"Politics, not piety" dictate Muslim radicals, poll finds

Other News Materials 26 February 2008 22:58 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Seven per cent of Muslims condoned the September 11 attacks on the United States but none of them gave religious justification for their beliefs, according one of the largest-ever opinion polls conducted in the Islamic world and released Tuesday.

The Gallup organization's poll of some 50,000 people in more than 35 predominantly Muslim countries found that what motivated those considered "politically radicalized" was their fear of occupation by the West and the United States, though most even admired and hoped for democratic principles.

"Politics, not piety, differentiate moderates from radicals" in the Islamic world, said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim studies. "Terrorism sympathisers don't hate our freedom, they want our freedom."

The overwhelming majority of Muslims - 93 per cent - condemned the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and most said the biggest obstacle to better relations with the West was the latter's perceived lack of respect for Islam.

Substantial majorities in all Muslim countries - including 94 per cent in Egypt and 90 per cent in Iran - said they supported democratic principles, and most said they admired the United States for its technological innovation and liberal democracy.

But less than 50 per cent believed the US was serious about bringing that democracy to the Islamic world. Mogahed said pollsters heard "over and over" a belief that people in the West considered Muslims "inferior."

The Gallup poll also found that Muslims were most bothered by a perceived "moral decay" in the United States and the West, but that their explanations and views were similar to concerns expressed by people in the West itself.

Among the 7 per cent who viewed the September 11 attacks as "completely justified," Mogahed said that "not one gave religious justification" for their views, instead expressing their fear of US plans for occupation and domination of the Muslim world.

The poll found that the politically radicalized were on average wealthier and better educated than the average Muslim.

Many of the findings went against the "conventional wisdom" of Muslims' views of the West and the role of religion in those who have become radicalized, according to John L Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University.

"What we have here is the ability to get beyond the battle of the experts" and let "the data lead the discourse" on beliefs in the Muslim world, Esposito said.

Mogahed and Esposito co-authored a book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which explains and builds on the Gallup figures.

Esposito said the poll found that Muslims hoped for freedom of expression and press, "but not an American imposed, defined democracy."

Overwhelming majorities said religion played a crucial role in their own lives and should influence the values of any democratic system, but a majority also said religious figures should not be directly involved in government.

Mogahed said the poll found "no statistical difference in the level of religiosity" between radicals and moderates.

The poll also found that the vast majority of Muslims were more concerned with economic development than with provoking a confrontation with the United States or the West.

"The dreams are not for war with the West. It's dreams for work and jobs," Esposito said.

Details of the study can be found at www.gallupmuslimstudies.com.