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Muslim doubts on extremism

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WASHINGTON People in several predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia see less justification now for violence against civilians than they did a year or two ago, and they increasingly share Western concerns about Islamic extremism, a new international poll has found.



 International Herald Tribune

FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2005

 By Brian Knowlton

But the peculiar entanglement of religion and politics in these countries, and in Western countries with sizable Muslim minorities, produced a conflicting picture, also reflecting overwhelming Muslim dislike for Jews and powerful opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq, the polling in 17 countries shows.


The survey - conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project before the July 7 bombings in London, which are now attributed to Britons of Pakistani origin - found that the British public was among the least hostile to Muslims, along with Canadians and Americans. That tolerance is not unequivocal: At least four mosques in Britain have been set ablaze since the July 7 attacks.


Nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and with terrorist attacks continuing around the world, a growing number of Muslims say that violence against civilian targets is never justified, Pew found.


That figure is highest in Morocco, followed by Indonesia and Turkey, with big majorities rejecting suicide bombing as an acceptable means of defending Islam.


Yet, roughly half of the Muslims questioned in Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco said that in Iraq, suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners could be justified.


A belief that democratic governance would work for the Muslim world has risen sharply. But at the same time, in many Muslim countries, support is strong for a greater Islamic role in national governments.


The poll was conducted for Pew among 17,000 people from late April to early June. It offers an unusually broad look at Muslim attitudes, and at Western attitudes on a range of Muslim issues.


The survey found a sharp drop in the numbers of Muslims saying they would support violence against civilians in defense of Islam.


This was most striking in countries that themselves have been hit by high-profile bombings. Support for such violence thus dropped sharply in Lebanon, where Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister, was killed in February, and in Morocco, where suicide bombers killed dozens of people in Casablanca in 2003. (In every instance, support dropped sharply when people were asked to contemplate attacks in their own country.)


Support for violence against civilians also decreased in Indonesia, which suffered a big decline in tourism after the Bali bombings of October 2002. Forty-five percent of Indonesians surveyed said they viewed Islamic extremism as posing a threat to their country.


Still larger percentages in Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey said they viewed Islamic extremism as posing a very or fairly great threat to their country.


There was no consensus about the causes of Islamic extremism. Lebanese and Jordanians pointed to U.S. policies; Moroccans and Pakistanis to poverty and joblessness; Turks to lack of education; and Indonesians to immorality.


The polling was conducted in six predominantly Muslim countries - Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey - and in Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain and the United States. Margins of error ranged from plus or minus two percentage points to plus or minus four.


The responses amplified a Pew finding released in June showing that anti-American feelings have been declining in the Islamic world but that favorable feelings outnumber the unfavorable only in Morocco.


From its findings in the Western world, the new report sketched more sharply some of the fault lines in nations where Muslims and others coexist.


In almost every European country with a Muslim minority, a majority of respondents said they viewed Muslim immigrants as slow to accept and take on local values and customs, and they overwhelmingly viewed a growing sense of Islamic identity among Muslims in their countries as "a bad thing."


Nearly 9 in 10 Dutch respondents said Muslims in the Netherlands had a strong sense of Islamic identity. And almost 9 in 10 Germans said Muslims in their country wanted to remain distinct from the larger country, while only half of Americans said this about Muslims in the United States.


Paul Scheffer, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam, said there was no doubt that the distance between Muslims and the rest of Dutch society was growing in the Netherlands. "It's not just a mood," he said. For Muslims, he added, "reaffirming their religious identity is also the result of not feeling at home."


Sizable majorities in every non-Muslim country except Poland said they were concerned about Islamic extremism in their own countries, the poll found.


Still, in Canada, the United States and Russia, majorities said they had very or somewhat favorable views of Muslims, as they did in France, with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe - about 10 percent of the total population of 60 million.


Only in the Netherlands did a bare majority hold unfavorable views, as did nearly half of Germans. Majorities in Germany and the Netherlands said they held negative views of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa.


Many respondents in Muslim countries appeared to confirm the perceived separateness of societies, saying they see themselves first as Muslims, then as citizens of their country.


In Europe, attitudes on Turkey's bid for European Union membership were shaped strongly by attitudes on immigration. Majorities in France, Germany, and the Netherlands said they opposed EU membership for Turkey, while majorities in Britain, Poland, Spain and Turkey itself were in favor.


"You cannot separate the issue of Turkey from domestic politics," said Cem Ozedmir, 39, a leading member of the German Greens party and member of the European Parliament. "There is a very important trend emerging and we see this in the Netherlands. Liberal-minded people who support gay rights and marriage have a feeling that Muslim identity, combined with Turkish accession to the EU, is putting into danger what the EU has achieved in their societies."


Johann Aguilar, 23, a newspaper vendor in Paris, said he opposed Turkish membership in the EU, in part because he worried about immigrants. "We have a lot of unemployment," he said, "and at one point it's inevitable to think that they are taking our jobs."


In the Muslim world, majorities saw Islam as playing a growing role in national politics. Majorities in most of the Muslim countries - 8 in 10 Moroccans, for example - termed it very important that Islam play a greater role in the world.


Polling in most Muslim countries found falling levels of confidence in Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. But in Jordan, confidence rose from 55 percent two years ago to 60 percent, and in Pakistan, where bin Laden may have sheltered at times while eluding his pursuers, it rose from 45 percent to 51 percent.


There was near-universal antipathy in the Muslim countries toward Jews. In Lebanon, a remarkable 99 percent of Muslims and Christians said they held a very unfavorable view of Jews; in Jordan, the figure was 100 percent. Views on Christians were not as absolute, ranging from 21 percent favorable in Turkey to 91 percent favorable in Lebanon, which has a sizable Christian minority.


In Asia, views on religious groups were more moderate. In India, with its large Muslim minority, respondents divided nearly evenly on their attitudes to Muslims, with the favorable holding a slight edge; those favorable to Christians outnumbered the unfavorable by 3 to 1; more than half offered no opinion on Jews, but those who did had favorable views by about a 3-to-2 ratio.


Additional reporting from Judy Dempsey in Berlin and Marlise Simons and Katrin Bennhold in Paris.


Full results of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey are available online at

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-08-25 09:25 AM

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