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U.S. Muslim Views on Islamic Radicalism

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society June 3, 2007

Raymond J. Keating

Imagine a major polling firm asking the following question to Christians living in the United States: Can suicide bombing of civilian targets to defend Christianity be justified? The possible answers would be: often, sometimes, rarely or never.

Now, I might be wrong, but it's hard to imagine any significant percent of Christians responding in any way but "never." Perhaps a tiny percent could thoughtlessly reply "rarely."

The story, however, was different with a poll titled "Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream" released by the Pew Research Center on May 22, 2007. Chapter 7 of the polling report was titled "Foreign Policy, Terrorism and Concerns About Extremism." Let's look at key questions and responses.

One question focused on the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the use of force in Iraq, 75% of U.S. Muslims said this was wrong, and 12% said it was right. This compared to 45% of the U.S. general public saying right and 47% wrong in an April poll. Given how controversial the Iraq war has become, though, perhaps this isn't too surprising. But on Afghanistan, while the general public broke down 61% right and 29% wrong (who are those 29%?), among U.S. Muslims, only 35% said right and 48% wrong.

There also is a serious degree of doubt among U.S. Muslims regarding the war on terror. The question: "Is U.S. led war on terrorism a sincere effort to reduce terrorism?" Fifty-five percent of U.S. Muslims answered no, while only 26% said yes. Strikingly, 71% of native-born Muslims said no.

The poll gets worse when touching on the 9/11 attacks. Consider the following question and answers: Do you believe groups of Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks?

  Yes No
All U.S. Muslims 40% 28%
By age    
18-29 38 38
30-39 37 30
40-54 45 24
55+ 49 16
By education    
College grad 55 24
Some college 43 30
HS or less 34 30
By religious commitment    
High 29 46
Medium 38 24
Low 53 22

That is a striking level of bias, ignorance and/or disconnect from reality. And it is highest among younger Muslims and those with high religious commitment.

Then we come to the question hinted at the outset. Pew asked: "Can suicide bombing of civilian targets to defend Islam be justified?" Fortunately, 78% of U.S. Muslims responded never. Unfortunately, though, 8% answered often or sometimes, and another 5% said rarely. That's 13% of U.S. Muslims open to the idea of murdering innocent civilians through suicide bombing. Again, younger Muslims (18-29) are of greatest concern - 15% said such suicide bombing was often or sometimes justified and 11% said rarely. So, a total of 26% of U.S. Muslims between the ages of 18 and 29 - better than one in four - could come up with some kind of situation where murdering civilians could be justified in defending Islam.

It's even grimmer in other nations. Consider the percentages from a May 2006 Pew poll on this same question about justifying suicide bombing of civilians to defend Islam:

  Ever Justified
Muslims in … (often/sometimes/rarely)
France 35%
18-29 42   
Spain 25   
18-29 29   
Great Britain 24   
18-29 22   
Nigeria 69   
Jordan 57   
Egypt 53   
Turkey 26   
Pakistan 22   
Indonesia 28   

These scary and sobering numbers present a reality regarding the Muslim world and Islam that most of us would like to, but should not ignore. Many want to believe that Islam is a religion of peace that gets twisted into murderous violence by a very tiny, but vociferous and well-armed minority. But do these polling numbers bear this out?

When thinking about the war in Iraq as part of the broader war against Islamic terrorists, Americans need to realize that this truly is not like previous wars, like WWII, the Korean War, or Vietnam. It is a war brought to us by a radicalized Islam that is more widely subscribed to than many of us might like to believe. And it is not a war that we will be able to walk away from - even if we would like to do so - nor will it have a clear endpoint.

Just as most of the second half of the twentieth century was marked by the Cold War, the war against Islamic radicalism will mark much of the twenty-first century.

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also features "Orwellian Monitors," "Religion on the Dole," "Atheist & Catholic Education," and "Violence, FCC and TV." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Posted: 03-Jun-07

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