Sunday, January 24, 2016
A number of well-intentioned people, including President Barack Obama, have claimed that the Islamic State and other militant radical groups have practically no support among Muslims. Indeed, in a televised interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, in response to a question of why his administration avoided using the phrase, “Islamic terrorists,” the president responded the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims reject radical interpretations of Islam, distinguishing between radical extremists and the remaining “99.9 percent of Muslims.”I understand the desire to believe this and the optimism expressed in such a claim, but what is the evidence for it?Polls?Polls, as imperfect as they may be, certainly do not show this to be the case. A majority of Muslims do reject radical extremism, but the numbers that do support extremism, as found in polling, are nowhere near the tiny minority claimed by President Obama and others. This is significant because when we are considering even small percentages of the Muslim world, then we are discussing tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people.Consider the efforts of the respected Pew Research Center, a non-partisan polling organization that carries out highly regarded surveys of religion in a number of Muslim majority countries. In their 2013 poll of Muslims in eleven countries, they found only 57% had an unfavorable view of Al- Qaeda and only 51% had an unfavorable view of the Taliban.This is nowhere near the 99.9% claim of Muslims who supposedly reject extremism as argued by President Obama and others. Instead, it is only a little bit over half of the Muslim populations surveyed, which include populations in the nations of Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories. Indeed, 13% of respondents declared outright support or favorability for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while others claimed they “didn’t know” how they felt about the groups or refused to answer.The Pew numbers showed remarkable consistency when they came out with their 2015 poll that focused on Muslim responses to the “Islamic State” (e.g. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). In an average of ten primarily Muslim nations sampled in that poll, Pew demonstrated alarmingly high percentages of either outright support for IS or many respondents who “didn’t know” how they felt about the terrorist organization. In heavily populated countries, the Islamic State had the highest levels of support. In Pakistan, for example, 9% expressed outright support for IS, while 62% claimed they didn’t know how they felt about the group, this despite widespread awareness of the Islamic State in Pakistani madrassas, media, and in popular culture. Consequently, 72% of those surveyed in Pakistan either supported or did not know how they felt about the Islamic State while only 28% outright condemned the group. Again, this is a far cry from the 99.9% of Muslims that we are otherwise told reject extremism. Support for extremism in Pakistan may be even higher than these numbers suggest, as the Taliban, with deep roots in Pakistan, and Islamic State are enemies, so it is possible that some of those condemning the Islamic State are doing so because they are supporters of the Taliban.
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