According to a new survey from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, concerns about Islamic extremism, already widespread in the West before last week’s terrorist attacks in London, are shared to a perhaps surprising degree by the publics in several predominantly Muslim nations, notably Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia. Most Muslim publics also express less support for acts of terrorism allegedly committed in defense of Islam and less confidence in Osama bin Laden.
The survey, conducted in the spring among more than 17,000 people in 17 countries, found that Muslim and non-Muslim publics have very different attitudes toward the impact of Islam on their countries.
Publics in predominantly Muslim countries expressed concerns that Islamic extremism leads to violence, reduces personal freedoms, creates internal divisions and impedes economic growth. However, a majority are of the opinion that Islam is playing a more significant — and welcome — political role in their nations. Turkey is an exception; its public is divided over whether a larger political role for Islam is a good thing.
In non-Muslim countries, concern toward Islamic extremism is closely associated with worries that Muslims living in those countries resist adopting their nation’s customs and way of life. There also is a widespread perception — including among Americans — that resident Muslims have a strong and growing sense of Islamic identity, a development viewed particularly negatively in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Other survey findings include:
* Large and growing majorities in some predominantly Muslim countries—notably Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and Indonesia—continue to say that democracy can work well in their own countries. Yet, except in Indonesia and Jordan where views are divided, Muslims in these countries are far more likely to think of themselves first as a Muslim rather than as a citizen of their particular country.
* Further ambivalence with respect to the role of Islam in political life is seen in the tendency of Muslims who see Islam’s role increasing also to be more likely to say that Islamic extremism poses a threat to their home countries.
* Support for acts of terrorism in defense of Islam has declined significantly in all majority-Muslim countries surveyed. Only in Jordan does a majority (57%) still find such acts justified. But opinion is divided over suicide bomber attacks on Americans and other Westerners in Iraq: Substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia find such attacks are not justifiable, but nearly half of Muslims in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco say they are. Confidence in Osama bin Laden has also fallen to low levels in most of these countries with the exception of Jordan and Pakistan.
* Among predominantly Muslim countries, nearly three-quarters of Moroccans, who witnessed a devastating terrorist attack two years ago, and roughly half of Pakistanis, Turks and Indonesians, see Islamic extremism as a threat in their own countries. Views are mixed on the causes of such extremism with U.S. policies and influence most frequently cited in Lebanon and Jordan, poverty and lack of jobs in Morocco and Pakistan, immorality in Indonesia and lack of education in Turkey.
* In the non-Muslim world, concerns about Islamic extremism—both within their own borders and around the world—is most intense in Russia, India, Spain and Germany. However, worry also runs high in France and the Netherlands. Before this month’s terrorist attacks in London, Britons and Americans expressed more concern about extremist attacks around the world than in their home countries.
* Europeans’ attitudes toward the admission of Turkey into the European Union appear to be associated to some degree with concerns about Islamic extremism but even more strongly with negative views about immigration. Opposition is strongest in Germany and France as well as the Netherlands, while support for Turkey’s admission is strongest in Spain and Great Britain.
* Despite concerns about Islamic identity and extremism, majorities of the publics of most countries in Europe and North America hold favorable views of Muslims; only in the Netherlands and Germany do opinions tilt to the negative. However, people in predominantly Muslim countries hold mixed views of Christians and strongly negative views of Jews.
* Bans on the wearing of head scarves by Muslim women are heavily opposed in majority-Muslim countries (including Turkey), but are favored by large majorities in France and India and small majorities in Germany and the Netherlands.
* While majorities in five of the six Muslim countries surveyed still hold unfavorable views of the U.S., a majority of Moroccans now report having a favorable opinion. In Morocco, as well as in Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey, young people are more likely to give favorable marks to the U.S. than are older people. In most Muslim countries, women are also somewhat more likely than men to look positively on the U.S. although they are also less likely to offer an opinion.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and by former Senator John C. Danforth.