Cliff May

We Americans should be ashamed! What an intolerant, bigoted, hateful lot we are! Or so we are being told by our political and media elites. Lawrence Wright, in the New Yorker- yes, the New Yorker -- announces: "Culture wars are currently being waged against Muslim Americans across the country." Are they really? The crowds in Kandahar and Karachi will be most interested to hear that.

Even on Fox- yes, Fox - Chris Wallace talked last weekend of "growing anti-Islamic feeling in this country." Excuse me, but where's the evidence?

In recent days, we've been told that it's in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing 49 percent of respondents holding an "unfavorable" opinion of Islam. At first glance that does seem disturbing. But take the trouble to actually examine the poll and a very different picture emerges.

First: Recognize that holding an unfavorable opinion of Islam is not the same as holding an unfavorable opinion of Muslims. Tolerance does not require that you favorably regard others' beliefs. It requires only that you take a live-and-let-live attitude in regard to others - even if they hold beliefs you do not share (for example regarding women's rights, homosexuals' rights, the rights of minorities in Muslim-majority countries, whether amputation and stoning should be used as punishments, whether those who convert from Islam to another religion deserve execution).

Consider this, too: How many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries do you think have a "favorable" opinion of Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism? How many liberals have a "favorable" view of conservatism - or vice-versa.

Second: Immediately after the 9/11/01 attacks, the Post/ABC poll found 39 percent of respondents saying they had an unfavorable opinion of Islam - ten points below where it is now. The percentage actually fell from there: By June of 2002, after President Bush and other opinion-leaders reassured people that Islam was a "religion of peace" and that al-Qaeda was perverting Islam, the figure dropped to just 24 percent.  But soon the percentage began to climb. By 2006 it was at 46 percent - about where it is today.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.