Frightening: Nearly a fifth of Americans think President Obama is Muslim and more than 40 percent say they don’t know his religion, according to a new Pew poll. That’s a meaningful increase since Obama took office in the share of Americans who are confused about his faith. But here’s what’s far more frightening: A separate Time poll found remarkable anti-Mulsim attitudes among voters. Time reports:
Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — slightly higher than the 24% who mistakenly believe that the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.
A quarter of Time’s respondents said Muslims in the U.S. are not “patriotic Americans” and 21 percent said they didn’t know. Forty-six percent said “the Islamic religion is more likely than other religions to encourage violence against nonbelievers.” No surprise, then, that huge majorities also stand opposed to the Cordoba House Muslim community center in lower Manhattan.
As I wrote yesterday, these are the attitudes we desperately need progressive leaders to challenge. Republicans who are hammering away at the narrow question of where and if the Cordoba House should be built are trying to tap into the feelings that Time’s poll reveal. Democrats in specific and progressives in general will get nowhere by pushing back with legalistic arguments about zoning and free speech. The debate is over whether Muslim Americans are legitimate parts of our community. That is how the president and everyone else ought to be framing their response. This is a debate over our values, not our laws.