WASHINGTON (IPS) — Growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and in predominantly Muslim countries in Asia and Africa are rejecting “Islamic extremism” and the use of suicide bombing, according to a new 47-nation global attitudes survey released by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday.
The percentage of Muslims who say that suicide bombing is justified in the defense of Islam has declined dramatically over the past five years in countries such as Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The new global opinion poll, last conducted in 2002, also found that people in developing countries are generally more satisfied with their lives than five years ago due, in part, to a surge in economic growth.
Yet some of the most dismal views of the future came from two populations in the Middle East —Lebanese and Palestinians — who have been plagued by recent violence, continued political corruption, and an uncertain future.
Ironically, while 61 percent of Lebanese felt that Fouad Siniora’s national government had “a good influence on the way things are going,” only six percent were satisfied with the state of the nation. In the Palestinian territories, a slight majority believed the government had a positive influence on current conditions, yet only six percent were satisfied with the state of affairs. Only a quarter of respondents in both countries were “satisfied with their own life.”
In Lebanon, 70 percent of those surveyed viewed crime as a “very big problem,” while 75 percent believed corrupt leaders constituted one the most pressing national problems. In Palestinian territories, 73 percent viewed political corruption as the main concern.
Egypt, led by President Hosni Mubarak, rated least favorably of all Middle Eastern countries polled, with a meager 13 percent of respondents stating they approved of the national government.
While the Pew survey generally focused on the mood of respondents in developing countries as a result of economic growth and their hope for a brighter future, in the Middle East, the general tenor of questions reflected more sensational topics of Islamic extremism, support for suicide bombing, and confidence in international terrorist Osama bin Laden.
In Lebanon, just 34 percent of Muslims surveyed said that suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified, compared to 74 percent who expressed the same view in 2002. Only eight percent of those polled in Egypt believed suicide bombing was justified, as did 11 percent in Morocco.
In contrast, 41 percent of Palestinians said such attacks are often justified while another 29 percent said it can sometimes be justified. The poll was conducted between April and May, before Hamas took over the Gaza Strip following violent clashes with Fatah.
The survey also reflected declining support — identified as “Muslim confidence” — for Osama bin Laden. The percentage of Jordanian Muslims who support bin Laden dropped from 56 percent in 2003 to just 20 percent in 2007. Support for bin Laden also fell sharply in Lebanon, plummeting to one percent from 20 percent in 2003.
But “few consistent demographic patterns emerge in Muslim attitudes toward suicide bombing,” according to the report.
The opinion of the United States in the Muslim world also remains abysmal, as overwhelming majorities in those countries say they “are very or somewhat worried that the U.S. could be a military threat,” according to the report. Muslims in Bangladesh (93 percent) and Morocco (92 percent) are most concerned that the U.S. could become a military threat. Surprisingly, in Turkey — a U.S. NATO ally — 77 percent of those polled viewed the U.S. as a significant threat.
While the international showdown over Iran’s nuclear program looms, publics in just nine of the 47 countries surveyed most often named Iran as the greatest threat to their own countries. In the Middle East, 52 percent of Kuwaitis, 46 percent of Jordanians, and 42 percent of Lebanese viewed Iran as a threat to their country. Yet even larger majorities of Egyptians (85 percent), Jordanians (81 percent), and Lebanese (74 percent) cited Israel as a great future threat to their countries.
The survey also reflected increased concern by Muslims in the Middle East over sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam.
Eighty-eight percent of Muslims in Lebanon, and significant majorities in Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories believed the tensions between Sunnis and Shi’a had increased, and that the war in Iraq had exacerbated this tension.
In Lebanon, a majority of Christians (56 percent) and Sunni Muslims (59 percent) named Iran as Lebanon’s greatest threat, compared with just 8 percent of Shi’a Muslims.
The Islamist political organization Hizbullah was cited as a top threat by 66 percent of Christians and 33 percent of Sunnis in Lebanon, while only 7 percent of Shi’a Muslims viewed the movement as a threat.
More than 45,000 people were surveyed in 47 countries from mid-April to early May.