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August 25, 2010

Sharp divisions on Islamic Center/mosque controversy

Opinions on the New York City Islamic Center/mosque controversy are sharply divided, depending on factors like age and political leanings, according to a new Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey.

A poll analysis called the contrasts in views stark, Republicans agree with those who object to building two blocks from the World Trade Center site, by a 74 to 17 percent margin. But Democrats say it should be allowed, by a 49 to 37 percent margin, and Independents side with the opponents, 50 to 37 percent.

Opinions also vary dramatically depending on age. Among those 18-29 years old, 36 percent side with those who object and 50 percent say it should be built. But among those over 65, 63 percent object and 21 percent say it should be allowed.

The survey was conducted August 19-22, after the controversy erupted. Margin of error for the entire poll is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Other poll findings:

"Large majorities of Democrats (74 percent) and independents (65 percent) say that Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build houses of worship. Republicans are closely divided: 47 percent say Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups while nearly as many (42 percent) say local communities should be able to prohibit the construction of mosques if they do not want them.

Majorities of all age groups – except for those 65 and older – think that Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build houses of worship. Fewer than half (48 percent) of those 65 and older express this view, while 33 percent say local communities should be able to block the construction of mosques."

To read the survey: http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Public-Remains-Conflicted-Over-Islam.aspx

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Vazir Mukhtar

We live in fascinating times. Must we conduct polls about every topic that grabs headlines or becomes pundit pabulum?

Poll results are so dependent upon how questions are put that even reliable pollsters like the Pew Forum can get it wrong every once in a while.

The issue has never been whether Muslims have the right to erect a structure (in this case, a cultural center with a mosque) that meets legal requirements for that structure in the given location (51 Park Pl). Is that so hard for people to understand?

Nor is the issue one that will be put to a vote by the general public. So, except for those studying public opinion, no man-in-the-street's opinion is worth a tinker's dam.

I don't have a monopoly on wisdom, but it seems to me that the opponents are saying "show some sensitivity for our feelings," while the proponents -- although I haven't read direct statements by the imam -- seem to be saying, "It's our right and damn your feelings, we're going to built the building where we want to."

If the responsible parties on both sides would read Robert Mnookin's book "Bargaining with the Devil" and follow the principles he enunciates, there might be some progress.

If that title is a turn off, perhaps the responsible parties can agree to follow advice given in Isaiah: "Come, let us reason together."

Too bad blowing off steam about Cordoba House is more engaging than doing something to help the millions of Pakistanis made homeless by the recent flood or the thousands of children who've fallen ill because there is no clean drinking water.

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