Civil Liberties, Republicans and TV News

There is an interesting public opinion survey out from Cornell.

In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should — in some way — curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.

[…] The Media and Society Research Group, in Cornell’s Department of Communication, commissioned the poll, which was supervised by the Survey Research Institute, in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The results were based on 715 completed telephone interviews of respondents across the United States, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The survey also examined the relation of religiosity to perceptions of Islam and Islamic countries among Christian respondents. Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent). Fewer of the respondents who said they were not highly religious described Islamic countries as violent (49 percent), fanatical (46 percent) and dangerous (44 percent). But 80 percent of all respondents said they see Islamic countries as being oppressive toward women.

[…] “Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war,” says James Shanahan, Cornell associate professor of communication and a principal investigator in the study. Shanahan and Erik Nisbet, senior research associate with the ILR Survey Research Institute, commissioned the study, and Ron Ostman, professor of communication, and his students administered it.

And what do you know, Erik Nisbet has a weblog.

The results are reported in two parts:

I’ll focus on the issue of civil liberties for American Muslims.

Statement Agree
All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government. 27%
Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies. 26%
U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage. 22%
Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising. 29%
Agreed with none of the statements 48%
Agreed with one statement 15%
Agreed with two or more statements 29%

While all of these statements are problematic with respect to civil liberties, the monitoring of mosques and organizations could be useful if limited to specific suspicious cases (as Volokh Conspiracy point out.) Profiling might wrong but is an American institution with a history older than the United States itself. The most egregious one then is the requirement for registering every Muslim in the US. Please note that the statement addresses US citizens specifically.

So who are these 27% who want me to register with the government? According to the survey, 40% of the Republicans, 17% of independents and 24% of Democrats want to require Muslim registration. Does this support depend on how personally afraid of terrorism the survey respondents are? Yes, 24% of those with “low fear” and 37% of those with “high fear” want this restriction. Oh and religion seems to make one more of an asshole in this case. Support for registration increases from 15% (low level of religiosity) to 30% (moderate level) to 42% (high level). However, I am not sure how much of this is an artifact of party identity with Republicans being more likely to be more religious and asshole-ish.

Another interesting thing in the survey is the effect of TV news on the opinions of people. Those with low or moderate levels of religiosity don’t show much variation in their support of Muslim registration based on how much attention they give to the TV news. However, highly religious people are affected a lot by the idiot box with only 26% of those who pay low attention to TV news supporting registration as compared to 56% of those whose attention to TV news is classified as high.

None of this is really surprising. It is easy to give up civil rights when those rights belong to the other rather than you. I also remember a Gallup poll from October 2001 in which 49% wanted Arab Americans to carry a special ID and I posted about the effect of media on misperceptions about the Iraq war.

I don’t think that a general measure like registration of all American Muslims or internment like that of Japanese-Americans in World War II is likely to happen. I also don’t think that the US is becoming fascist. But fascist baby steps can happen in a democracy and one of the important battlegrounds is public opinion as Unqualified Offerings points out.

Given the protorture credentials of the Bush administration and the anti-civil-liberties stance of a lot of Republican voters, I don’t understand how any intelligent, reasonable person could have voted for George Bush last month. May be some Bush voter can enlighten me?

And I love the title The Poor Man gave to his post on this topic.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


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  2. I think the mainstream media shares a large part of the blame for this, but I think Muslims need to make a greater effort in reaching out to non-Muslim Americans as well.

    I’ve made this point before. I just don’t get that kind of attitude where I live, unless I have them so terrified that they pretend not have the feelings reflected in the poll. My dad, who’s an avid watcher of Fox News, shares the fear and concern. Because of me, he doesn’t support the solution of registering the location of every Muslim. He does support monitoring the Mosques and charities which I’m sure is because he has no idea what goes on in a mosque. The media did a good job of painting Islamic charities as supporters of terrorist organizations.

    Though there are people you’d never be able to reach, I blame a large part of this on pure ignorance. This is what happens when the Muslim communities fail to reach out. We are being represented by the worst of us, and I think it’s partly up to us to change that.

  3. My first comment: People all over the world have more faith in electronic media (EM) than even (God forbid) in God. EM in most of the countries is in wrong hands and more so in America where most of the people controlling American EM are (unfortunate for America) not faithful to America but a certain community. Americans, by and for are ignorant people and then they have so much of personal matters boggling their minds that they are unable to spare a minute to find the facts by themselves. They have adopted or have been lured to find all from a glance of TV. Thus, they have been hypnotized by their electronic media which has to grind its own axe.

  4. Registering / marking of every Palestinian Mosque, Muslim’s locality, house,and what not was done decades ago by Israel. Even Muslim’s cars have number plate entirely different to those for Jews. My question is: Did suicide bombing incidents in Israel decrease due to registering / marking ?

  5. sumem: I agree that Muslims do need to make greater effort at outreach.

    I just don’t get that kind of attitude where I live.

    I would say the same. However, I have observed that there are people who are very nice, friendly and helpful to a Muslim, but when the talk turns to the Muslims they are not sympathetic at all and might even be antagonistic.

    Dad: a certain community


    Americans, by and for are ignorant people

    That is not true any more than it is for Pakistanis, Saudis, Germans, Japanese, Nigerians and others.

    Thus, they have been hypnotized by their electronic media which has to grind its own axe.

    While media has played some role, you’ll notice that its negative effect was confined to mostly Republicans and highly religious people. Similarly, in my Iraq war and media post, I noted that Fox News watchers had the most problems with facts. Thus, it is not a general problem with all media or all people.

    Even Muslim’s cars have number plate entirely different to those for Jews.

    I don’t think that’s true.

  6. hey zack,
    i guess when ure the BIG GUY, you automatically wanna push around the small fries! Damn…. wonder if that will ever change!

    Anyway…. Actually, I’m on an official mission – am part of a space called, that posts comments/ opinion/ observations/ ire/ bitchiness on the Indian media. As a Seasons initiative, we’re inviting Pakistani bloggers to come aboard as guest posters, and talk about their own experiences with the media around you, how you relate to that – or any general stuff you want.

    Wud be great to get ure inputs from Atlanta (lol, or therabouts, given ure newfound suburban status…)

    The Pak Spl stretches from Dec 25 to Jan 5, during which time, we regular bloggers will restrain ourselves to comments on our guests’ entries. Should be a lot of fun!

    So, obviously, am asking you to join in the fun – if you’re interested, mail me at, and i’ll make sure you get the necessary passwords etc. Do check out our spot, and yea, my personal blogspace is

    ciao, and take care.

  7. Dad: That’s not true. You are conflating things here. Your assumption is that Israel = Jewish and Palestinian = Muslim. The fact is that all of Israel has the same number plates. This includes East Jerusalem (which Israel has annexed) residents and West Bank and Gaza settlers. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza mostly have Palestinian Authority number plates which are obviously different from Israeli ones. Before the Oslo accords, the West Bank and Gaza had number plates issued by Israel which were different from the regular Israeli ones. I am not sure if they exist any more or not.

    Also remember that about 15% of Israeli population is Muslim and around 5-10% of the West Bank and Gaza population is Christian.

  8. The results of this poll don’t surprise me. The Americans are scared and don’t want to risk another terrorist attack.

    But by infringing the rights of their own Muslim citizens, they will strengthen the perception that they are fighting a war against Islam and Muslims. That could prove very devastative for them.

  9. I do not consider outcome of this survey as opinion of American people. Surveys, generally, depend on the conduct of the surveyor more than the surveyed. It has to do with trend of the surveyor, type of questions, the way the questions are asked, the people who are contacted, percentage of people who are contacted out of total population. It may be part of the psychological therapy of American people which has been on since September, 2001.

    However, let it be clear to every Muslim that no nation / community can be destroyed by any (human) enemy how so ever powerful, but difficulties / destruction come as a result of misdeeds of the nation / community itself. So, in stead of worrying about what others are planning against Muslims, Muslims should scrutinize their own self, shun every thing which is against Islam and start following Islam in letter and spirit.

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