On Sept. 11, 19 foreigners from Middle Eastern countries, acting in the name of Islam, boarded U.S. airliners, hijacked them and proceeded with plans that killed thousands of people. So in the last three months, Americans have shown a new distrust and dislike of Muslims. Right? Well, no. A new survey makes it clear that whatever else the public has done in response to the terrorist attacks, it has not blamed them on all Muslims.
In the past, Americans might have initially reacted with anger and prejudice against the minority group whose members were responsible, and only later repented of indiscriminate scapegoating. But this time, perhaps heeding the plea of President Bush and other leaders, Americans immediately recognized that these atrocities were the bloody work of individuals -- not of entire religions or ethnic groups.
According to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, most people have not taken a more negative view of Muslims than before the attacks -- they've taken a more positive view. In March, 45 percent of Americans expressed a positive opinion of Muslims. In November, 59 percent reported a favorable attitude toward Muslims, with only 17 percent stating an unfavorable view. By contrast, only 32 percent of those polled look favorably on atheists. ...
Compare this experience with the treatment of ethnic Japanese during World War II. Some 120,000 of them were placed in internment camps, losing jobs, homes and businesses in the process. Many spent most of the war there. ...
''Wartime cartoons and posters routinely depicted the Japanese as murderous savages, immature children, wild beasts, or buck-toothed, bespectacled lunatics,'' writes historian David Kennedy. ''The long record of racialist disdain made it easy to demonize the Japanese.''
The ethnic transformation of American society has led to changes in racial attitudes over the last 60 years -- changes so fundamental that they can withstand even strong countervailing pressures. Three months ago, a lot of people worried that Americans would succumb to their worst impulses. Instead, the war against terrorism has shown them at their best.
-- Chicago Tribune
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