The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Muslims and al Qaeda

Although Mark Twain borrowed the phrase, I believe it was Benjamin Disraeli who first said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." I found this to be generally true when in graduate school I took a course in probability and statistics. Toward the end of the quarter our professor gave us an interesting assignment. Providing us with a large amount of data about some subject that I can no longer recall, he instructed us to manipulate and present the data in two ways that would support completely contrary conclusions. What amazed me at the time was how easy the task actually was. Success was obviously not determined by the data itself, but by how one presented the data -- what was included, what was omitted, and what words one used when presenting the conclusions. It was my introduction to what we now call "spin."

I begin with this anecdote because one can certainly come to different conclusions based on some recent polling conducted by the Pew Research Center. The survey in question was conducted this past spring by Pew's Global Attitudes Project and sought to determine, among other things, Muslim attitudes towards Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda -- all considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. and most western nations. Muslims in seven nations -- Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey -- were surveyed. While the survey addressed a range of issues, the results that most interested me were the Muslim public's attitudes towards these three terrorist groups. I've included a Pew graphic below.

Pew reports in its conclusions that,

"While views of Hamas and Hezbollah are mixed, al Qaeda -- as well as its leader, Osama bin Laden -- receives overwhelmingly negative ratings in nearly all countries where the question was asked. More than nine-in-ten (94%) Muslims in Lebanon express negative opinions of al Qaeda, as do majorities of Muslims in Turkey (74%), Egypt (72%), Jordan (62%) and Indonesia (56%). Only in Nigeria do Muslims express positive views of al Qaeda; 49% have a favorable view and just 34% have an unfavorable view of bin Laden's organization."
This may sound like good news until one does the math by applying the percentages of those who view al Qaeda favorably to the overall Muslim population figures for these countries. As it turns out, in just these seven nations something like 130 million Muslims view al Qaeda favorably. (For more on this, see the commentary by Brian Fairchild at Pajamas Media.) Yes, those who look kindly on al Qaeda may be in the minority, but they still represent a lot of people. And if history tells us anything it's that a small number of dedicated and ruthless people can lead successful revolutions despite the opposition or apathy of a large majority.

I thought these survey results were particularly interesting given al Qaeda's recent statement that one of its goals in Iraq is the destruction of all things Christian, including presumably Christians themselves. It's disturbing to think that so many Muslims would agree with such sentiments.

To view the survey results as presented by Pew, click here: Muslim Public Divided.

Pray for peace and conversion.

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