Fears of extremism rise in Muslim nations: Poll

Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of the northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. Fears about Islamic extremism are rising in nations with large Muslim populations from the Middle East to South Asia and
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of the northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. Fears about Islamic extremism are rising in nations with large Muslim populations from the Middle East to South Asia and support for radical groups is on the slide, according to a poll released on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fears about Islamic extremism are rising in nations with large Muslim populations from the Middle East to South Asia and support for radical groups is on the slide, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

Concern about extremism has increased in the past 12 months amid the dragging war in Syria and attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants, the Pew Research Center found after interviewing more than 14,200 people in 14 countries.

Extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and even Hamas, which won elections to take control of running the Gaza Strip, are also losing support.

And backing for the use of suicide bombings against civilian targets has dropped significantly in the past decade following a slew of brutal attacks.

The review was carried out from April 10 to May 25, before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – now renamed the Islamic State – took over the northern Iraqi town of Mosul in a lightning offensive which has seen it seize a large swathe of territory.

In Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, as many as 92 percent of those interviewed said they were worried about Islamic extremism.

That figure was up 11 points from 2013, and was spread evenly among Lebanon’s Sunni, Shi'ite and Christian communities.

Concern has also risen in Jordan and Turkey, both of which border Syria and have taken in significant numbers of refugees fleeing the three-year war to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in which extremists have increasingly moved into the chaos.

Some 62 per cent of Jordanians voiced fears about extremism, up 13 points since 2012, while in Turkey half of those polled shared the same concerns, up 18 points from two years ago.

“In Asia, strong majorities in Bangladesh (69 per cent), Pakistan (66 per cent) and Malaysia (63 per cent) are concerned about Islamic extremism,” the Pew report said.

However, in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, such fears were not shared, with only four in ten people voicing any anxiety about extremism.

An overwhelming majority of Nigerians (79 per cent) were against Boko Haram, behind the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year, while 59 per cent of Pakistanis said they have no love for Taliban militants.

Just over half of Palestinians (53 per cent) have an unfavorable opinion of Hamas, blamed this week by Israel for the murders of three teenagers, and the figure rises to 63 per cent in the Gaza Strip, higher than on the West Bank controlled by the rival Fatah party.

Only 46 per cent of Palestinians believed that suicide bombings could be justified against civilians, down from 70 per cent in 2007.And the figure among Lebanese Muslims has fallen from 74 percent in 2007 to 29 per cent today.