AND SPEAKING OF TERRORISM. . .
While America is pondering the new report on Muslims in the U.S. that I write about below, some folks in India on Saturday held a conference on "Islam and Terrorism." Here's a report. It's often helpful to hear how people in other parts of the world see all of this -- and see the U.S.
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CHANGES URGED FOR VATICAN OFFICE
Pope Benedict XVI is coming under increasing pressure to reform the Vatican's doctrine office, which he once headed. It's the old issue of how to maintain sound and consistent theology and yet be open to new ways of expressing it. Has any faith community fully figured out how to do that?
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A NEW PICTURE OF MUSLIMS IN AMERICA
If you were asked to describe the Muslim population of America in terms of size, demographics, assimilation and attitudes, what would you say?
Think about that and then compare your answers to the findings of an interesting new survey done by the Pew Research Center. (By the way, the photo here today is one I took some months ago at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich.) For the Christian Science Monitor's story about the new report, click here.
Several things about the survey stand out to me, including its estimate of the number of Muslims in this country. Many estimates range as high as 10 or 12 million, though most are in the 3 to 6 million range. But the Pew study came up with a figure of 2.35 million, including 1.5 million adults. For a story from the Jewish publication, The Forward, focusing on the numbers, click here.
In a conference call the day the survey was released on Tuesday, I asked the Pew folks to describe how they came up with such a low figure. The study's methodology, if you want to look it over, is described starting on page 57 of the report. My reading of the study is that it probably missed some -- but not a huge number -- of Muslim Americans. My own guess, after reviewing these figures, is that a better guess would be about 3 million or slightly above.
As Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, acknowledged, "This obviously will not end the debate about how many Muslims there are."
One of the problems in counting Muslims, of course, is that Muslims don't count themselves in very rigid ways. The best estimates are made on the basis of mosque attendance, but even that is pretty slippery.
Other survey results are mostly good news, with some rather disturbing findings mixed in. Muslims generally are quite well assimilated into American life and share traditional American values. They're generally quite happy here (African-American converts less so than immigrants). And they are doing as well educationally and economically as most groups in the country.
But a larger percentage of younger Muslims display some sympathy for radical Islam than older Muslims. Fifteen percent of American Muslims between ages 18 and 30 believe suicide bombings sometimes is justfiable in defending Islam (compared with 6 percent of Muslims over 30).
Study directors said that doesn't mean the young people are about to engage in suicide bombings in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Rather, they said the responses to their questions mean the young people believe such actions may be justifiable elsewhere around the world when Muslims seem to have run out of less-violent options to defend themselves. Still, no matter how you explain it, that's a disturbing finding, as is the still-high percentage of Muslims who don't believe Arabs perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
And yet, as Kohut asserted, "Overall, this (study) is a very, very positive story for the vast majority of Muslims (in America)."
Take a look at the report and see what else you find in it that you didn't know -- or thought you knew but find you are wrong about.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column this weekend is about attachments one feels to former congregations and the buildings they use. I wrote it from my hometown of Woodstock, Ill.)