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44% in poll OK limits on rights of Muslims

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim Americans.

"It's sad news; it's disturbing news. But it's not unpredictable," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. "The nation is at war, even if it's not a traditional war. We just have to remain vigilant and continue to interface."

The survey indicated that 44 percent of those surveyed said they favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted.

The survey indicated that 27 percent of the respondents said they supported requiring all Muslim Americans to register their home address with the federal government. Twenty-two percent said they favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent said they thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.

Student researchers from Cornell questioned 715 people in the nationwide telephone poll conducted this fall. The margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.

James Shanahan, an associate professor of communications who helped organize the survey, said the results indicate that "the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties" in a time of war.

While researchers said they were not surprised by the level of support for curtailing civil liberties, they were startled by the correlation with religion and exposure to television news.

"We need to explore why these two very important channels of discourse may nurture fear rather than understanding," Shanahan said.

According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents said they think a terrorist attack in the United States is likely within the next 12 months.

In a similar poll conducted by Cornell in November 2002, the figure was 90 percent.

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