The past year was a rough one for American Muslims, who’ve shared one story after another of hearing slurs at the grocery store, watching their mosques burn, and learning taekwondo to fend off attackers.
Such experiences, dismissed by anti-Muslim pundits as exaggerated, are backed up by poll results released Tuesday that show a community that’s effectively felt under siege since the rise and election of President Donald Trump.
The majority of American Muslims — 60%— reported some level of religious discrimination in the past year. Muslim kids were twice as likely to report school bullying than Jewish students, and four times likelier than the general population. And some Muslims, who felt higher levels of anxiety than any other demographic about the election results, are so fearful that a fifth of them are making plans to leave the country “if it becomes necessary.”
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the nonprofit Muslim-focused think tank that conducted the national survey, “American Muslims at the Crossroads,” called the poll the most thorough temperature-taking of American Muslims since the election.
The poll was conducted between Jan. 4 and Jan. 23, around inauguration time and just before Trump signed the first of his controversial executive orders restricting travel from several Muslim-majority nations. The findings are based on 1,249 completed surveys with a margin of error of +/-2.8%.
The results were announced Tuesday at the Newseum in Washington, where panelists discussed the broader question behind the findings: Just how bad can it get for Muslims under the Trump administration?
“With the experience of Trump over the last two months, it’s likely things will get worse,” said panelist Walter Ruby, who directs Muslim-Jewish relations programs at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
That ominous tone was echoed by another speaker, Zainab Chaudry, a spokeswoman and Maryland liaison for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group.
“For many American Muslims, we live one terrorist attack away from feeling that our communities are going to be thrown under the bus,” Chaudry said.
Dalia Mogahed, the center’s research director and a former Obama administration appointee on faith-based partnerships, told the Newseum audience that Muslims view bigotry as second only to the economy when listing their biggest national concerns.
They’re personally afraid of attacks from white supremacists, Mogahed said, and 11% “signed up for self-defense classes as a direct result of the election.”
The Trump administration didn’t waste time in turning the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the campaign trail into policy. The White House introduced now-stalled travel bans targeting several majority Muslim nations, hired senior aides with long records of disparaging Islam, and is making political space for anti-Muslim factions that have shot from the radical fringe to the mainstream in just months.
One of the country’s most vitriolic campaigners against Islam, ACT For America founder Brigitte Gabriel, tweeted a photo of herself at a desk Monday, writing that she was “preparing for my meeting at the White House.”
Such a visit, which hasn’t been confirmed by the Trump administration, would’ve been unthinkable in previous years because of Gabriel’s public bashing of Islam and the fact that her organization has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others who track domestic extremism.
The poll results underline the worries many Muslims have as they watch people like Gabriel flex their new political muscle.
Discrimination at home is “a top concern,” the survey says, with 38% of Muslims — and 27% of Jews — saying they’re scared of white supremacist groups.
The results also show a diverse and politically conscious bloc that’s firmly behind the Black Lives Matter movement (66%) and supportive of civil rights activism. The poll found that 35% of Muslims who donated to Muslim causes gave to civil rights organizations.
But American Muslims’ activism has yet to translate into political clout, the polling data suggest. Of all the groups surveyed, Muslims were the least likely group to vote and least likely to be registered to vote.
Muslims didn’t seem wowed by either Trump or his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. According to the poll results, 30% of Muslims favored neither candidate, Trump’s Muslim support was about 15%, and Clinton got only a slim majority of Muslim approval with 54%.
The poll also backs up the “flying while Muslim” experience, finding that Muslim travelers coming from abroad are more than twice as likely as the general public to be singled out for extra inspection.