Tolerance low for Muslim extremists

U. CHICAGO (US) — While Americans are increasingly tolerant of the views of most non-majority groups, 10 years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, tolerance has yet to extend to the freedoms of Muslim extremists.

The findings illustrate a lingering impact of the horrific events from 10 years ago, as well as the toll the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken on American public opinion, says Tom Smith, senior fellow at the University of Chicago and director of the General Social Survey. “These figures are a result of people responding to what they perceive to be a serious threat.”

The survey reports that in 2008 when asked if “A Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States”” should be able to speak publicly, 41 percent of Americans said yes. The percentage remained unchanged in the 2010 survey. When asked if a Muslim extremist should be able to teach, 29 percent of Americans said yes in 2008 and 32 percent said yes in 2010. The survey found that 49 percent of Americans in 2008 would allow a book by a Muslim extremist to be in their local library, while 48 percent approved in 2010.

Tolerance has increased for other non-majority viewpoints, the survey finds. For example, a majority of Americans are no longer opposed to civil liberties for Communists. In 1972, the first year the survey was conducted, 53 percent of Americans felt that Communists should be allowed to speak, compared to 64 percent in 2010. In 2010, 61 percent (versus 33 percent in 1972) said that a Communist should be allowed to teach, and 69 percent (versus 53 percent in 1972) said that a book by a Communist was appropriate for a library collection.

Tolerance levels for other groups are similar. Americans have become more willing to support civil liberties for homosexuals, people who oppose churches and religion, and even those who advocate doing away with elections and letting the military run the country.

“Two things in particular account for this trend: an increase in education and changing attitudes across generations,” Smith says. College attendance in particular, which has increased in the last 40 years, has prompted people to become more open-minded, he says. Also, younger generations don’t feel the same threat from some groups that their parents did.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Support for allowing a “person who is against all churches and religions” to speak rose from 66 percent in 1972 to 76 percent in 2010; approval for teaching rose from 42 percent in 1972 to 60 percent in 2010; and tolerance of having such a book in the library grew from 61 percent in 1972 to 74 percent in 2010.
  • Support for allowing “a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country” to speak grew from 55 percent in 1976 to 69 percent in 2010; approval for teaching went from 37 percent in 1976 to 57 percent in 2010; and tolerance of having such a book in the library climbed from 57 percent in 1976 to 71 percent in 2010.
  • Support for allowing an “admitted homosexual” to speak increased from 62 percent in 1972 to 86 percent in 2010; approval for teaching rose from 48 percent in 1973 to 84 percent in 2010; and tolerance of having such a book in the library from 54 percent in 1973 to 78 percent in 2010.

Tolerance for racists showed little change. Fifty-eight percent of Americans in 2010 felt people with anti-black views had the right to speak, compared to 61.5 percent in 1977. Forty-eight percent felt they had the right to teach in 2010, compared with 41 percent in 1977. Sixty-five percent felt they had the right to have a book the library, compared with 60 percent in 1977.

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