Gallup Analysis: Muslim Support for Terrorism is about Politics not Piety, Therefore Need to Reframe Public Engagement Strategies

Gallup has released a cross-national polling analysis that challenges the conclusion that Muslim extremism is at the heart of support for terrorism, that terrorism derives from a rejection of Western values and modernity, and that the solution is to replace Muslim faith with a Western secular view. From the report:

To begin to understand the danger of this diagnosis, we must first understand the factors that do and do not drive sympathy for violence. As a starting point, Muslims do not hold a monopoly on extremist views. While 6% of Americans think attacks in which civilians are targets are "completely justified," in both Lebanon and Iran, this figure is 2%, and in Saudi Arabia, it's 4%. In Europe, Muslims in Paris and London were no more likely than were their counterparts in the general public to believe attacks on civilians are ever justified and at least as likely to reject violence, even for a "noble cause."

After analyzing survey data representing more than 90% of the global Muslim population, Gallup found that despite widespread anti-American sentiment, only a small minority saw the 9/11 attacks as morally justified. Even more significant, there was no correlation between level of religiosity and extremism among respondents. Among the 7% of the population that fits in the politically radicalized category -- those who saw the 9/11 attacks as completely justifiable and have an unfavorable view of the United States -- 94% said religion is an important part of their daily lives, compared with 90% among those in the moderate majority. And no significant difference exists between radicals and moderates in mosque attendance.

The report continues:

The real difference between those who condone terrorist acts and all others is about politics, not piety. For example, the politically radicalized often cite "occupation and U.S. domination" as their greatest fear for their country and only a small minority of them agree the United States would allow people in the region to fashion their own political future or that it is serious about supporting democracy in the region. Also, among this group's top responses was the view that to better relations with the Muslim world, the West should respect Islam and stop imposing its beliefs and policies. In contrast, moderates most often mentioned economic problems as their greatest fear for their country, and along with respecting Islam, they see economic support and investments as a way for the West to better relations. Moderates are also more likely than the politically radicalized to say the United States is serious about promoting democracy.

While the politically radicalized are as likely as the moderate majority to say better relations with the West is of personal concern to them, they are much less likely to believe the West reciprocates this concern and therefore much less likely to believe improved relations will ever come. In short, perceptions of being under siege characterize those who sympathize with extremism.

The analysis concludes that the solution turns on re-framing Western engagement strategies, addressing efforts in a way that resonate with how Muslims perceive the problem, rather than how Western strategists definite it:

From many Muslims' point of view, the conflict with West is about policy, not principles. Through Muslim eyes, it looks like a global civil rights struggle much more than another clash between superpowers. When the conflict is viewed through this lens, seemingly inexplicable crises such as the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons, come into sharper focus, as does a more effective strategy forward.

Thoughtful observers have drawn a comparison between the Danish cartoon controversy and an incident from America's own cultural relations struggle: the 1965 Watts riots. Looking at the cartoon controversy through the analogous lens of race relations reveals some insights. In both cases, violent riots broke out in reaction to what seemed to outsiders as a "petty offense." In the case of the Watts riot, white police officers in a predominantly black neighborhood pulled over two black males whom they believed were driving while intoxicated. In the case of the cartoons, a Danish newspaper, followed by other European newspapers, printed a cartoon depicting Islam's most venerated figure, the Prophet Muhammad, as a terrorist.

As a result of the Watts riots, 34 people were officially reported killed, more than 1,000 people were injured, and an estimated $35 million in damage was caused (more than $150 million in today's currency). The Kerner Commission, set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to study the spate of race riots, pointed to the distinction between the "trigger" (a petty act) and the "cause" -- a long list of problems identified by the commission. These included poverty, job and housing discrimination, and unequal education, as well as a deep sense of racism and disrespect on the part of a powerful and affluent white America toward a powerless and poor black America, personified by the white police officers' treatment of the black men.

Like those who rioted in Watts, and in other American cities during the country's civil rights struggle, Muslim rioters were not angry because they did not understand the value of free speech in principle -- many cite this liberty as among the most admired aspects of the West. Instead, the Danish cartoons were simply the "trigger" igniting the combustible fuel of widespread perceptions of Western injustice and disrespect.

Several developments followed the Kerner Commission's report and the violence that initiated it: Greater attention was paid to the grievances the commission identified, which were not rendered void simply because people chose a violent way to protest them. Significantly, change occurred in two major areas. The first was policy: Laws were passed and some changed to address these issues, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing. The second was a greater cultural sensitivity: It slowly became less socially acceptable to use racist images of blacks in media. For example, in 1966, CBS withdrew reruns of the Amos 'n' Andy show, which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had been protesting since the 1950s.

Was the NAACP protesting racist depictions of blacks because they didn't value free speech? Were rioters angry because they didn't understand the value of traffic laws? And were the corresponding changes on the part of U.S. media and government "concessions" to violence and intimidation by special interests groups or signs of a weakened American democracy and free speech? Some might argue yes, but others would simply see this as a natural progression of an increasingly inclusive American democracy, and that it is a better place today because it did.

While an extremist fringe, such as the Black Panther Party, called for violent means of change, the effectiveness of movements and organizations to address widely held grievances peacefully marginalized their appeal. Lessons learned from America's civil rights struggle help clarify how to begin to bridge the divide globally between the United States and the Muslim world. Thus, a two-pronged approach of outreach to the moderate majority through job creation, along with support for those who wish to address widely held grievances peacefully, will diminish the appeal of those who advocate violence.


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[irony] So... extrapolating this outward, you mean that it wasn't Catholicism and Protestantism that caused sectarian violence in Northern Ireland? WOW! I was completely under the impression that it was "Protestants" vs. "Catholics" out killing each other because of each other's religions. [/irony]

Why is this news to people? Of COURSE violence is politics-motivated. Islam would never have become such a widespread religion leading to culturally prosperous nations if it was a "religion of violence". If it WAS, then you can bet butter to bullets that regional religions would attempt continuous bloody overthrow of their "religion of violence" overlords.

Saying that Islam is a religion of violence is analogous to looking at the Thirty Years' War and saying (if you take the side of the Catholics) that the rise of Protestantism - a violent fundamentalist apostasy - caused the war. Of course, even a brief reading of history would show how shallow such a proposed understanding that is.

The concept I suppose I'm trying to articulate is that US citizens need to get to grips with the idea that Islam is about as violent as any other religion, including the Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.

What is being framed here is not science, but the facts.
The facts are that the ideology of "Islamism", a conflation of politics and religion is being totally ignored.
Therefore the argument that support for Jihad is about "politics, not piety" results in misinformation that will confuse and deceive the reader.
The fact is that political Islamism itself is a combination and conflation of "politics AND piety".

I address the issue of political Islamism in the following commentary:

9/11 and the Inconvenient Truths about Jihad and Islamism

All else aside, just glancing briefly at the texts (and supposing, as you suggest, that we shouldn't look at the histories) of the other religions to which you refer would seem to indicate a pretty incredible level of violence. I'm not sure how this helps your point.

IMHO it is about policies, but also religion. Many of the radicals in islamic countries became religious radicals because they thought secular attempts (socialist pan-Arabism for one) didn't work. Of course we could tamp down the level of violence if we could change policies, but many religiously radicalized Wahabis would still remain. Framing existing policies differently is not going to work. The only way to gain credibility is though substantial and sustained policy changes.


I hate to break it to you, but you are exactly wrong in this debate. The question of root causes and triggers is of utmost concern here: militant radical islam did not arise with anything like wide popular appeal until Israeli statehood and Palestinian displacement. Were the religious seeds always there? Sure. But the reason why they took until the mid-20th Century to germinate has everything to do with their sense of disenfranchisement after years of colonial rule (remember that Sayid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood arose in Egypt) and then seeing their own people shoved aside for what they saw as illegitimate reasons.

In my experience (and it is extensive) the people launching these "Islamist" attacks are not motivated by religion nearly as much as they are motivated by politics. The guys at the top may be, but the only reason the movement is as widespread as it is is because of the political appeal. Religion is the veneer they throw over the top of it to make it look respectable.

Your attempt to spin the results of this survey shows a lot more about your pathetically ill-informed and narrow worldview than you realize. But you're not just wrong, you're dangerously wrong. Attacking their faith will only confirm their sense that they are being oppressed, and will thus strengthen their movement and further their cause. Your tough guy "America has to face the facts" shtick is doing a lot more harm than good.

Chris - You seem to have said that a brief reading of religious texts shows an inherent high level of violence within those religions, and this does not help my case. Please re-read what I wrote. I did NOT say that you (the reader) should take religious texts out of historical context. Rather, you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT take religion out of the context of history and, by extension, the concomitant political history of the region in question.

Religion is more than its texts. It is, among other things, relationships between peoples. In Christianity, for example, people chose to interpret different portions and versions of the Bible, based on the socio-political situation in which they found themselves. This continues to this day. For example, with regards to immigration, a large number of American Christians conveniently forget Exodus 22:20-23 and Exodus 23:9 (and related statements in Leviticus) - part of the Christian Bible - when advocating their anti-immigration stance. What does this example (and other similar ones) say about Christianity? Does it mean that Christianity (of "the Book") is a charitable religion in this instance, while Christianity (of the people/"the Body") is composed of hypocritical religious practice in this instance? Can the religion of Christianity be so easily divided into that of "the Book" or of "the Body"? Obviously not; it is both the Book and the Body. This is true of other religions (at least those that HAVE a central religious text or set of texts).

Similarly, human history is the relationships between peoples over time. There is history within institutions and history between institutions. However, when it comes down to it, history of the kind under discussion occurs between people. People have motives behind their actions; thought-out means of using social issues for personal or political advantage. This has (amongst other things) lead to fundamentally different outcomes, even within a common over-arching religion (witness the various different forms of Christianity, even within the "Protestant" mold). Disregarding the role of people and groups of people (i.e., society) through time (i.e., history) is dangerous, especially when it impinges upon what people believe as "Truth" (i.e., religion).

Finally, if I'm not mistaken, you indicate your readings of religious texts are rather cursory. This leads to certain problems. For example, you imply the Jewish Bible is violent, but the Christian Bible isn't. However, the Jewish Bible is a fundamental part of the Christian Bible. Thereby, by extension, a significant part of the Christian Bible is also violent. I would really appreciate if you could please tell me what understanding you have gained from your cursory reading of other religious texts. For example, you say that you imply that you briefly read the text of Hinduism. However Hinduism has four holy texts. Which of the four "central texts" have you read? Also, I am puzzled to know how "glance[ing] briefly" any holy text gives a sufficient understanding of it even within the religion, let alone between religions? To be absolutely clear - and with no irony or sarcasm - I refer in the previous sentence to the importance of including history in any analysis of religion. I'm sure you know that many books and essays have been written in different religions (e.g., Talmud, Catechism, and Papal encyclicals) about interpreting a particular holy text viz a particular religion (i.e., providing historical interpretive context of the use of the holy book within the structure of the religion itself). If you are going to make the argument about holy texts (in which I am not an expert, and apparently neither are you), your point would carry more weight if your readings were a tad more thorough.

Maybe I've misread your statement, and maybe I haven't. Please elucidate.

Umlud and Decline and Fall win this thread by being absolutely spot on.

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 14 Sep 2007 #permalink

I'd like to see a global scientific survey of Muslim knowledge of and attitude toward the Islamic doctrines behind Jihad, genocide & terrorism. Specifically, Qur'an 8:39, 9:29, 8:12, 8:67 & 47:4 and Sahih Bukhari Books 52 & 53. Islamic law is derived from those sources. It requires the Caliph or Imam to mount at least one military expedition against the Kuffar in every year. This is all about literalism, supremacism & triumphalism expressed in scripture & law and carried out be believers convinced they are earning admission to the celestial bordello.