A few weeks after the World Trade Center bombing, the American Muslim Council commissioned a poll to find out how Americans feel about Muslims.
The results were released yesterday, and one would have expected them to be pretty awful.
After all, the Feb. 26 blast killed six people, injured more than 1,000, forced the evacuation of some 50,000 workers and cost the metropolitan New York region $591 million.
And both the print and electronic media often described those accused of the bombing as "Muslims" or "Islamic fundamentalists."
So what did 905 randomly selected Americans think when asked if the bombing would "impact negatively" on their view of Muslims?
Fifty-five percent said it would not negatively impact their view, 21 percent said it would, and 24 percent were not sure or had no opinion.
Personally, I'd say that was a pretty good result. It might mean that a majority of Americans realize that you cannot blame all members of a religion for the alleged actions of a few members of a religion.
But the American Muslim Council (AMC) decided that it was "stunned by the wide anti-Muslim reaction" shown by the poll.
"If Irish Republican Army terrorists are identified by their nationa origins and political affiliation, I wonder why the suspects on the Twin Tower [i.e. World Trade Center] bombing must be identified by their religious label?" asked Abdurahman Alamoudi, the executive director of the AMC.
It is a fair question, and the labeling by religion of those arrested in the bombing has been resisted by some in the media.
But what do you do when Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, comes to America and produces the following Associated Press story:
"The World Trade Center bombing could have been prevented if U.S. officials had heeded Egypt's warnings about the network of fundamentalist Muslims living in America, says Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak."
If Mubarak is going to say it, the media can hardly ignore it.
The AMC poll was conducted by John Zogby, and he also tended to emphasize clouds rather than silver linings.
"Even worse for Muslims" than the 21 percent negative impact figure, he said, was that 42 percent of those polled "agree that there should be restrictions on the number of Muslims allowed to immigrate to the U.S, while 31 percent disagree and 21 percent are not sure."
Forty-two percent sounds like a high number. But, as one reporter asked at yesterday's AMC press conference, what was the figure when Americans were asked if Hindus should be restricted from immigrating here?
John Zogby replied that the poll was conducted by the American Muslim Council and not the American Hindu Council, but the question was not a frivolous one.
We don't know if 42 percent is a high or low figure until we know how Americans feel about other groups. And, I suspect, if you substituted the word "Haitian" for the world "Muslim", you'd get a lot more than 42 percent in favor of restricting immigration.
The other problem with the poll, which was admitted by the AMC, is that few Americans understand the difference between Muslims and Arabs.
Arab is a linguistic and cultural designation, Zogby said. Muslims are adherents of Islam, and only about 12 percent of the approximately eight million Muslims in America are Arabs, while 42 percent are African-Americans.
So how do feelings about Arabs in this country affect a poll on feelings about Muslims? Nobody knows. That may be the next poll.
The AMC poll did ask Americans how they felt about certain religions. Islam came up with a 23 percent favorable rating, a 36 percent unfavorable rating and a 41 percent "not sure" rating.
But those figures are not that much worse than American reaction to Hinduism (23 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable, 45 percent unsure) or Mormonism (35 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable, 32 percent unsure.)
In sum, Zogby said: "The striking thing is the significant number of Americans who had no opinion. The poll shows that Americans are not as informed as we thought and tend not to give a number of things a lot of thought."
We needed a poll to tell us that?