What Muslim Immigrants Say About America
by Scott Bittle
The debate over whether an Islamic community center should be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York has become a broader argument over tolerance toward Islam and sensitivity to 9/11. In addition to the fight over the "Ground Zero mosque," there have been reports of protests and counter-protests over plans to build mosques and Islamic community centers in other towns around the country.
We've only seen a couple of surveys about the general public's views (available here and here), and none at all on how Muslim Americans view this unfolding debate. But we can bring you some insight into how Muslim immigrants view their life in America.
In Public Agenda's survey of immigrants conducted last year, A Place to Call Home, we found most immigrants had a strong sense that they'd made the right decision by coming to the United States. If anything,the Muslim immigrants we surveyed are even more likely than other immigrants to say they're here to stay, and that they prefer the United States to their birth country – and that's saying something.
For example, an overwhelming 92 percent of Muslims said the United States would be their permanent home, compared to 69 percent of all other immigrants. Some 68 percent were already U.S. citizens, and three out of four immigrated before 9/11.
What's more, Muslims were more likely to give the United States a higher rating than their birth country on key questions, such as:
- "Having a legal system you can trust": 80 percent of Muslims said the U.S. does a better job here, compared to 69 percent of other immigrants
- "Having a free and independent media": 80 percent of Muslims said the U.S. is better, compared to 54 percent of other immigrants, a 26-point difference
- "Having a good education system": 78 percent of Muslims give the U.S. the edge, compared to 62 percent of other immigrants
- "Having a higher standard of morality": 64 percent of Muslims say the United States, against 48 percent of other immigrants
In no survey question did Muslim immigrants say that their birth country is better than the United States (the topline is available here).
Islamic radicals can certainly exist in the United States. The Times Square bomb attempt and 9/11 itself show that. But if the concern is about how Muslim immigrants fit in to the United States, the survey data shows quite clearly that the vast majority of Muslim immigrants aren't interested in recreating their birth countries here. They're here precisely because the United States is different from where they were born, and because they embrace American life. Whatever happens to the Cordoba House project, that's a point that's worth remembering – and cherishing.