Not according to David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC:
Will the Pew estimate of 2.35 million now take hold? Don’t hold your breath.[Hat tip: Elder of Ziyon]
In the late 1990s, AJC began approaching several mainstream media outlets to ask why they routinely cited numbers that appeared grossly exaggerated, often came from groups with dubious political agendas, and surely couldn’t withstand closer scrutiny.
Most answers fell into one of three categories: (i) lazy journalism; (ii) fear of risking a confrontation with Muslim groups; or (iii) an inquiry from a Jewish group, no matter how the issue was framed, was deemed dead on arrival.
Bottom line: we had zero impact.
In 2001, we went the next step, knowing full well that, as a Jewish organization and notwithstanding our longstanding reputation for solid research, we’d be potentially vulnerable to attack. But no other institution stepped forward, so we forged ahead.
We approached an academic heavyweight, Dr. Tom W. Smith, the director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, whose scholarly integrity and impartiality were beyond dispute. He was asked to examine the available literature on the US Muslim population.
In October 2001, he reported his findings: “Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the media have used estimates of the Muslim population in the United States of 5-8 million, with an average of 6.7 million or 2.4 percent of the population.” In the previous five years, 1996-2001, he looked at 20 estimates and they averaged out to 5.65 million.
After thoroughly studying all available data and the methodologies used, Dr. Smith concluded: “The best, adjusted, survey-based estimates put the adult Muslim population in 2000 at 0.67 percent, or 1,401,000, and the total Muslim population at 1,886,000. Even if high-side estimates based on local surveys, figures from mosques, and ancestry and immigration statistics are given more weight than survey-based numbers, it is hard to accept estimates that Muslims constitute more than 1 percent of the population (2,090,000 adults or 2,814,000 total).”
Unbeknownst to AJC at the time, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) was completing its 2001 omnibus American Religious Identification Survey. The results were strikingly similar to those of Dr. Smith. The survey found 1,104,000 adult Muslims in the U.S. Allowing for undercounting or sampling error, the survey suggested that the uppermost range would be 2.2 million to just under 3 million.
The studies were widely reported on at the time, including major stories by the New York Times and Washington Post.
The assault from those invested in the higher numbers was immediate.
The American Muslim Council accused Smith of trying to “deny the existence of four-and-a-half million American Muslims” and “tearing at the heart of America,” while claiming that its own figure of 7 million Muslims emerged from the most recent U.S. Census—an impossibility since the Census does not ask about religious affiliation. Meanwhile, CAIR described the Smith study as a “desperate attempt to discount the role of American Muslims.” Its spokesman went on to declare that, “Very often the representatives of the extremist wing of the pro-Israel lobby, such as the American Jewish Committee, seek to block Muslim political participation.”
The AJC-sponsored and CUNY studies couldn’t easily be attacked on scientific grounds. That didn’t stop others, though, from continuing to repeat the outlandishly exaggerated numbers ad nauseum, or wielding the “Islamophobia” charge against anyone who dared use the reports’ figures.
To a large degree, those twin strategies worked. Look again at the examples cited above from 2002 onward, after the studies appeared.
Now a third study has been released. Pew has a well-earned reputation for quality research. Will its findings change things?
What will the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting System, USA Today, Encyclopedia Brittanica, elected officials, and scholars at Georgetown and Harvard universities, among others, say the next time they’re in need of US Muslim population numbers?
Will they now cite the three authoritative and convergent studies on the subject? Or the exaggerated and politically-motivated numbers afloat out there? Or simply split the difference, convincing themselves that this is the “fairest” approach?
Stay tuned. [emphasis added]