6 August 2015

The Growing Fear Over Islamist Extremism

28 Jul 2015

A new study by the Pew Research Center finds that there are changing attitudes towards Islamist extremism, with concerns growing in Western countries and those with significant Muslim populations.

The Pew survey, published on 16 July 2015, was carried out across 21 countries between April and May 2015, with over 21,000 people interviewed. In the six months prior to the survey, high profile Islamist attacks took place in Peshawar, Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen.

The survey asked the question: 'How concerned, if at all, are you about Islamic extremism in our country these days?' It gave respondents the options of 'very concerned,' 'somewhat concerned,' not too concerned,' and 'not at all concerned.' The last time the question was asked in countries with significant Muslims populations was in 2013, prior to ISIS declaring acaliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The report finds that on average, 52 per cent of people surveyed across nine Western nations are very concerned about Islamist extremism today, with 42 per cent very concerned across the ten countries with significant Muslim populations.

Concerns over extremism have grown in France, from 29% in 2011 to 67% in 2015.

The aftermath of the attacks by ISIS in Paris in January 2015 saw a substantial change to concerns about extremism, with France showing that the number of people very concerned about Islamist extremism growing from 29 per cent in 2011, to 67 per cent in 2015. Numbers concerned also rose significantly in Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The report also notes that countries such as Israel and Russia are at present less concerned about Islamist extremism, with 37 per cent concerned in Israel and 23 per cent in Russia.

Concerns over extremism are also rising in other countries in the West, such as in the United Kingdom, where concerns have risen from 31 per cent in 2011, to 52 per cent in 2015, and in Spain from 32 per cent in 2011 to 61 per cent in 2015.

Based on the demographics of the survey results, the study finds that it is older people, women and those "on the right of the ideological spectrum" who have greatest concerns over Islamist extremism, rather than the younger generation, men, and "those on the left." The study found that in many Western countries, women are more concerned about Islamist extremism than men, with 67 per cent of Spanish women very concerned about the extremist threat, but only 54 per cent of men.

Of countries with a significant Muslim population, the study finds that Nigeria and Lebanonhave the most concerns about Islamic extremism. The results for Nigeria are not surprising following the rise in attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram over the past year, not only in Nigeria, but in others countries in the region. Concerns over extremism in Nigeria have risen by 18 per cent since 2013, with 73 per cent of Nigerian Christians and 63 per cent of Nigerian Muslims concerned about Islamist extremism.

In Lebanon, which has seen clashes between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra on one side, and the Lebanese Army on the other, concerns over extremism have risen by 12 per cent since 2013, with 70 per cent of Lebanese Christians, 66 per cent of Lebanese Shia, and 66 per cent ofSunni Muslims concerned over threat posed.

Prior to the Suruc attack, just 19% in Turkey concerned over the threat from extremism.

The survey shows that in Turkey, despite having borders with Iraq and Syria, just 19 per cent are concerned about the threat from Islamic extremism. Nevertheless, this has increased by eight per cent since 2013. Following the recent attack on Suruc, a Turkish city on the Syrian border, with a predominantly Kurdish population, it will be interesting to see how these views change over the coming year.

In Pakistan, 48 per cent are very concerned about the extremist threat, with the survey being carried out not many months after the attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the school in Peshawar in December 2014, that killed 132 school children.

The Pew Research Center also carried out a separate study of attitudes towards the particular threat from ISIS during the period March – May 2015, assessing people's attitudes to global threats. The results found that 14 countries out of the same 21 surveyed said their greatest concern was ISIS, and its aim to create an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Also of note, the study found that there are greater concerns over the threat from ISIS amongst countries that neighbour Iraq and Syria, with 84 per cent of Lebanese, 62 per cent of Jordanians, and 54 per cent in the Palestinian Territories concerned over the threat from the group.

As analysis grows about the state of Islamist extremism around the world, particularly theideology of groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, these surveys will become ever more interesting and engaging to the wider community, and show how people's attitudes may change and adapt as more evidence and becomes available, and events occur.


The survey took place as part of the late spring Pew Global Attitudes survey in 21 countries, which are: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Senegal. 

Key Points

Worries about extremism are higher across the Western countries surveyed than those in the Muslim countries surveyed. 
Since 2011, the percentage saying they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country has increased 38 percentage points in France, 29 points in Spain, 21 points in the United Kingdom, 20 points in Germany and 17 points in the United States. 
In 20 of the 21 the countries surveyed, people who are very concerned about the threat of ISIS are significantly more worried about the extremist threat in general. 
Roughly half in the US (53 per cent), Italy (53 per cent) and the UK (52 pr cent) are very apprehensive about extremism in their countries. 
Across all the European countries surveyed, as well as in Australia, Canada and Russia, older people are more concerned than younger generations about the threat of Islamic extremism. 
Women are more concerned than men about Islamic extremism in many of the Western countries surveyed. 
Among the countries surveyed with significant Muslim populations, Nigerians (68%) and Lebanese (67%) are the most concerned about Islamic extremism in their country. 
Four-in-ten Palestinians are very worried about the extremist threat, up 16 points since 2013. Israelis are about as worried (37%), though concerns about the extremist threat have gone down slightly in the last year (-6 points). Only about a quarter of Jordanians (27%) share this concern. 
Nearly half of Pakistanis (48%) are very worried about the extremist threat, up 9 points in two years. 
In Southeast Asia, few in Malaysia (26%) and Indonesia (20%) are very worried about the terrorist threat, though more Malaysian Muslims (30%) are very concerned than Buddhist Malays (18%). 

You can read the full Pew Research Center report here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.


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