Recently, I published an article titled, “Hate Groups and Muslim Population Changes in the Fifty States: Does the Presence of Muslims Encourage Hate Group Formation?”, in the peer-reviewed journal, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights. This article is a continuation of my interest in research on hate groups, the Muslim American community and inter-group cooperation. This last area of interest overlaps with my own personal involvement in interfaith relations. This may seem ‘off the beaten track’ from public administration, the discipline in which I have been trained, unless you consider the very real consequences of communal discord between groups for one’s community. The United States is becoming increasingly diverse and along with it there is a need to understand underlying sociological dynamics that may be making our communities more or less cohesive.
“The United States is becoming increasingly diverse and along with it there is a need to understand underlying sociological dynamics that may be making our communities more or less cohesive.”If you think this does not have any significant ramifications for public administration, consider the case of ‘shrinking cities,’ another research interest of mine, where community identity has dissolved along with the economic anchors of these cities. Once the economic pillar was removed from these cities, it was discovered not much bound the residents together and they subsequently dispersed leaving ghostly relics to what seemed like a prosperous and cohesive community.
Specifically, for this article I explored some theories within sociology that describe some of these underlying inter-group dynamics. These include the theories of social identity, intergroup contact and social dominance. The theories of social identity and social dominance basically describe intergroup relationships. Social identity theory describes the need for individuals to search for patterns and create in-groups and out-groups. It is further explained that through this process out-group members could experience prejudice by in-group members. The social dominance theory goes a step further and describes groups as embodying ‘high status’ and ‘low status’ designations. The higher status groups work to perpetuate their status to the detriment of the lower status groups. These theories assert that this is the natural state-of-affairs for groups in human society and they hesitate in proscribing any method for overcoming this. This is where the intergroup contact hypothesis enters this discussion. This hypothesis basically states that if one increases the contact between different groups this would reduce the naturally-occurring prejudice between them. There seems to be some consensus on the efficacy of this hypothesis. A meta-analysis of 515 studies on this topic in 2005 revealed a consistent inverse relationship between intergroup contact and prejudice.
Interestingly, the inverse relationship discovered in most of the research on intergroup contact has also revealed more nuances with this relationship. There are several mediating factors that reduce or nullify the impact from intergroup contact. One of these factors is social attitudes. This is when the social dominance theory reasserts itself with a sobering reminder that these group-based dynamics are not so easy to overcome simply through contact. Another meta-analysis of 750 studies in 2006 showed there to be a number of mediators including anxiety and empathy. For example, a reduction in anxiety and an increase in empathy towards out-group members increases the likelihood that prejudice towards out-group members will reduce with increased contact.
Muslims and Intergroup Dynamics
This is where my research enters the narrative. Muslims are a distinct religious and cultural group in the United States and around the world. In the United States there are more than 3 million Muslims with projections predicting they will be the second largest religious community by 2050. This projected growth in the American Muslim population has been accompanied by displeasure by higher status groups that are established in the U.S. At one extreme of this displeasure are hate groups. These groups are not necessarily autonomous and self-contained groups.
“It would not be a stretch to describe Muslims in the United States as one of the out-groups. They are ethnically / racially different from the dominant group (European / white), a large proportion of them are immigrants (an ire to nativists) and they are not members of the Judeo-Christian culture, which is often described as the dominant culture of the United States.”They are a symptom of a larger cause that can be rooted within the social identity and social dominance frameworks. One can view them as a ‘tip of the iceberg’ in which their narratives fit in with different aspects of out-group derision that is common across a wide spectrum of communities. In essence, one does not have to be a member of a hate group to share some of their beliefs even if one feels uncomfortable admitting that. Quite the contrary, given the explosion in the number of hate groups recently it appears that their messages have much wider resonance with the general population than it was initially believed to be the case. Members of hate groups are the quintessential social dominators. They have no room within their worlds for members of out-groups. Beyond this, their myths perpetuate a group-based hierarchy and become the driving narrative for membership.
It would not be a stretch to describe Muslims in the United States as one of the out-groups. They are ethnically / racially different from the dominant group (European / white), a large proportion of them are immigrants (an ire to nativists) and they are not members of the Judeo-Christian culture, which is often described as the dominant culture of the United States. They are simultaneously reviled by white supremacists, nativists and religious identitarians. As a matter of fact, anti-Muslim hate has grown so much over the years in the United States that the Southern Poverty Law Center had to create a special category for these groups.
Can Social Dominance Theory Explain Anti-Muslim Bigotry?
The social dominance theory, as briefly explained above, sufficiently explains this phenomenon. The challenge is in researching it. There has not been much research on this topic as it pertains to Muslim minorities in the West. For example, one article based on the United Kingdom found that more diverse areas encouraged more positive contact with Muslims. In another study the authors found contact between Muslims and non-Muslims was often mediated by intergroup anxiety. As this anxiety towards Muslims increased, the effects of intergroup contact diminished in efficacy. Relatedly, a study found that those with a social dominance orientation exhibited greater levels of Islamophobia. The study further found that as religiosity increased so did their Islamophobic views. These three studies have summarized the maturity of the intergroup contact hypothesis and its limitations within the confines of group-based dynamics that foster social attitudes like a social dominance mentality.
I have contributed to this research as well beyond this recent article. In another article titled, “Principles over Prejudice: Social Dominance Theory and the Mosques’ Controversy in American Cities” published in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs I similarly made the case that hate groups are the quintessential social dominators. I explored the possible relationships between the number of hate groups in a state and the prevalence of anti-mosque protests. I found significant differences between states with large numbers of anti-mosque protests and those without them and the number of hate groups in the state. These results were lessened by the lack of significant findings through a partial correlation while controlling for other extraneous factors.
Correlation between Number of Muslims and Number of Anti-Muslim Hate Groups
The research for my 2018 article is an extension of this. Specifically, I was looking for a potential relationship between the growth in the Muslim population in the United States (measured as a percentage of total state population) and the growth in the number of hate groups by state. My hypothesis assumed that an increase in the size of the Muslim population in a state would lead to a rise in the number of hate groups. This was a paneled study looking at the years 2000 and 2010 which were the two years data were available for the Muslim population through the Association of Religion Data Archives. It also controlled for various extraneous factors associated with the increase / decrease in hate groups.
A Pearson’s correlation revealed a significant and positive relationship between the number of hate groups and the proportion of a state that was Muslim. Despite this initial finding, a follow-up partial correlation that controlled for the extraneous factors did not uncover any significant relationship. The paneled regression concordantly did not find any significant relationship.
Despite the theories supporting these probable links, the statistical results remain inconclusive. In all likelihood there are a number of issues here that may be obscuring these results. The first and most important is the quality of data. The number of Muslims in a state is disputed with only indirect means available to calculate these totals. What is more, as revealed in the Perils of Perception study, the presence of Muslims may not be as important as the perception of the presence of Muslims. This is incredibly difficult to measure without directly surveying members of hate groups.
In addition, the timeframe is limited. There are only two years of study which is limited by the availability of data. Possibly, as data become more available for more years a much more distinct relationship can be discerned through this analysis. This is the case for the level of the analysis as well. Hate groups operate locally so it would make more sense to study these dynamics locally at the county or city-level. It is possible to do this analysis and will likely be the next step in my research on this topic.
Implications for Public Policy Making
Despite the insignificance of the findings, I do explore in the article the possibility that these relationships do exist, but significant findings are limited by a number of factors. This exploration leads me back to my original proposition that public administrators should be aware of these dynamics at the very least and thinking about ways of mitigating them. Social engineering can only go so far particularly with ingrained group-based dynamics that have developed over millennium. There may be much more hope in concepts like ‘nudging’ that make socially optimal choices easier for members of the community without mandating them. One can think about methods to get groups to interact in beneficial and positive ways that might reduce out-group prejudice and create community cohesion. In the United States ‘Welcoming Communities’ are at the forefront of these types of initiatives. Some ‘shrinking cities’ like Dayton, Ohio were truly innovative in their effort to be ‘Welcoming’ and realized early on the importance of cultivating these community links for the vitality of their city.
Ultimately, Muslims in the United States are going to have to realize that they will have to carve out a space for themselves much like prior groups. This requires much organization and unity coupled with knowledge and resources. Group-based dynamics and out-group prejudice have different implications when the groups involved are on a more equal footing. The power differential is clear when prejudicial comments about Muslims made frequently in public have no repercussions like they do for other groups. It is unlikely any substantive public policy addressing problems of Islamophobia will develop in this type of environment. In contrast, many have made their careers on citing the ‘evils of Islam’ and the ‘threat’ Muslims pose to the West.
“It would be helpful if a public administrator was aware of these issues and thinking about ways to mitigate them. The other alternative would be to ignore them which does not seem like a viable option nor a responsible one.”
From a larger perspective, the United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Along with this diversity are unforeseen implications. Famed political scientist Robert Putnam argued in a paper that diversity has negative consequences on social capital such as trust. He found that it increased more out-group distrust which accords with propositions in the social dominance theory. In addition, one interesting study found through an experiment in which participants were split between those that were subjected to news of a projection that predicts whites will no longer be the majority in 2042 and those that did not receive this news that those that received this news were more likely to have a pro-white bias. The authors found that the chief mediator in the analysis was a concern over a loss of social status. It would be helpful if a public administrator was aware of these issues and thinking about ways to mitigate them. The other alternative would be to ignore them which does not seem like a viable option nor a responsible one. Group-based conflict around the world has shown the consequences of allowing it to simmer without any form of mediation. One can hope for assimilation or the adoption of a single identity, but in reality, group-based identity is prevalent and not only that but research indicates it is important for mental health as well.
As my research develops on social dominance and the Muslim American community I hope to accurately describe these dynamics in the United States as well as recommend viable solutions to mitigate potential problems. At this stage, there are some who argue that there is no prejudice against Muslims in the United States. I find this argument to be implausible, however the research is still relatively new and in much need of increased rigor. Hopefully, my research has contributed to this understanding albeit in a small way.