Steve Chapman

If you arrived here from Mars in the last couple of months and watched a lot of TV news, you would quickly reach this conclusion: Americans hate Muslims, and Muslims hate America.

On the one side is widespread opposition to the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in lower Manhattan, which the Republican nominee for governor of New York has promised to forcibly stop.

A Florida pastor threatened to hold a "Burn a Koran Day." Many conservatives think the country is in dire peril because Barack Obama is (in their imaginations) a Muslim.

On the other side, you have the Lebanese-born man arrested for allegedly trying to set off a bomb near Wrigley Field in Chicago and Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

You also have the cleric behind the New York community center warning ominously that "Burn a Koran Day" would have "enhanced the possibility of terrorist acts against America."

There is no question that feelings on both sides are running higher than usual. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, says the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Islam, but today, the figure is 30 percent. A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations blamed the recent slashing of a Muslim cab driver in New York on "hate rhetoric."

But all these events get attention for the same reason that airplane crashes get attention: They are unusual. Considering the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and considering the U.S. invasion of two Islamic countries, the surprise is not that feelings between Muslims and non-Muslims in this country are so bitter and angry. It's that they are so amicable.

The "ground zero mosque" has elicited a great deal of opposition -- but, for the most part, restrained opposition. A Fox News poll found that while 64 percent of Americans do not want the facility at that location, 61 percent -- including most Republicans -- say the group has the right to build it there.

Most people don't perceive all Muslims as a lurking danger. Asked whether Islam is more likely than other religions "to encourage violence," 35 percent of Americans said yes -- but 42 percent said no.

Nor is the American Muslim community a seething swamp of violent militancy. There are estimated to be at least 1.3 million Muslims in this country -- plenty to furnish an unending stream of suicide bombers, if the motivation existed. But it doesn't. If there is anything striking about the home front of the global war on terrorism, it's the extreme rarity of domestic jihadists.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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