Correction to This Article
A March 9 article incorrectly said that the Bush administration was attempting to hire an Arab company to manage operations at six of U.S. ports. The issue is the administration's initial approval of an Arab company's purchase of another company that is managing operations at the ports.
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Negative Perception Of Islam Increasing

Americans who said they understood Islam were more likely to see the religion overall as peaceful and respectful. But they were no less likely to say it harbors harmful extremists, and they were also no less likely to have prejudiced feelings against Muslims.

In Gadsden, Ala., Ron Hardy, an auto parts supplier, said Arabs own a lot of stores in his area and "they're okay." But, Hardy, 41, said "I do think" Islam has been "hijacked by some militant-like guys."

Edward Rios, 31, an engineer in McHenry, Ill., said he feels that Islam "is as good a religion as any other" yet vengeance seems to be "built into their own set of beliefs: If someone attacks our people, it is your duty to defend them. . . . I don't think Christianity has anything like that."

James J. Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, said he is not surprised by the poll's results. Politicians, authors and media commentators have demonized the Arab world since 2001, he said.

"The intensity has not abated and remains a vein that's very near the surface, ready to be tapped at any moment," Zogby said. "Members of Congress have been exploiting this over the ports issue. Radio commentators have been talking about it nonstop."

Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, agreed, saying Americans "have been given the message to respond this way by the American political elite, mass media and by select special interests."

Cole said he was shocked when a radio talk show host asked him if Islamic extremists would set off a nuclear bomb in the United States in the next six months. "It was ridiculous. I think anti-Arab racism and profiling has become respectable," he said.

Ronald Stockton, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan at Dearborn who helped conduct a study of Arabs in the Detroit area and on views of them held by non-Arabs, said an exceptionally high percentage of non-Muslims feels the media depicts Arabs unfairly, yet still holds negative opinions.

"You're getting a constant drumbeat of negative information about Islam," he said.

Michael Franc, vice president of government relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that the survey responses "seems to me to be a real backlash against Islam" and that congressional leaders do not help the problem by sometimes using language that links all Muslims with extremists.

Polling director Richard Morin contributed to this report.

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