Concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, a new survey by the Pew Research Center reveals. The concern is growing in the Middle East in particular, in countries such as Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.
Extremist groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah have emerged as having a very negative public image, as support for suicide bombing among Muslims has declined over the past decade, according to Pew. This drop was particuraly noticeable in the Palestinian territories, where the number of supporters for suicide bombing has fallen 16 percent over the last year alone.
"Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies," Pew announced on its website.
The survey covered over 14,000 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations in the spring of 2014.
While most Palestinians in the Palestinian territories (65%), the concern was much greater in the Gaza Strip (79 percent) than in the West Bank (57 percent). Some 84% of Israelis worry about Islamic extremism, though Jews (87 percent) are much more concerned than Arabs (66 percent).
Lebanon (92 percent) was one of the most anxious countries, the report showed. Meanwhile, rates have climbed in Tunisia (80 percent) and Egypt (69 percent) compared to even just a year earlier, and even more steeply in Jordan (62 percent) and Turkey (50 percent).
Hezbollah and Al-Qaida received negative marks in all 14 countries surveyed by Pew, while Hamas was seen unfavorably in most countries. A slight majority of Palestinians viewed all three negatively, although fewer than half (47 percent) in the West Bank expressed an unfavorable opinion of Hamas. Overall support from Hamas has declined from 62 percent in 2007 to 35 percent. Palestinian support for al-Qaida declined in the past year from 34 percent to 25 percent.
The most anti-Hezbollah countries were Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. Negative views of Hezbollah across the Middle East have risen sharply since 2007, the poll revealed.
The strongest anti-al Qaida sentiment was in Israel and Lebanon – regardless of religious affiliation. The greatest opposition to Hamas was found in Israel, Turkey and among Lebanese Christians.
The majority of residents in all the surveyed countries rejected suicide bombings as justified, with support in the Palestinian territories among other areas dropping below 50 percent. Pew noted the terror tactic still enjoyed significant minority support in a handful of countries, with the highest rate of justification in the Palestinian areas.
"As recent as last year, 62 percent of Palestinian Muslims said that suicide bombing was at least sometimes justified, but that support has fallen 16 percentage points since 2013. This tracks with increased negative opinions toward extremist groups among Palestinians in the last year," reported Pew. "Support is particularly high among Muslims in Gaza (62 percent) versus those in the West Bank (36 percent)."
The percentage of Lebanese Muslims justifying suicide attacks plunged from 74 percent in 2002 to 29 percent this year, a trend Pew attributes to the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Hariri.
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