September 13, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS and SAM HODGES
The Dallas Morning News
Almost a decade after 9/11, Americans remain conflicted about the Muslim faith. A series of roiling controversies this summer has compounded tensions, leaving people in North Texas and beyond particularly on edge about the place of Islam in American life.
"Muslims keep saying we need to understand them, but where is the concern for our feelings?" said Judy Kersh, a 60-year-old Dallas business analyst. "People are tired of having to walk carefully because they may offend someone."
A study last month by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the share of Americans with a favorable view of Islam has fallen to 30 percent from 41 percent five years ago. A more recent ABC/Washington Post poll found 49 percent with an unfavorable view of Islam, again showing a worsening of feeling over previous surveys.
The ABC poll showed 66 percent of Americans oppose plans to locate an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.
The debate over the center has turned into a national touch point both politically and culturally. It has been accompanied by a flood of anti-Muslim activity, including an attack on a Muslim cabdriver in New York and the vandalism of mosques in Nashville and Phoenix. A Florida pastor threatened to burn Qurans this week in commemoration of the 2001 terror attacks. . .
Some experts believe that Muslims will gain much fuller acceptance as years go on, following a pattern set by other groups. William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, noted that a 19th-century wave of Catholic immigration met with considerable prejudice from Protestants and that Mormons met with outright persecution in that same century.
But time and increased familiarity with individuals of those faiths eased tensions.
"The diversity of the Muslim population is going to become increasingly apparent," Lawrence said. "More Americans will see that not all Muslims look alike, think alike, enjoy the same foods, or anything else."
Short term, though, Lawrence said, relations are bound to be inflamed, especially when a pastor makes national news by threatening to burn Qurans.
"Here's a man who, by any standard, has almost no following," Lawrence said. "He's got a church of 50 members. But we live in a 24/7 news cycle. Not only are we dealing with somebody who is pandering to fears. We're dealing with a person who can create his own market for pandering to fears. That's different."
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