The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Glenn Greenwald - Large number of Americans favor violent attacks against civilians

Large number of Americans favor violent attacks against civilians

The hysteria over the Pew poll about American Muslims continues unabated, with the focus now on the finding that while 80% of American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians in all cases, 13% said they could be justified in some circumstances. The "discussion" illustrates some standard failings of our political discourse.

Michelle Malkin went to National Review to proclaim that the poll "should be a wake-up call, not another excuse for the mainstream media to downplay the threat of homegrown jihad." Mark Steyn said it demonstrates the existence in America of "a huge comfort zone for the jihad to operate in," and Jonah Goldberg warned how "significant" this is. On CNN last night, Anderson Cooper was horrified -- just horrified -- that "so many" American Muslims would support such violence.

The reality, though, is that it is almost impossible to conduct a poll and not have a sizable portion of the respondents agree to almost everything. And in particular, with regard to the specific question of whether it is justifiable to launch violent attacks aimed deliberately at civilians, the percentage of American Muslims who believe in such attacks pales in comparison to the percentage of Americans generally who believe that such attacks are justifiable.

The University of Maryland's highly respected Program on International Public Attitudes, in December 2006, conducted a concurrent public opinion poll of the United States and Iran to determine the comparative views of each country's citizens on a variety of questions. The full findings are published here (.pdf).

One of the questions they asked was whether "bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified"? Americans approved of such attacks by a much larger margin than Iranians -- 48-22% (and a much, much larger margin than American Muslims -- 48-13%):

A rather substantial 24% of Americans thought that such attacks are justified "often" or "sometimes," while another 24% thought they were justified in rare cases. By stark contrast, only 11% of Iranians think such attacks are justified "often" or sometimes." Similar results were found with the series of other questions regarding violence deliberately aimed at civilians -- including women, children and the elderly. Americans believed such attacks could be justifiable to a substantially higher degree than Iranians.

As Kenneth Ballen noted in The Christian Science Monitor in February of this year, American express greater support for "attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria." Make of that what you will -- and its meaning is debatable -- but those are just facts.

In general, polling data can be used to document all sorts of pernicious views held by a sizable number of respondents. One recent poll found that 15% of Americans would either outright refuse or would have reservations about voting for a black presidential candidate even if he were qualified (12% would outright refuse to vote for a Hispanic, 11% for a woman, and 14% for a Jew). A 1999 poll of Americans found that 34% answered "yes" -- 34% -- when asked: "If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some racist feelings?" And 18% of Americans believe that "the U.S. should use nuclear weapons even if it has not suffered a nuclear attack."

The reality of that Pew poll is that, generally and comparatively speaking, it demonstrates just how unremarkable, assimilated, peaceful and consummately American is the American Muslim population. If anything, support for violence -- including against civilians -- is notably less than it is among Americans generally. Again, those are just facts. Yet by manipulating the polling data and failing to discuss it comparatively, an impression is quickly solidifying, as intended, that there are throngs of scary and threatening jihadist Muslims -- both in our midst and around the world -- waiting to launch suicide attacks on us, and that necessitates the euphemistic Malkian "wake-up call."


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