Pew’s Global Attitudes Project has just released a new study called “Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics,” which finds that support for terror is waning among the sampled Muslim public, lending some objective support to those who claim a moderate Islam will emerge from the current struggle within the faith.
In Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia, 15% or fewer now say such actions are justifiable. In Pakistan, only one-in-four now take that view (25%), a sharp drop from 41% in March 2004. In Lebanon, 39% now regard acts of terrorism as often or sometimes justified, again a sharp drop from the 73% who shared that view in 2002. A notable exception to this trend is Jordan, where a majority (57%) now says suicide bombings and other violent actions are justifiable in defense of Islam.
When it comes to suicide bombings in Iraq, however, Muslims in the surveyed countries are divided. Nearly half of Muslims in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco, say suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. However, substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia take the opposite view.
Concerns over Islamic extremism, extensive in the West even before this month’s terrorist attacks in London, are shared to a considerable degree by the publics in several predominantly Muslim nations surveyed. Nearly three-quarters of Moroccans and roughly half of those in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia see Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries. Most Muslim publics are also expressing less support for terrorism than in the past. Confidence in Osama bin Laden has declined markedly in some countries and fewer believe suicide bombings that target civilians are justified in the defense of Islam.
But Pew polling — conducted among more than 17,000 people in 17 countries between late-April and early-June — also finds that while Muslim and non-Muslim publics share some common concerns, they have very different attitudes regarding the impact of Islam on their countries. Muslim publics worry about Islamic extremism, but the balance of opinion in predominantly Muslim countries is that Islam is playing a greater role in politics, and most welcome that development. The public is divided in Turkey, however, about whether a greater role for Islam in the political life of that country is desirable.
In non-Muslim majority countries, fears of Islamic extremism are closely associated with worries about Muslim minorities. Western publics believe that Muslims in their countries want to remain distinct from society, rather than adopt their nation’s customs and way of life. There is a widespread perception in countries with significant Muslim minorities, including the U.S., that resident Muslims have a strong and growing sense of Islamic identity. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, those who see a growing sense of Islamic identity among resident Muslims overwhelmingly view this as a negative development.
There is evidence that these concerns are associated with opposition to Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Overall, nearly two-thirds of French (66%) and Germans (65%) oppose Turkey’s EU bid, as do a majority of the Dutch (53%). Support for Turkey’s admittance to the EU is most extensive in Spain (68%) and Great Britain (57%).
Hostility toward Muslims is much lower in Great Britain, the United States and Canada than in other Western countries surveyed.
But anti-Semitism is pandemic in the Islamic world. People in predominantly Muslim countries have mixed views of Christians and strongly negative views of Jews. In Lebanon, which has a large Christian minority, 91% of the public thinks favorably of Christians. Smaller majorities in Jordan and Indonesia also have positive views of Christians. However, in Turkey (63%), Morocco (61%) and Pakistan (58%), solid majorities express negative opinions of Christians.
In Lebanon, all Muslims and 99% of Christians say they have a very unfavorable view of Jews. Similarly, 99% of Jordanians have a very unfavorable view of Jews. Large majorities of Moroccans, Indonesians, Pakistanis and six-in-ten Turks also view Jews unfavorably.
In most of Europe as well as North America, majorities or pluralities judge some religions as more prone to violence than others, and those that do mostly have Islam in mind. Similarly, in India, among the 39% who see some religions as more violent than others, nearly three-in-four (73%) point to Islam, while 17% designate Hinduism. In predominantly Muslim countries, many agree that some religions are more prone to violence than others, but those who think this mostly have Judaism in mind.
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