American leaders’ perennial fantasy that bringing a taste of consumer culture to Mideast countries ripe for occupation will somehow open a floodgate of populist enthusiasm for Beyoncé and constitutional rule isn’t reflected in a new survey that reveals the predominant views of common people in the Muslim world.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, shows there’d likely be very little wiggle room in any U.S.-led battle for Middle Eastern hearts and minds. Residents of most Muslim nations, in fact, are pretty united in embracing the political, social and religious culture they already know, and don’t seem interested in alternatives.
The survey included face-to-face interviews of nearly 40,000 Muslims and spanned more than 80 languages in Europe, Asia, the Mideast and Africa.
Although the numbers varied by country, the majority of average Muslims surveyed favor a theocratic form of government. Specifically, they favor Sharia law, the moral and religious law of Islam, infallibly delivered by Allah and prescriptive of every facet of personal and public behavior.
To American sensibilities, the life-pervading extent of Sharia — along with the unchallenged and literal carrying out of punishments for violating Islamic code — is repugnant as an expression of government.
But in Muslim countries, Sharia is what most people want, especially as a means of resolving disputes in domestic life. Their approval of Sharia’s “eye-for-eye” sentencing varied much more broadly, however, with more either repudiating the practice or stating they believe it not to be common throughout the majority of the Muslim world.
In the Islamic republic of Afghanistan, 99 percent of those surveyed favor Sharia — presumably over the 2004 Afghan constitution — as the law of the land. Those numbers don’t drop off dramatically elsewhere. The survey reported:
[S]olid majorities in most of the countries surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia favor the establishment of sharia, including 71% of Muslims in Nigeria, 72% in Indonesia, 74% in Egypt and 89% in the Palestinian territories.
While the survey indicates a profound devotion to an Islamic way of life encompassing both the private and public sphere, it also indicates the majority of Muslims distance themselves from what they regard as Islamic extremism and, in fact, consider violent acts perpetrated by Islamic groups a much greater threat than “Christian extremists.”
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian territories offer an exception: 40 percent of Palestinians surveyed said they support suicide bombings.