Anti-American feelings soar as Muslim society is radicalised by War on Terror
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The War on Terror has radicalised Muslims around the world to unprecedented levels of anti-American feeling, according to the largest survey of Muslims ever to be conducted.
Seven per cent believe that the events of 9/11 were “completely justified”. In Saudi Arabia, 79 per cent had an “unfavourable view” of the US.
Gallup’s Centre for Muslim Studies in New York carried out surveys of 10,000 Muslims in ten predominantly Muslim countries. One finding was that the wealthier and better-educated the Muslim was, the more likely he was to be radicalised.
The surveys were carried out in 2005 and 2006. Along with an earlier Gallup survey in nine other countries in 2001, they represent the views of more than 90 per cent of the world’s Muslims. A further 1,500 Muslims in London, Paris and Berlin are involved in a separate poll to be published in April.
The findings come in a climate of growing mistrust between Islam and the West. Another recent survey in the US found that 39 per cent of Americans felt some prejudice towards Muslims.
The Gallup findings indicate that, in terms of spiritual values and the emphasis on the family and the future, Americans have more in common with Muslims than they do with their Western counterparts in Europe.
A large number of Muslims supported the Western ideal of democratic government. Fifty per cent of radicals supported democracy, compared with 35 per cent of moderates.
Religion was found to have little to do with radicalisation or antipathy towards Western culture. Muslims were condemnatory of promiscuity and a sense of moral decay. What they admired most was liberty, its democratic system, technology and freedom of speech.
While there was widespread support for Sharia, or Islamic law, only a minority wanted religious leaders to be making laws. Most women in the predominantly Muslim countries believed that Sharia should be the source of a nation’s laws, but they strongly believed in equal rights for women.
This finding indicates the complexity of the struggle ahead for Western understanding. Few Western commentators can see how women could embrace the veil, Sharia and equal rights at the same time.
Researchers set out to examine the truth behind the stock response in the West to the question of when it will know it is winning the war on terror. Foreign policy experts tend to believe that victory will come when the Islamic world rejects radicalism. “Every politician has a theory: radicals are religious fundamentalists; they are poor; they are full of hopeless-ness and hate. But those theories are wrong,” the researchers reported.
“We find that Muslim radicals have more in common with their moderate brethren than is often assumed. If the West wants to reach the extremists, and empower the moderate majority, it must first recognise who it’s up against.”
Gallup says that because terrorists often hijack Islamic precepts for their own ends, pundits and politicians in the West sometimes portray Islam as a religion of terrorism.
“They often charge that religious fervour triggers radical and violent views,” said John Esposito, a religion professor, and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup’s Muslim studies director, in one analysis. “But the data say otherwise. There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals. In fact, radicals are no more likely to attend religious services regularly than are moderates.”
They continue: “It’s no secret that many in the Muslim world suffer from crippling poverty and lack of education. But are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: there is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and stay in school longer.”
In fact, the surveys found that the radicals were more satisfied with their finances and quality of life than moderates.
Genieve Abdo, a senior Gallup analyst and author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, said that the findings of a high level of religious belief among both moderate and radical Muslims had “huge implications” for Western governments.
She said: “We have to assume that these Islamic parties and movements that are coming to power are popular and have a large constituency. People are not just voting for a party, they are voting for a religion, a way of life.”
She said that the Gallup findings countered the argument that, for example, a vote for Hamas was a vote against the former Palestinian government of Arafat rather than a vote for the extreme religious position of the new government.
Percentage with unfavourable view of US in 2005 (all increased since 9/11 except where indicated:
Iran (down from 63 in 2001)
Pakistan (down from 69 in 2001)