Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Dalia Mogahed, a newly appointed advisor on faith to President Barack Obama. She's also co-author of a new survey that suggests Muslims living in EUROPE feel much more marginalized and isolated than Muslims living in the U.S.
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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. Improving relations with Islam is a key goal of the Obama administration. Many Muslims here say relations were seriously damaged during the Bush years. Still, a new survey suggests that Muslims living in Europe feel much more marginalized and isolated than Muslims living in the US. The poll was co-authored by Dalia Mogahed. She's the head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. She also has another job. She was recently named as an Advisor to President Obama. And Ms. Mogahed, what will you be advising Mr. Obama on, precisely?
DALIA MOGAHED: Well, I sit on the Advisory Council on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, so with the other members of the council, we will be advising President Obama on how to harness the power and the energy in faith communities and their wisdom to solve problems that the nation's facing.
WERMAN: Okay. We'll get back to the advisory role at the White House in just a moment. I want to ask you first about this poll that was conducted. In 27 countries, polling about 10,000 people â€“ apparently not all Muslim â€“ what did you want to learn and what were the kind of broad strokes of what you found out?
MOGAHED: Our poll â€“ the report is actually called The Gallup Coexist Index for 2009 â€“ did cover countries around the world in 4 continents. And what we were trying to learn is really look at a measurement of interfaith harmony, putting a number on how well people of different faiths are getting along in each of these countries.
WERMAN: And as we mentioned earlier, what was somewhat interesting is the differences between how well the Muslims have integrated here in the US and how well they've integrated in Europe. What are the differences?
MOGAHED: I think the key difference between Muslims in America and Muslims in Europe is the degree to which they are classified as â€œthriving.â€ So 41 percent of Muslims in America are classified as â€œthriving.â€ That number for British Muslims is only 7 percent â€“ a stark difference. So Muslims in America look very similar like Christians in America or Jews in America â€“ there's virtually no difference in their level of thriving. But that is not the case in Britain, and the key difference between the two populations is in their socio-economic realities. Muslim Americans are more likely than the general public to be educated, to have a professional job, whereas the opposite is the case in Britain.
WERMAN: Which European country has had the hardest time with Muslim integration?
MOGAHED: That's a really good question and a complicated one, because integration means so many things to so many people. So we actually looked at what does integration actually mean to people. In some cases, â€œintegrationâ€ means looking the same â€“ shedding overt physical indications of religious devotion, for example. If that's our definition of integration, conformity, then the French model is the most successful. French Muslims are the least likely to look different. If, instead, our definition of integration is having a strong identification with the country as a whole or with its democratic institutions, then in fact the British model would be the most successful, because British Muslims are the most likely group of any group in fact that we surveyed, to identify strongly with Britain.
WERMAN: When we think Islam in Europe, I keep going back to the furor that developed after the infamous Danish newspaper cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed. And we often hear about the need for a dialogue within Islam itself â€“ greater condemnation by Imams of violence than extremist interpretations of Islamic values and the Koran. How do you feel about that?
MOGAHED: I think when we look at the research, it's very striking that Muslims around the world, including Muslims in Europe, are at least as likely as the general public to regard attacks on civilians as morally unjustified. We also find a very interesting trend when we look at Muslims internationally in a majority of Muslim countries. We find that they are more likely than the American public to say they are scared of being a victim of a terrorist attack â€“ that they in fact see terrorism as a very real enemy. So I think sometimes the discourse on terrorism and Muslim condemnation of terrorism almost assumes that Muslims are unaffected themselves by this threat and that they are in fact sort of standing on the sidelines watching it happen to others, when in fact they are, of course, as we know from the numbers, its primary victims. So I think that at some point, it becomes counter-intuitive and strategically unproductive to expect people to condemn something that they in fact are the primary victims of.
WERMAN: Now, you were born in Egypt, and I assume you and your family have some personal experience with integration into US society. And now that you've been appointed to be an advisor to President Obama on problems facing Muslims in the US, I'd be curious to know how you think your own experience will inform the advice you give to the White House?
MOGAHED: In any position, people will always be informed by their biography, just as President Obama is and always talks about being informed by his own life experiences. But what I really hope to do on the council is serve as a researcher and as a scientist who studies Muslim opinion around the world and bring that information to the table so that decisions and policies are being informed by the wisdom of the people.
WERMAN: So as long as you bring up Barack Obama's own past, I mean, he's lived in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, he's well traveled. What does he bring to this whole issue?
MOGAHED: I think that the President brings a diverse and multi-layered identity, which in fact reflects the reality of America today. And because of his international experience, I think he's able to take into account points of view of different people but at the same time be the leader of the United States.
WERMAN: Have you met with him yet?
MOGAHED: I have not met with him yet.
WERMAN: What's at the top of your agenda?
MOGAHED: Well, the top of my agenda would be to brief him on the research that we've done on Muslim opinions around the world, and to tell him I think what I believe is probably the most important finding from all of our research which is that the conflict that might exist today is not inevitable between the United States and Muslims around the world, because it is driven more by politics than by a rejection of principles. So once we get the premise correct, I think our policies will flow from there.
WERMAN: Dalia Mogahed is head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and is a member of the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Thank you very much for your time.