“New Yorkers Divided Over Islamic Center, Poll Finds,” says the New York Times in one of its headlines. Another says “New York Poll Finds Wariness About Muslim Center.”
Neither headline suggests a careful reading of the poll results — a poll conducted by the New York Times itself.
This is how the newspaper of record characterizes the results:
Two-thirds of New York City residents want a planned Muslim community center and mosque to be relocated to a less controversial site farther away from ground zero in Lower Manhattan, including many who describe themselves as supporters of the project, according to a New York Times poll.
The poll indicates that support for the 13-story complex, which organizers said would promote moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue, is tepid in its hometown.
Nearly nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks ignited a wave of anxiety about Muslims, many in the country’s biggest and arguably most cosmopolitan city still have an uneasy relationship with Islam. One-fifth of New Yorkers acknowledged animosity toward Muslims. Thirty-three percent said that compared with other American citizens, Muslims were more sympathetic to terrorists. And nearly 60 percent said people they know had negative feelings toward Muslims because of 9/11.
Over all, 50 percent of those surveyed oppose building the project two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, even though a majority believe that the developers have the right to do so. Thirty-five percent favor it.
Opposition is more intense in the boroughs outside Manhattan — for example, 54 percent in the Bronx — but it is even strong in Manhattan, considered a bastion of religious tolerance, where 41 percent are against it.
OK. Let’s back up. Opposition is “even strong in Manhattan,” or if we take away that particular slant in reading the numbers, we discover that by a 10% margin the majority of Manhattan residents polled favor the construction of the center. This almost exactly mirrors the size of the opposition in the boroughs.
Just as interesting is the fact that whether someone favors or opposes the construction closely correlates with whether they count Muslims among their close friends.
So what’s the conclusion?
Move to Manhattan, make friends with a Muslim and you’ll probably decide Park51 has a place in the neighborhood.
The problem turns out not to be the impending Islamization of America — it’s that not enough Americans have Muslim friends.