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Muslim World Rejects Islamic Extremism

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The recent Pew Research Center survey reveals that clear majorities of Muslims oppose violence in the name of Islam.
More than two years after the death of Osama bin Laden, concern about Islamic extremism remains widespread among Muslims from South Asia to the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa. Across 11 Muslim publics surveyed by the Pew Research Center, a median of 67% say they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism. In five countries ““ Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia ““ Muslim worries about extremism have increased in the past year.
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. 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 organisation that launched the twin attacks on New York City and Washington, DC 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. 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 favorable 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.
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.
Islamic Extremism
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. 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.
Widespread Muslim concern about Islamic extremism is generally coupled with rejection of suicide bombing and other forms of violence in the name of Islam. 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. 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%).
Across most of the countries surveyed, gender, age, income and education are not closely associated with support for suicide bombing. However, there is a generational gap in Tunisia, with Muslims under 30 years of age more than twice as likely as those 50 and older to say that suicide bombing is at least sometimes justified (17% vs. 6%). In Lebanon, attitudes toward suicide bombing also vary with age, but in the opposite direction: Muslims 50 years or older (43%) are more likely than those 18-29 years of age (28%) to say such violence is justified.
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
Extremist Groups
Overall, views of extremist groups are negative across the Muslim publics surveyed. A median of about a third or fewer have a positive view of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, or Hezbollah. And in no country polled do any of these organizations receive majority Muslim support.
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 unfavorable 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.
Overall, a median of 45% across the Muslim publics surveyed have an unfavorable view of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. In the Palestinian territories, opinions of Hamas are mixed, with 45% of Muslims viewing the group unfavorably, compared with 48% who say they have a favorable view.
Elsewhere in the Middle East views of Hamas tend to be largely negative. Half or more of Muslims in Turkey (73%), Jordan (55%), and Lebanon (52%) have an unfavorable opinion of the militant organization, with about half in Egypt (49%) sharing that view. However, in Tunisia, a 46% plurality are favorably inclined toward Hamas ““ the only instance where any of the extremist groups polled receive plurality support among Muslims in any of the countries surveyed.
Among the Muslim publics surveyed, a median of 51% have an unfavorable 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. About half of Muslims in Nigeria (51%), Tunisia (50%), and the Palestinian territories (50%) share this view.Pluralities in Senegal, Malaysia, and Indonesia also view the Taliban unfavorably, although many in these countries have no opinion.