New Muslim Public Opinion Survey

New Muslim Public Opinion Survey

PIPA has just released the results of another major public opinion survey in four Muslim countries (Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and Pakistan).   The survey is unusually interesting, with some very well-designed questions.  Overall, the survey strongly supports the notion that al-Qaeda”s “frame” has made great inroads even if the organization itself has not:  strikingly high percentages of Arabs (especially) have come to share key elements of the al-Qaeda worldview, which represents considerable success for what I”ve called “al-Qaeda”s constructivist strategy.”   At the same time, there are important nuances in these views which should be recognized.

Egypt is the most interesting of the countries for me, though all of course are important. Only 25% of Egyptians say that they agree with al-Qaeda”s goals and its attacks on Americans, while 31% say they agree with al-Qaeda”s views of America but not its attacks on Americans (31% say they disagree with both). Only 15% consider attacks on civilians for political purposes to be justified, and 88% consider groups which commit such attacks (such as al-Qaeda, named in the question) to be violating the principles of Islam.  Only 8% say that attacks on civilians in the United States or American citizens working in Islamic countries would be justified (and only 4% say the same about Europeans).   I”ve argued in numerous forums that a narrowly defined “war of ideas” – focusing specifically on delegitimizing the use of violence against civilians for political ends – was very winnable.   These results demonstrate this quite graphically. 

But this “narrow” success doesn”t necessarily translate up to a higher political plane.  Even as most Egyptians rejected terrorist methods, only 20% expressed negative feelings about Osama bin Laden personally. 91% of Egyptians approve of attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.  Egyptians strongly supported most of the specific goals associated with al-Qaeda, despite their ambivalence about the organization itself or its methods.    90% said they supported the goal of “standing up to America and affirming the dignity of the  Islamic people.”  91% want to “keep Western values out of Islamic countries.”  92% agree that the US goal is to weaken and divide the Islamic world, and only 9% think that the US-led war on terror is intended primarly to protect the US from terrorism. 45% see a clash of civilizations as inevitable (by far the highest of any of the four countries surveyed).    In short, the al-Qaeda worldview – of a world divided between clashing civilizations and Islam under a comprehensive assault from the West – seems widely spread and increasingly entrenched.

In the domestic sphere, the survey – like all other comparable surveys – shows very strong support for democracy alongside strong support for more Islamic government.  74% support the strict application of sharia law, while 67% supported the idea of establishing an Islamic caliphate.  But 92% view economic interdependence and global communications favorably.  82% view democracy favorably.   88% say that “people of any religion should be free to worship according to their own beliefs”.  What these findings suggest is that whatever Western scholars conclude about the compatibility of Islamism and democracy, Egyptians do not seem to see any intrinsic conflict.   

There is a lot more of interest in this survey, and interested readers should most definitely study the findings themselves. 

[pdf] Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda WORLDPUBLICOPINION.ORG