Hidden agenda of Gallup Poll and PEW

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Opinion polls and surveys are sophisticated propaganda tools while the modus operandi for influencing any opinion and survey is now well established. From its inception a century ago, and in its current construction, the terrain of public opinion polls is far from being a neutral. An opinion poll result can be easily manipulated through:

- the wording of the questions
- the order in which they are asked and
- the number and form of alternative answers

This applies to the recent poll and survey results of Gallup Polls of August 2, 2011 and the PEW Institute survey of August 30, 2011. These surveys were released on the 10th commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

The Abu Dhabi-based GALLUP center's poll was reported in the US mainstream media with such headlines: Muslims in U. S. optimistic about future (Washington Post); Muslims Say They're Loyal Americans (The New York Times); Muslim Americans are most optimistic religious group (CNN); Muslims most optimistic U. S. faith group (San Francisco Chronicle) and Muslims in U. S. upbeat about future (Star Tribune). 

However, very little attention was paid to the hidden agenda of the Gallup Center of Abu Dhabi. This agenda is to undermine the major American Muslim civil advocacy and religious organizations. It is a known fact that in the post-p/11 America that a consistent effort has been launched through government policies and anti-Muslim groups to undermine the most visible and active civil advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

The Gallup Poll asked few hundred people who took part in this survey: Which national Muslim American organization, if any, do you feel most represents your interests?

And the conclusion drawn from the survey was that no national Muslim American organization represents a large percentage of the Muslim community in America. The poll results said that only 12 percent consider CAIR and mere 4 percent consider ISNA as national American organizations. It is said in the psychology of mass media: "Whoever controls the questions….controls the answers." What was the purpose of this question except to discredit and dislodge American Muslims' most prominent and active civil advocacy and religious organizations.

There has been a two-prong attack on prominent civil advocacy Muslim American organizations in the post-9/11 America. On the one hand there is a vicious attempt to undermine and discredit prominent civil advocacy Muslim American organizations while on the other hand alternate organizations are being encouraged to replace these prominent and well recognized Muslim organizations. An example: At the anti-Muslim hearings in March by Republican Rep. Peter King, CAIR was not invited to testify but a one-man organization - American Islamic Forum on Democracy -established by Arizona doctor Zuhdi Jasser, was invited to represent American Muslims. Dr. Jasser was invited because he is critical of leading Muslim American organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that was target of the hearings. Tellingly Peter King negatively mentioned CAIR more than 50 times during the four-hour session.

The CAIR is the largest vocal Muslim civil liberties organization, modeled on the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL), that has made it a target for criticism. Not surprisingly, it was named as an "unindicted co- conspirator " in the case of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF) - one of the largest American Muslim charity that in 2008 was convicted of funding Hamas militant group. In its prosecution of the HLF, the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of publicly filing a list naming 246 individuals and organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators." Besides CAIR, the list included the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), America's largest mainstream Muslim community-based organization and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the country's largest holding company of deeds to about 300 mosques, Islamic centers and schools in the U. S.

By branding these individuals and organizations with the "terrorism" label, the government unfairly and irreparably damaged the reputation of mainstream Muslim organizations and many of the named individuals. The prosecution used McCarthyite tactics by implicating mainstream Muslim groups to silence genuine Muslim voices while providing ammunition to the anti-Muslim organizations. This was a brutal attempt to marginalize and disenfranchise mainstream Muslim groups, By asking a question about the national Muslim American organization, the Gallup Poll also attempted to undermine prominent and vocal American Muslim organizations.

The number of Muslims in the U. S.

Now let us see the hidden agenda of the PEW Center surveys. The most misleading and agenda driven result of the latest PEW survey is regarding the estimate of Muslim population of America. The PEW survey claims that the current population of Muslim Americans is no more than 2.75 million. Not surprisingly, it is basing this calculations on its own 2007 survey that estimated the Muslim American population at 2.4 million which was closer to the estimates announced by the American Jewish Committee in October 2001. The AJC study - titled Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States - claimed that the best estimate of Muslims in the United States is 2.8 million at most, compared to the 6 or 7 million figure used by many researchers and Muslim organizations. The PEW surveys, just like the AJC report, seem to undercut the influence of American Muslims. It looks another desperate attempt to discount the role of American Muslims.

The PEW survey of 2007, titled "Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream," claimed to be the most extensive, covers the views of 1,050 Muslims interviewed in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi. According to Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, the Washington-based organization spent $1 million on the poll. It paid $50 to each of the 1,050 Muslims surveyed.

The PEW survey of 2011, titled, "Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism," is based on the interviews with 1,033 Muslim American. Interviews were conducted by telephone between April 14 and July 22, 2011 by the research firm of Abt SRBI. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.

Associated Press reporting the survey result said the findings offer an uncommon portrait of the Muslim American community, which Pew estimates at roughly 2.75 million, or nearly 1 percent of the U. S. population.

The PEW's misleading demographic figures of American Muslims already made an entry into the Wikipedia encyclopedia's article on American Muslim population estimates. Pew numbers are now quoted as authentic reference when estimate of American Muslims is given.

Religious denominations, like all interest groups, can gain or lose political clout based on perceptions of their size, according to J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the case of the U. S. Muslim community, Melton says, its efforts to influence policy in the Middle East would get a boost if it were viewed as being larger than the country's Jewish population, which is estimated at 6 million. "It's a political question: How does it sway votes?" he argued.

The American Jewish Committee's executive director David Harris has warned that the increasingly visible American Muslim lobby posed a challenge to U. S.-Israel relations. In an article published by the Jerusalem Report in May 2001, Harris urged American Jewry to unite with Israel to battle against the growing Arab and Muslim lobbies here and the challenge they present to long-standing U. S. support for Israel. Harris cited the "myth" of high Muslim population figures as one tactic Muslims are using to advance their position.

The American Jewish Committee and other groups estimate the number of Jews in this country is about 6 million. "Six million has a special resonance," Harris wrote in the Jerusalem Report magazine. "It would mean that Muslims outnumber Jews in the U. S. and it would buttress calls for a redefinition of America's heritage as 'Judeo-Christian-Muslim,' a stated goal of some Muslim leaders."

The American Jewish Committee survey of Muslim population was conducted by Tom W. Smith of the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago who questioned the study, "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait," released in April 2001 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The CAIR study reported that the number of mosques rose by about 25 percent, to more than 1,200, from 1994 to 2000. Based on reports of attendance at some mosques, researchers estimated the number of American Muslims at 6 million to 7 million. The project surveyed individual mosques, finding that 340 adults and children participated at the average mosque and that another 1,629 were "associated in any way" with the average mosque's activities, yielding a figure of 2 million Muslims. The authors then adjusted the estimate to 6 million to 7 million overall to take into account family members and unaffiliated Muslims.

Based in part on that report, most media organizations, as well as the White House and the State Department, have said that there are at least 6 million Muslims in the country.

It may be recalled that the former Congressman, Paul Findley, in his book Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam, estimates that about 3.2 million Muslims turned out for vote and 65 percent voted for President Bush in November 2000 elections. According to Mr. Findley "Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov. 7, 2000 came to 3.2 million."

It is important not to overlook the positive aspects of the Gallup and PEW surveys which clearly showed that American Muslims are mainstream, highly educated, middle-class people who believe that hard work pays off. It also confirmed that, overall, American Muslims have a positive view of the larger society. They are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives in the United States, and most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2011 on page no. 23

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