TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

How Many Muslims Still Support Terrorism?

This article summarizes a forthcoming analysis by the author under the tile Islamism, Arab Spring and the Future of Democracy: Developing a World Values Perspective, under contract at Springer Publishers, N.Y.

Sixteen years ago, on a bright and beautiful September morning in New York, Islamist terror against the West reached a new stage. The attacks, which began at 8:46 local time, killed 2,996 victims.

To equate “Muslims” with terrorism is unjust—just recall the heroic example of the Jordanian Air Force pilot Muath Safi Yousef Al-Kasasbeh, who, on January 3, 2015, was burnt alive by ISIS after his F-16 crashed during an operation across ISIS territory. He, too, was a believing Muslim and a Jordanian patriot. “Muslims” today also include the 9 percent of the Arab population who, according to data from the ACRPS Institute in Qatar, advocate the diplomatic recognition of Israel, despite the prevailing climate of anti-Israeli hysteria.

Donald Rumsfeld, then U.S. Secretary of Defense, replied to a question by a journalist as to what the Muslim world was thinking about the terrorist attacks of 9/11, with the statement: “I don’t know; it’s not like you can take a Gallup poll.” Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the acts of terror carried out by groups such as al-Qaeda or ISIS are rejected by the majority of Muslims, or whether there is mass support for terror, or even—as recently claimed by the terrorist group ISIS in its infamous “Dabiq” magazine (number 15)—that “Islam” is “not a religion of peace” and that “we Muslims” hate you, unbelievers. Is violent global Islamist terrorism, which in 2016 alone claimed 21,237 victims in 59 countries, deeply rooted in the doctrine of religion, or is terrorism really only a matter of a small, radicalized minority?

The empirical evidence, briefly presented here, based on reliable global surveys by PEW, the Arab Barometer, the World Values Survey, and the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, may shed some light on the issue.

Only in 2008, the Gallup Institute tried to react to the words of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Gallup’s investigation “Who Speaks for Islam” was based on representative samples from 90% of the global Muslim world population. Esposito and Mogahed, the authors of the study, vehemently claimed that only 7% of the world’s Muslims advocate terror. Their hypothesis, fit well into Obama’s Washington: explicitly bringing nearly all Muslims into the fold, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdoğan’s AKP, while only fighting those groups actively engaged in terror against America itself.

In the debate about their study, Esposito and Mogahed had to concede the very disturbing fact that the “7% terrorist supporters” were exactly the number that explicitly agreed that the terror attacks of September 11 were “completely justified.” They also admitted that another 6.5% of global Muslims justified the attacks, and another 23.1% thought that they were at least somewhat “justified.”

That totals up as 36.6% of global Muslims who do not condemn the 9/11 attacks, which constitutes a milieu of hundreds of millions of people.

Current terrorism, founded in the militant anti-Western and antisemitic ideology of Islamism, with its 128,935 victims since January 1, 2010, is a phenomenon whose numbers of victims according to WHO data are even comparable with the worldwide death rates of natural catastrophes, such as leprosy, etc.

The ideas of Osama Ben Laden, the “mastermind” of the attacks of September 11, 2001, unfortunately continue to thrive in the Muslim world. Sixteen percent of the population in the Muslim world, according to the PEW data processed by us, continue to openly support Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, 17% the Taliban, 21% Hezbollah, and 22% Hamas. 27% of Muslims worldwide do not oppose suicide bombing.

Where does all this radicalism come from—including the 8% of Muslims worldwide who now support ISIS?

Four out of five Arabs now want democracy, but only 20% reject the idea that men are better political leaders than women. The American sociologist Ronald Inglehart was right in asserting that the clash of civilizations is not about democracy but, above all, about gender. 92% of Muslims worldwide do not want their daughter to marry a Christian, 86% believe that women must obey their husbands, 86% believe that only Islam leads to heaven, and 70% want Sharia as the law of the country. 45% support stoning as punishment for adultery, and 45% advocate the “honor killing” of a woman who has violated the “honor” code of the family. 35% are in favor of the death penalty for leaving Islam, and 32% endorse polygamy.

The West can only win the war on terror if it does not abandon its central values of enlightenment, democracy, tolerance, and gender justice in the confrontation with the archaic and harsh world of Islamism. A misunderstood multicultural tolerance should not lead the West to protect antidemocratic cultures within Islam. On the contrary, it should vigorously support the liberal and cosmopolitan reading of Islam, which has always existed, and which today—more urgently than ever—needs Western solidarity.

1 comment to How Many Muslims Still Support Terrorism?

  • eric d. meyer

    Certainly the Muslim religion, Islam, which advocates ‘fighting in the cause of God’ (qital, not jihad) as a major duty of the Muslim faithful, and which endorses hijab (curtaining or veiling) of women, is drastically in need of critical reform by Muslims themselves. But within Islam itself there is also a strong trend toward sublimating religious violence into spiritual struggle against oppression (the actual meaning of jihad) and toward reforming the old-fashioned Arabian tribal customs of polygamous marriage and slavery, which should be encouraged rather than condemned by the West. And when asking why many Muslims still support the Qur’anic notion of ‘fighting in the cause of God’ against relgious oppression, which is a relic of Mohammed’s struggles against the Meccan Quraysh in Arabian tribal warfare, the West’s violence against Muslim states, and against the Islamic faithful, should be considered as a major factor contributing to Islamist violence, especially while we are currently witnessing a horrendous increase in innocent civilian casualties during the West’s bombing campaigns in Mosul, Raqqa, and elsewhere, which are carried out with the self-proclaimed goal of ‘liberating’ those innocent civilians from the Islamic State, but which nonetheless almost certainly result in greater civilian casualties than even those inflicted on the civilian population by the Islamist radicals that the West is purportedly liberating Muslims from…