Even on Fox, Chris Wallace talked last weekend of "growing anti-Islamic feeling in this country." 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, whether amputation and stoning should be used as punishments).
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 attacks, the Post/ABC poll found 39 percent of respondents saying their opinion of Islam was unfavorable - 10 points below where it is now. By June of 2002, after President Bush reassured people that Islam was a "religion of peace," the figure dropped to 24 percent. But soon the percentage began to climb. By 2006 it was at 46 percent - about where we are today.
So what happened between 2002 and 2006 to change how people viewed Islam? Well, scores of terrorist attacks including the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 suicide bombings in London and Bali. Also: the videotaped beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg.
Such atrocities - all carried out in the name of Islam - may have tarnished the Islamic brand, may have caused some people to revise their opinion of Islam from "favorable" to "unfavorable." You may agree or disagree - but is arriving at that conclusion really an expression of hatred?
OK, you say, but what explains the rise since then? The fact is an uptick from 46 percent in 2006 to 49 percent today is within the poll's margin of error - meaning it's not clear there has been any change at all over the past four years.
And if there has been, perhaps that might have something to do with the massacre at Fort Hood, the attempted Christmas Day underwear plane bomber, the attempted Times Square bombing and, of course, the many incendiary pronouncements by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Should all Muslims be held responsible? Of course not. But it has not gone unnoticed that there have been no mass demonstrations in the capitals of what we now call "the Muslim World" to protest jihadism - no crowds shouting: "Not in my name! Not in the name of my religion!"
Inevitably, some people will conclude that there is a problem within Islam - and maybe even with Islam. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Irshad Manji, the courageous Muslim reformer, titled her ground-breaking book: "The Trouble With Islam Today." To avoid being accused of Islamophobia, should she have called it instead, "The Trouble With Americans Today"?
The Post/ABC poll also asked this question: "Do you think mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, or is it a peaceful religion?"
A solid majority, 54 percent, said they think "mainstream Islam" is a "peaceful religion." Only 31 percent said they think it "encourages violence."
Here's how I interpret these numbers: Most Americans are struggling to understand what separates - and what links - Islam, Islamism and Jihadism. Most Americans do not blame average Muslims for the fact that there are Islamic regimes, movements and groups vowing to murder their children.
In sum: Americans remain the most tolerant people on the planet - despite the slanders coming from so many in the elite media and politics.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.