News / Middle East

Survey Finds Muslims Concerned About Extremism

FILE - Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.
FILE - Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.
Kokab Farshori

A recent survey by the Washington-based PEW Center shows fears about Islamist militancy have considerably increased in the countries with large Muslim populations. The survey shows a large number of people in several countries reject the violent tactics by well-known groups like al-Qaida, Hamas, the Taliban and Nigeria’s Boko Haram. 

From the Middle East to South Asia, Muslim societies have suffered from extremism and violence resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in recent years. The PEW survey, done in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations, polled more than 14,000 people from April to May of this year. 

The survey was conducted before the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL. 

Results of the survey show that most people in Muslim countries are concerned about extremism in their midst, and in Middle Eastern societies, that level of concern has increased from last year.

In Lebanon, 92 percent of the respondents are worried about Islamic extremism, up 11 points from 81 percent in 2013.

In Tunisia, eight in every 10 respondents are concerned about extremism in their country, up from 71 percent in 2013 and 65 percent in 2012.

Majorities in South Asian Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan express grave concern about Islamic extremism in their societies. In Bangladesh, the number is 69 percent, while 66 percent of Pakistanis are concerned about the extremism that experts believe triggers bigotry and violence.

Saifullah Mehsud, a Pakistani social activist, told VOA he is not surprised at the survey’s findings because the people of Pakistan have suffered from extremism and violence for the last 10 years. Mehsud said authorities have not done enough to assure them these extremists can be dealt with sternly.

The survey also showed that the most well-known Islamist groups are held in low esteem.

Al-Qaida is viewed most negatively in Lebanon, with 96 percent, followed by Turkey at 85 percent, Jordan at 83 percent and Egypt at 81 percent.

For Hezbollah, 59 percent of the respondents have an unfavorable view in Lebanon. This includes 88 percent of Lebanese Sunni Muslims and 69 percent of Lebanese Christians. However, 86 percent of Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims have a favorable view of the Shi’ite-dominated group.

Hamas does not do well either, as 53 percent of those polled in the Palestinian territories have an unfavorable view of Hamas, with only about 35 percent expressing positive views.

In Pakistan, 59 percent see the Taliban in a negative light.

Ayesha Siddiqua, a Pakistani social scientist and author of several books, told VOA that in order to effectively fight the Islamist extremism, Muslim societies will have to do more than express concern.

"I think we badly need secularization in the Muslim world. Which basically means, it is not lack of faith, but it is separation of religion from the politics of state. It is de-politicization of religion. Unless we settle these issues, I don’t think we will be able to turn our societies around," said Siddiqua.

Siddiqua said it is the mindset that allows room for extremism and even violence to enforce religious practices that has to change.

The element in the survey that strengthens what analysts like Siddiqua advocate is the drop in support for using suicide bombing as a means to achieve any objectives.

The percentage of Muslims who say suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified has fallen in many countries.

In 2002, 74 percent of Lebanese Muslims said suicide bombing was often or sometimes justified. That number has fallen to 29 percent in the recent survey.  In Pakistan, the number has dropped from 33 percent in 2002 to only 3 percent in this year’s survey.

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