Pew have published some new research on Muslim opinions towards the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah and, amongst other things, views on the role of Islam in public life. The report makes for interesting, and worrying, reading as you can imagine:
Extremist groups Hamas and Hezbollah continue to receive mixed ratings from Muslim publics. However, opinions of al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are consistently negative; only in Nigeria do Muslims offer views that are, on balance, positive toward al Qaeda and bin Laden.
It is Pew’s job to produce objective, non-partisan research, but this opening paragraph to their commentary understates what to me are some startling figures. Firstly, we often hear about the public’s ‘mixed reaction’ to various policy initiatives, or even their ambivalence. In some instances this might even be a controversial issue (such as lingering support for capital punishment). In this instance, however, we’re talking about a large body of people who support genocidal terrorist organisations: according to Pew, some 38 million Nigerians express support for Hamas and al-Qa’idah, and some 35 million the Shi’ite Islamists of Hezbollah (this in spite of the fact that Nigerian Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni). In Egypt, some 36 million people look upon Hamas favourably, whilst 14.5 million Egyptians champion al-Qa’idah. In avowedly secular Turkey, some 3 million, 3.8 million and 7 million Turks endorse the policies of al-Qa’idah, Hezbollah and Hamas respectively; this, in a country in the advanced stages of gaining accession to the European Union. But perhaps the most disturbing data in the survey comes from Indonesia. With a population approaching 250 million, Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world with some 209 million Indonesians professing faith in Islam (according to the last census) or 86% of the population. Of this 209 million, according to Pew, 23% approve of al-Qa’idah (48 million); 39% Hamas (81.5 million); and 43% Hezbollah (90 million).
Looking at the results of two previous surveys (see Mixed Views of Hamas and Hezbollah in Largely Muslim Nations and Muslim Views of Hamas Mixed) on Muslim attitudes to Islamism, we notice a general trend of growing support, with exceptions:
support for Hamas has doubled in Lebanon, nearly doubled in Indonesia and Turkey, and increased by over a third in Nigeria since 2007;
support for Islamism in Egypt has fallen, with declining support particularly marked for Hezbollah;
support for Hezbollah has increased significantly in Jordan and by 50% in Lebanon since 2009
The survey also finds that Muslims are overwhelmingly in favour of Islam’s role in their countries’ politics. Furthermore, although the Turkish public are ambivalent towards the role Islam, of the 69% who say religion plays a large role, 45% see it as good a thing.
Regarding democracy, majorities in most of the Muslim publics surveyed say that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, though it is unclear from the survey exactly what form of democracy. This view is especially widespread in Lebanon and in Turkey, the most Westernised countries in the Middle East with the exception of Israel. In these two states at least three-quarters of Muslims (81% and 76%, respectively) express a preference for democratic governance. Support for democracy is less common in Pakistan, but a plurality (42%) of Muslims in that country prefer democracy to other types of government; 15% of Pakistani Muslims say that, in some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable, and 21% say that, for someone like them, the kind of government their country has does not matter.
To view or download the full report in .pdf, click here.