Extremism Concerns Growing in West and Predominantly Muslim Countries

As the Islamic militant group ISIS continues to entrench itself in Syria and Iraq, and instigate terrorist attacks around the world, concerns about Islamic extremism are growing in the West and in countries with significant Muslim populations. 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. These are among the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted in 21 nations among 21,235 respondents from April 5 to May 21, 2015.

Concerns are also up significantly in Nigeria (+18), the Palestinian territories (+16), Lebanon (+12), Pakistan (+9) and Turkey (+8) since 2013, before ISIS became widely known. Worries about extremism are higher across the Western countries surveyed than they are in the Muslim countries surveyed.Overall, a median of 52% across nine Western nations are very concerned about Islamic extremism. Across the 10 countries with Muslim populations of around half or more (including Middle Eastern, Asian and African nations), the median who are very concerned is 42%. Nevertheless, roughly half or more of people across all the countries surveyed say they are at least somewhat concerned about Islamic extremism in their country.

People in Israel (37% very concerned) and Russia (23%) are less concerned about extremism than those in many of the other countries surveyed. But this has not always been the case in Russia, where great concern about extremism is down 12 percentage points since 2011 and 29 points since 2005, when the survey was fielded just months after 334 hostages died in a school in Beslan that was taken over by Chechen rebels.

In European countries, older people, women and those on the right of the ideological spectrum are more concerned about Islamic extremism than the young, men and those on the left. In the U.S., these demographic differences also extend to political party and religion. Republicans and Americans who say religion is important are more likely to be concerned about Islamic extremism than are Democrats and independents, and those who say religion is not important to their daily lives.

Additionally, general concern about extremism in these countries is closely associated with worries about the international reach of ISIS. In 20 of the 21 the countries surveyed, people who are very concerned about the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria are significantly more worried about the extremist threat in general.

Across the countries surveyed, worries about extremism have risen the most in France.In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, two-thirds in France say they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country. This is up from 29% in 2011, the last time this question was asked there. Concern is also high in Spain, where 61% are very worried about the extremist threat.

Roughly half in the U.S. (53%), Italy (53%) and UK (52%) are very apprehensive about extremism in their countries. Among Americans and Brits, this represents around a 20-percentage-point increase in concern since 2011. Meanwhile, 46% of Germans are very concerned, up 20 points from 2011.

Australians, though a world away from the Islamic State’s territory, have also experienced a terrorist attack in the past year, when a hostage standoff in Sydney ended in the death of three people, including the gunman. Roughly half in Australia (48%) are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country.

Only a third of Canadians are very worried about the extremist threat in Canada, despite the 2014 attack at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa. In Russia, just 23% are very concerned about extremism. This is down 12 points since 2011 and 29 points from 2005. Similarly, in Poland, only 22% are very concerned about the threat of Islamic extremism.

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. Two-thirds of Spanish women are very concerned about the extremist threat, while only 54% of men say the same. Additionally, in four of the six European countries surveyed, those on the ideological right are more worried about the Islamic threat in their country compared with the left.  In the U.S., women, older Americans, Republicans and those who say religion is important in their lives are the most likely to be very concerned about Islamic extremism. For instance, 58% of American women are very worried about the extremist threat in the U.S., while only 49% of men agree.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans ages 50 and older (65%) see Islamic extremism as a major threat, but only 27% of those ages 18 to 29 concur. Republicans (71%) are far more likely to judge extremism as a grave threat, compared with about half of independents (49%) and a smaller share of Democrats (45%). Additionally, 58% of Americans who say religion is very or somewhat important in their lives are very concerned about Islamic extremism, while only 38% among those who say religion is less important agree.

Nearly half of Pakistanis (48%) are very worried about the extremist threat, up 9 points in two years. This follows an attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014 by the Tehrik-i-Taliban that left 132 schoolchildren dead. 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%).

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