You are here

The ‘Trump effect’: Positive attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims are up; so is hate

Dec 18,2017 - Last updated at Dec 18,2017

Are anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments on the rise in the US? And what are the best ways to combat them? These were some of the questions we discussed at the 2017 “Global Peace and the Fear of Islam” Forum held this past week in Abu Dhabi, the UAE.

Based on our most recent Arab American Institute (AAI) survey of American public opinion, conducted in conjunction with Zogby Analytics (ZA), I was happily able to report to the forum that negative attitudes towards both communities appear to be in decline. I also noted that in charting a way forward it was important to consider that since much of the hostility towards both communities has been politically manufactured, part of the solution must be political. 

A bit of history is in order. Going back to the 1990s, the public’s views of both Arabs and Muslims were somewhat favourable. Both communities were not well known. Popular culture, fed by pro-Israel propagandists, had created negative stereotypes of Arabs and this had taken a toll. But, on the whole, attitudes towards both Arabs and Muslims were stable and more positive than negative. 

Things did change in the aftermath of 9/11 but not as badly as some had feared. While there were those who deliberately fanned the flames of hate and suspicion, they were countered by push-back emanating from the White House, the creators of popular culture in Hollywood, and a wide range of religious, ethnic and civil rights organisations. It was, nevertheless, a difficult period for both communities. 

Despite President Bush’s admonitions, some Republican political figures, think tanks and funders perceived that there might be an electoral advantage in propagating and exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment. With the nomination and then election of Barack Obama, these purveyors of hate felt they had an ideal target. Preying off of both the widespread economic insecurity created by the economic downturn of 2008 and the perceived “foreignness” of Obama (his race, his name and his Kenyan father’s religion), a conservative group spent millions of dollars producing and widely distributing a hate-filled film that warned of Muslim efforts to take over America — with the — presumption being that with the election of Obama they were getting closer to their goal. 

On one level, this effort to undercut Obama failed since he was twice elected. The campaign of hate did, however, leave a lasting mark on Republican attitudes towards Islam and Muslims. And it continued to grow. 

First came the “birther movement” — spreading the notion that Obama was secretly a Muslim, was not born in America, and therefore was not legally entitled to serve as president. As late as our 2015 poll we found that over 60 per cent of self-identified Republicans believed Obama was not really born in the US and was secretly a Muslim. 

During this same period, funded by conservative donors, a nation-wide effort was launched to get states to pass legislation banning Sharia (Islamic law). The effort was ridiculous — since no one had ever proposed introducing Sharia in the US. Ridiculous or not, the effort ultimately was considered by 27 state legislatures raising the specter of the Muslim take-over of America. These same groups sponsored “studies” purporting to demonstrate that Muslim groups, with Obama’s support, had succeeded in infiltrating the government. This effort was repudiated by a host of political leaders and organisations. While it spread fear in the Muslim community, it failed to dislodge loyal Muslim Americans from government service.

In 2010, Republicans, joined anti-Muslim hate groups in opposing the proposed construction of an Islamic community centre in Manhattan about 10 blocks away from Ground Zero. Led by former Congressman Newt Gingrich, they termed the centre a “Victory Mosque”, claiming it was intended by Muslims as a declaration of victory over America. Based on this theme, the Republican congressional campaign committee produced TV ads for use in 17 congressional races. The ads warned about the dangers of the “Victory Mosque” and challenged Democratic candidates to declare opposition to this “Muslim insult to America”. 

While this GOP effort also failed, since in only one of the 17 races did their candidate win, once again damage was done in promoting hatred and fear of Muslims among Republicans. 

Exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment was also a feature of the 2012 and, of course, in the 2016 Republican presidential contests. It failed in 2012 when it was repudiated by the GOP’s nominee, Mitt Romney, but it won in 2016 with the victory of Donald Trump. 

As candidate and then as president, Trump worked hard to promote and exploit fear of Muslims. The arguments he made in defence of his Muslim ban, his disgraceful behaviour towards the Muslim Gold Star parents who spoke at the Democratic Convention, and the Islamophobes he appointed to serve in the White House — all had an impact on the public’s attitudes. But the impact has not been what Trump may have expected. 

It appears that the president’s policies, intemperate rhetoric and erratic behaviour have not only driven down his own approval ratings, they have also caused many Americans from both sides of the partisan divide to reject some of his views. It is what I call the “Trump effect”.

In our most recent AAI/ ZA poll of American public opinion, we find that favourable attitudes of Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans and American Muslims have actually risen to their highest levels in the past decade, with majorities now having favourable attitudes towards both Arab Americans and American Muslims, and a plurality positively inclined towards Arabs and Muslims. While the greatest increases in favourable attitudes came from Democrats and Independents, positive ratings were also up among Republicans. There remains, however, a deep partisan split — with Republicans still decidedly more hostile to both Arabs and Muslims than Democrats or Independents.

The division between Democrats and Independents on the one side and Republicans on the other is even more pronounced on matters of policy affecting Arabs and Muslims. A strong plurality of Americans, for example, opposes banning Muslim or Middle Eastern immigrants or visitors from entering the US. But while Trump supporters favour banning immigrants and visitors for the Middle East, by a 60 per cent/21 per cent margin, only 12 per cent of Trump opponents support such a ban, with 72 per cent opposing. 

Seen in this context, we can take some satisfaction in Doug Jones’ defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for the US Senate. With Moore’s loss, another anti-Muslim bigot bites the dust. 

Moore is an Islamophobe, and is not shy about letting folks know. On different occasions Moore once called Islam a “false religion”, made the bizarre claim that there were cities in America where Muslims had already imposed Sharia, and remarked that Keith Ellison’s Muslim faith should have disqualified him from serving in Congress. That a notorious pair of Islamophobes like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka came to Alabama to campaign for Moore only served to reinforce his deplorable bigotry. 

With Moore now consigned to the “dustbin of history”, we can hope that another nail has been pounded into the coffin of this decade old phenomenon of Republican-generated anti-Muslim bigotry. 

 

Maybe this will be a wake-up call for the GOP. Promoting bigotry against Muslims has not worked. It has polarised the country without producing any tangible electoral results. And while it has caused real pain, including an increase in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, it has also generated significant support for both communities. It is time for Republicans to step forward and reject those in their ranks who have promoted this campaign of hate.

up
123 users have voted.

Comments

WERE ARE FACING UP HILL BATTLE ; A PLANNED CONSPIRACY IMPLEMENTED A LONG TIME BACK. MR. ZOGBY, YOU ARE TO BE THANKED FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEART FOR YOUR DEDICATION TO PRESENT THE TRUTH; SIR HAVE A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR AHEAD; AND LIKE WE SAY, WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND.IT WILL NOT BE FOR EVER.

DEAR MR ZOGBY, YOU ALWAYS HAVE GOOD ARTICLES THAT REFLECT THE FACTS ABOUT ATHAT IS NEEDED IN OUR WORLD TODAY. MAY GO BLESS YOU AND WE NEED MORE SCHOLARS LIKE YOU. I HAVE ONE QUESTION FOR YOU. IF ANTI-ARAB AND ANTI-MUSLIMS ARE UP WHICH IS FACTUALLY CORRECT, THE QUESTION THEN IS WHY AND HOW CAN THIS TREND BE SLOWED DOWN IF NOT ENTIRELY REVERSED?. FROM WHAT I KNOW TODAY, THE REASON(S) IS / ARE NOT RELATED TO THE CHARACTERS OF THE PEOPLE IN THAT REGION BECAUSE MOST IF NOT ALL THE PEOPLE FROM THE ARAB WORLD ARE EXCELLENT, HONEST AND OPEN-MINDED. THE PROBLEM IS THE LACK OF LEADERSHIP IN THE ARAB WORLD. CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THE ARAB LEADERS ARE ALL OVER THE PLACE, UN-UNITED, NEVER SPOKE WITH ONE VOICE, FIGHT AMONG THEMSELVES AND PRE-OCCUPIED WITH IRANOPHOBIA. ALL ANY FOREIGN LEADER HAS TO SAY IS IRAN AND THEY WILL FORGET THEIR OWN PEOPLE. THERE WAS AN ISLAMIC EMERGENCY MEETING RECENTLY HELD, HOW MANY ARAB LEADERS WERE IN ATTENDANCE?. WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THAT REGION TODAY WILL NOT HAPPEN IF THERE ARE NO BACK-HAND DEALS AT NIGHTS AND LIP SERVICE DURING THE DAY. WHILE I UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE IN A VERY DIFFICULT SITUATION BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL UNDER OCCUPATION BY DEFULT, THE FACT IS THAT THEY CAN BORROW A CHAPTER FROM THE OAU OF THE AFRICAN UNION. ALTHOUGH AFRICA HAS LOTS OF MORE PROBLEMS OF THEIR OWN, THEY WILL NEVER TOLORATE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE ARAB WORLD TODAY. REMEMBER HOW ARPATHIED POLICY ENDED IN SOUTH AFRICA. IT ENDED BECAUSE AFRICA WAS UNITED, THEIR LEADERS MARCHED TO ALL FOREIGN CAPITALS AND DEMANDED A CHANGE WITH AUTOMATUM AND SOUTH AFRICA CHANGED. I MAY ALSO REMIND THOSE WHO MAY READ THIS ARTICLE THAT I AM NOT AN ARAB CITIZEN, NOT A MUSLIM NOR AM I FROM THAT REGION. I LOVE THE REGION AND THEIR CITIZENS FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL TO ALL ARAB WORLD AND I WANT THEM TO LIVE IN PEACE WHICH WILL NEVER HAPPEN UNTIL THE LEADERS OF THAT REGION ADOPT A NEW ATTITUDE THAT REFLECT THE FACT THAT UNITY IS A SOURCE OF POWER THAT CAN BRINGS PEACE AND STABILITY. PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF WAR DRUMS AND THE INVESTMENT OF PETRO-DOLLARS IN MILITARY HARDWARE. THEY WANT PEACE AND FUTURE FOR THEIR CHILDREN.

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
15 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Newsletter

Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.