Pew Research Center surveys of U.S. Muslims conducted between 2007 and 2011 that asked whether “suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies” found that 13 percent of U.S. Muslims agreed that there were circumstances in which terrorist attacks in the name of Islam could be justified.
The survey data released in 2011 and a follow-up released in 2013 (see table below) found that about 1 percent of U.S. Muslims said that jihadist terror attacks were “often” justified. Seven percent said jihadist terror attacks were “sometimes” justified, and 5 percent said they were “rarely” justified.
An 81 percent majority said jihadist terror attacks were “never” justified.
Eight percent agreed that jihadist terrorism was “often” or “sometimes” justified while an additional 5 percent said it was “rarely” justified. Thus, effectively, the survey found that 13 percent of American Muslims agreed that there were circumstances in which suicide bombings and other violence targeted against civilians in the name of Islam could be justified.
“Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?”
The poll data appeared consistent with Pew survey data released in 2011 that found that a “significant minority” of American Muslims said they believed there was a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of support for extremism in the American Muslim community.
While some analysts emphasized the fact that a majority of Muslims (81 percent) said violence targeted against civilians in the name of Islam was “never” justified, others argued that the figure of 13 percent of American Muslims who said that jihadist terrorism could be justified in certain circumstances is chilling and that it underscores the security risk that immigrant Muslims pose.
Analysts who argued that the figures should raise concern pointed to the fact that there are about 2.75 million Muslims in the U.S. of which 1.8 million are adults. Thirteen percent of 1.8 million Muslim adults means there are 234,000 adult U.S. Muslims who believe there are circumstances in which jihadist terrorism — that is, attacks targeted against civilians in the name of Islam — is justified.
In comparison with the figure of 13 percent of U.S. Muslims who agreed that terrorism was “often,” “sometimes,” or “rarely” justified, 62 percent of Egyptian Muslims agreed that suicide bombings and other violence targeted against civilians were “often,” “sometimes,” or “rarely” justified. Twenty-one percent of Indonesian Muslims and 60 percent of Muslims in Lebanon likewise agreed that terrorism was “often,” “sometimes,” or “rarely” justified.
The survey results from Pew differed significantly from those obtained recently by the Center for Security Policy, which found that 25 percent of American Muslims polled agreed that “[i]t is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.”
The Center for Security Policy survey also found that a majority — 63 percent of U.S. Muslims — said that “the freedom to engage in expression that offends Muslims or anybody else is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and cannot be restricted.”
In a statement released on December 7, the Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump referred to the results of the Center for Security Policy survey to defend his controversial proposal that all Muslims should be banned temporarily from entering the United States.
According to the statement, “Center for Security Policy released data showing ’25 percent of those [U.S. Muslims] polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad.'”
Many experts have pointed out that the online opt-in survey methodology employed tends to produce unreliable results because of skewed sampling of the population.
Critics pointed to the fact that the poll data suggested incongruously that 23 percent of U.S. Muslims were “not at all familiar with” ISIS and that 18 percent were “not at all familiar with” al-Qaeda.
But while critics of the Center for Security Policy survey argued it was illogical to suppose that such a large percentage of U.S. Muslims did not know about al-Qaeda and ISIS, some analysts suggested that the error could have been due to language issues in which Arab Muslim respondents with limited knowledge of the English language misconstrued the question to mean whether they had any “links” with the terrorist groups.
Others have noted that Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, was known to have expressed strongly anti-Muslim views.
[Photo By Andrew Harnik/AP]