As the airwaves erupt over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s call for a temporary pause in Muslim immigration to the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike react in a singular voice of condemnation rarely heard in a divided America.
One of the most common questions asked of those who speak on air in support of Trump is to quantify Muslim support for extremism.
“How many?” “What’s your source?” are demands regularly posed to those who claim it’s not just a radical fringe of potential Muslim immigrants whose values and beliefs may be deeply at odds with fundamental American freedoms.
Pew Research, a leading nonprofit, nonpartisan and non-advocacy “fact tank” that seeks to inform the public “about issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world,” examined that question in two significant studies before the recent Donald Trump frenzy erupted.
After terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad were linked to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIL), Pew sought to quantify the level of support for the group among Muslim communities.
With the striking exception of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the majority of Muslims surveyed viewed ISIL unfavorably. That’s important backing for the idea that the Muslim majority is best positioned to reign in the violent extremists who hijack Islam to justify the slaughter of innocents.
But a close look at the survey findings along with results of an earlier study of Muslim attitudes about sharia law reveal why this is likely to be no easy task for an Islamic majority that has not yet united to meaningfully condemn radical, violent incitement in their community’s mosques, schools, and media.
For example, while the study reported more than 50 million of Nigeria’s Muslims view ISIL unfavorably, more than 16 million have a favorable view of the terror group with another 15 million having no view at all. In Nigeria alone, that’s more than 30 million people who either support ISIL or are unlikely to take any stand against the group’s deadly aims.
In Malaysia, 11 million Muslims view ISIL unfavorably. More than 5 million Malaysian Muslims either view the group favorably or haven’t decided where they stand.
Among the Arabs in the West Bank, 21 percent either view ISIL favorably or haven’t decided. Findings that nearly four in five West Bank Arabs view ISIL unfavorably offers the potential for collective work to combat incitement by public officials, teachers and preachers that deliberately fuels a violent interpretation of jihad.
But will they?
Pew’s 2013 study offers important insights into why many Muslims are unlikely to act against the extremists within their midst.
Pew found the majority of the world’s Muslims believe sharia law is the “revealed word of God,” including at least half of Muslims in 17 of 23 countries surveyed with particularly high percentages in Iraq (91 percent) and the Palestinian territories (89 percent) believing sharia should be the law of the land.
In 2013, 74 percent of Egyptians and 58 percent of Jordanians were found to believe sharia should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“Among those who want sharia to be the law of the land, in 10 of 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis at least half say they support penalties such as whippings or cutting off the hands of thieves and robbers … at least half of Muslims who favor making sharia the law of the land also favor stoning unfaithful spouses,” the study reported.
At least half of those who favor making Islamic law the official law also support executing apostates. “Taking the life of those who abandon Islam is most widely supported in Egypt (86 percent) and Jordan (82 percent).
With backing from sharia law, gay and lesbian Muslims are regularly tortured and executed, while traditional human rights advocates are almost entirely silent.
Surely millions of the world’s Muslims reject violent extremism and embrace Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance and love. Will they find the courage to declare “let’s roll” against those who have hijacked their sacred religion?
It’s long past time for America and others to do much more to collectively back those within the Muslim community who are ready to actively expose and combat extremism in their schools, media and mosques. @RealDonaldTrump would be wise to bring together Muslim leaders truly ready to combat extremism with the resources that could help them succeed.
While millions of dollars in rewards leading to the capture of terrorists are often promoted by America and other western governments, much more should be invested exposing and rooting out the seeds of radical incitement.
The long-term answer to violent Islamic extremism will not be found in actions that betray the most fundamental values of America. Together with an immigration and entry system much better able to identify and interdict those likely to seek to harm Americans, we must invest money, training, technology and other resources in the boots of those Muslims prepared to battle the enemy within.
Seeds planted over decades and in many cases centuries will not be easily uprooted.
More than anything else, a world safe for all of God’s children to celebrate our diversity with tolerance, love and respect depends on their success.