the continuation of this effort during the next two election cycles has resulted in a sizable shift of Republican attitudes, not only towards Arabs and Muslims, but also towards Americans either of Arab ancestry or Muslim faith.

AAI/ZA polling conducted in December 2015, after six years of anti-Muslim campaigning, shows the “mirror image” effect in place, with Democrats recording 47 per cent favourable/28 per cent unfavourable attitudes towards American Muslims, compared to Republican’s 25 per cent favourable/53 per cent unfavourable attitudes.

If there has been any “Trump effect” on attitudes, it has been to increase the favourable attitudes of Democrats towards Arabs and Muslims.

For example, Democrats’ favourable attitudes towards Arab Americans increased from 51 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent this year, while the positive rating given to American Muslims jumped from 47 per cent to 61 per cent.

Meanwhile, Republican favourable attitudes towards American Muslims remained at a low 25 per cent, while dropping from 34 per cent in 2015 to 31 per cent for Arab Americans.

Even more pronounced are the differences in attitude between those who identify as Trump voters and those who say they voted for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton supporters give a 62 per cent favourable rating to Arab Americans and 64 per cent rating to American Muslims. Only 32 per cent of Trump supporters view Arab Americans positively and only 28 per cent rate American Muslims positively.

This is not just a question of “liking or not liking” the two communities; these negative attitudes have consequences for government policy.

With Republicans in control of the White House, Congress and most state governments, the attitudes of the Republican voters matter to GOP officeholders.

What our polling shows is that on issues that affect the lives of Arab Americans and American Muslims, ranging from immigration to civil liberties, the partisan divide is substantial and explains, in part, Republican support for policies hostile to both groups.

For example, while a plurality of Americans (48 per cent to 30 per cent) oppose restricting rights in the name of security, Republicans and Trump voters are in favour of such policies.

And while Americans are evenly divided on whether law enforcement officers are justified in using ethnic or religious profiling in dealing with Arab Americans and American Muslims, Republicans and Trump voters support such profiling by greater than four to one (in the case of Trump voters, 63 per cent in favour with only 14 per cent opposed).

And while a significant majority of all Americans agree that there has been an increase in discrimination and hate against Arab Americans and American Muslims, breaking down the numbers we find a huge partisan divide.

For example, in response to the question “is there an increase of discrimination against Arab Americans” 53 per cent say “yes”, 20 per cent say “no” (Democrats are 73 per cent “yes”/10 per cent “no”; while Trump voters are 31 per cent “yes”/39 per cent “no”).

The same divide is in evidence with regard to Trump’s proposals to ban immigrants and travellers who are Muslim or from Middle East countries, especially Syria.

By a margin of 45 per cent to 31 per cent, American voters oppose such a ban, while Republicans strongly support a ban by a margin of 50 per cent for it and only 24 per cent opposed.

As we found in previous polling, these negative attitudes not only increase the prospect of hate crimes being committed against both communities (hate crimes against both have increased dramatically in the past year), they also translate into suspicion about whether or not Arab Americans or American Muslims can be trusted to faithfully perform their duties if appointed to a government post.

In December 2015, we found that 48 per cent of Republicans had no confidence that an Arab American could be trusted in such a post, while 63 per cent had no confidence that an American Muslim could be trusted.

This situation is of deep concern to Arab Americans and American Muslims.

We did, in the past, experience discrimination, were victims of hate crimes and endured painful political exclusion.

It is clear that sustained hostile campaigns, either by hardline supporters of Israel or, now, by some leading Republicans, have taken a toll on our communities.

 

They must be combated until our political discourse is freed from the scourge of hate, negative stereotyping and scapegoating.

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Comments

There are those who are both Arabs and Muslim who think that when their ethnicity or their religion is insulted or unjustly attacked they are somehow never tarred by the same brush. Their wealth somehow insulates them. How else can one explain why Prince Waleed bin Talal tolerates the outrageous and deeply insulting way in which Fox News never misses a chance to spread very negative and ignorant propaganda throughthe media channel in which he is heavily invested?

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