WASHINGTON - Worries about Islamic extremism have increased over the past year in Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia, according to a survey released in Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre.
The study said more than two years after the death of Osama bin Laden, concern about extremism remains widespread among Muslims from South Asia to the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa. Across 11 Muslim publics surveyed by the Centre, a median of 67% say they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism against this backdrop, extremist groups, including al Qaeda, garner little popular support.
Even before his death in 2011, confidence in al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had plummeted among many Muslims, according ti the study. Today, al Qaeda is widely reviled, with a median of 57% across the 11 Muslims publics surveyed saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the terrorist organization that launched the twin attacks on New York City and Washington more than a decade ago.
The Taliban, who once shared Afghanistan as a base of operation with al Qaeda, are viewed negatively by a median of 51% of Muslims in the countries polled, it said. Hezbollah and Hamas fare little better. Hezbollah, in particular, has seen its support slip in key Middle Eastern countries, including a 38 percentage point drop in favourable views among Egyptian Muslims since 2007.
In many of the countries surveyed, clear majorities of Muslims oppose violence in the name of Islam. Indeed, about three-quarters or more in Pakistan (89%), Indonesia (81%), Nigeria (78%) and Tunisia (77%), say suicide bombings or other acts of violence that target civilians are never justified.
And although substantial percentages in some countries do think suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified – including a 62%-majority of Palestinian Muslims, overall support for violence in the name of Islam has declined among Muslim publics during the past decade.
These are among the key findings from a survey of 11 Muslim publics conducted by the Pew Research Center from March 3 to April 7, 2013. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 8,989 Muslims in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Senegal, Tunisia and Turkey. The survey also finds that Nigerian Muslims overwhelmingly oppose Boko Haram, the extremist movement at the center of a violent uprising in northern Nigeria. One of Boko Haram’s stated aims is to establish sharia, or Islamic law, as the official law of the land. Nigerian Muslims are divided on whether their country’s laws should closely follow the teachings of the Quran.
Majorities in most of the Muslim publics surveyed express concerns about Islamic extremism in their country. Senegalese Muslims are the most worried (75% concerned), but at least six-in-ten Muslims in Lebanon, Tunisia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories are also concerned. More Jordanian Muslims (54%) see Islamic extremism as a threat than do not (45%).
In Indonesia, the Muslim public is evenly split: 48% concerned vs. 48% unconcerned. Turkey, meanwhile, is the only country surveyed where at least half of Muslims (51%) say they are not worried about Islamic extremism.
Concern about extremism has increased in some of the countries surveyed, including Pakistan, where two-thirds of Muslims now say they fear the threat of Islamic extremism, compared with 58% in 2012.1 In Tunisia, six-in-ten Muslims are now very concerned, up from 42% saying the same a year ago. Conversely, in the Palestinian territories, the proportion of Muslims worried about extremism has declined 14 percentage points since 2011, the last time the question was asked there.
In Lebanon, large majorities of Shia and Sunni Muslims share concerns about Islamic extremism (74% and 72%, respectively); these worries are even more pronounced among Lebanon’s Christians (92%).
In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims are about equally worried, with 74% of the Christian population and 69% of the Muslim population expressing concern. However, the proportion of Nigerian Muslims worried about extremism has dropped 14 percentage points since 2010. In Malaysia, Muslims are much more worried than their Buddhist countrymen about Islamic extremism (70% vs. 46%). Widespread Muslim concern about Islamic extremism is generally coupled with rejection of suicide bombing and other forms of violence in the name of Islam, the survey said.
However, in some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims say attacks on civilians are at least sometimes justified to defend Islam from its enemies; in the Palestinian territories, a majority of Muslims hold this view.Half or more of Muslims in most countries surveyed say that suicide bombing and other acts of violence that target civilians can never be justified in the name of Islam, the study said. This opinion is most prevalent in Pakistan (89%), Indonesia (81%), Nigeria (78%), and Tunisia (77%).
Majorities or pluralities share this unequivocal rejection of religious-inspired violence in Malaysia (58% never justified), Turkey (54%), Jordan (53%), and Senegal (50%). In Malaysia, however, roughly a quarter of Muslims (27%) take the view that attacks on civilians are sometimes or often justified.
In Lebanon and Egypt, too, substantial minorities of Muslims (33% and 25%, respectively) think suicide bombings and similar attacks in the name of Islam are at least sometimes justified. However, in both countries, more Muslims say such violence is never justified (41% in Lebanon and 39% in Egypt). Shia Muslims in Lebanon (39%) are more likely than the country’s Sunni Muslims (26%) to take the view that violence in the name of Islam is sometimes or often justified.
Support for suicide bombing and other violence aimed at civilian targets is most widespread in the Palestinian territories, with 62% of
Muslims saying that such attacks are often or sometimes justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Support is strong both in Hamas-ruled Gaza (64%) and the Fatah-governed West Bank (60%).
Overall, support for suicide bombing and related forms of violence has declined in the last decade across the Muslim publics surveyed. Since 2002, the percentage of
Muslims who say suicide bombing is at least sometimes justified has dropped 41 percentage points in Lebanon, 31 points in Jordan and 30 points in Pakistan. In Nigeria, meanwhile, support has declined 26 points since 2010, according to the study.
Egypt is the only country surveyed where views of suicide bombing vary by income level. Egyptian Muslims with lower incomes (38%) are more supportive of violence in the name of Islam than those with higher incomes (19%).2
For the most part, it said, support for suicide bombing is not correlated with devoutness. Generally, Muslims who say they pray five times per day are no more likely to support targeting civilians to protect Islam than those who pray less often. The only exception is the Palestinian territories, where 66% of Muslims who pray five times per day say suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified versus 49% of those who pray less than five times per day.
Al-Qaeda, which is responsible for some of the most well-known and devastating terrorist attacks in the last 15 years, receives the most negative ratings among the extremist groups included in the survey. A median of 57% across the 11 Muslim publics surveyed hold an unfavourable view of the group. This includes strong majorities of Muslims in Lebanon (96%), Jordan (81%), Turkey (73%), and Egypt (69%). More than half of
Muslims in Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Indonesia, and the Palestinian territories also view al Qaeda negatively. In Pakistan and Malaysia, Muslim views of al Qaeda are on balance unfavorable, but many offer no opinion.
Across the Muslim publics surveyed, a median of 51% have an unfavourable view of the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist movement almost exclusively based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Majorities of Muslims in Lebanon (92%), Jordan (82%), Egypt (70%), Turkey (70%), and Pakistan (65%) have a negative opinion of the group.