In no country surveyed did more than 15% of the population show favorable attitudes toward Islamic State.
Pew just put out a poll showing that “Most Dislike ISIS in Muslim Countries”, which is no-doubt both true and a good thing. I think most non-racists/Islamaphobes already knew that.
But I think they failed to catch the story.
They give the smallish percentages of Muslims in the polled countries who have positive views of ISIS, and then show those numbers as if they’re a good thing. But let’s do some math.
The question asked was the following:
Do you have a
Unfavorable | Favorable | Don't Knowopinion of the Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria known as ISIS?
Here are the countries, populations, percentages who had favorable opinions of ISIS, and the totals thereof.
Adding these quickly yields 60 million Muslims that have favorable views towards ISIS. And that’s not even counting the vastly larger numbers that said they “didn’t know”.
[ NOTE: I’m not sure what “don’t know” even means in any location with even basic access to media. It’s not as if ISIS is like the hacking group Anonymous, or Edward Snowden, where it’s easy to see two perspectives. ISIS basically markets itself as an organization based around murder and sexual slavery. ]
So when people says the percentages of Muslims that support ISIS are “low”, I have to disagree. The percentages are low, but the numbers are not.
If there were only 10 Muslims in the world, and 6% of them supported ISIS, it’d be just 1 person. And if there were only 100 Muslims, it’d be a fringe group of 6 people. Those are both low percentages and low numbers.
But we’re talking about 60 million people, as a low estimate.
And we can take that further. Let’s take the favorable percentages in the two largest countries in the poll: Indonesia and Pakistan. They had 4% and 9% respectively. Let’s call that 5%, to give the massive benefit of the doubt.
There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, and at 5% we’d be at 70 million. At 10% (still a very small minority) it’d be 140 million.
What’s the takeaway
First, here’s what the takeaway isn’t. We’re not about to get attacked by 60 million ISIS-supporting Muslims.
This isn’t a reason to go all GOP on us.
Many of these countries are extremely poor, and who knows what kind of narrative they’ve been told about ISIS and the west. For all we know, they think ISIS are the heroes because they’ve been misled by local media.
But at the same time, we can no longer accept the narrative of “small percentages” to mean that there are very few Muslims that support ISIS. It simply isn’t true.
When less than a dozen people can harm the world economy, having 70 million supporters of something as obviously homicidal as ISIS is a problem.
As King Abdullah of Jordan just said, this battle of ideas can only be won from within. War won’t fix this. Drones won’t fix this. Islamophobia won’t fix this.
Moderate Muslims are the only solution we have, and they must do more.
- Population data came from the official results box at the top of Google when searching for “population of Jordan”, for example, which tend to correspond to highly-vetted sources. This is highly reproducible, and the numbers aren’t really disputed anyway.
- Note that these population numbers include the young and the elderly, not just the number of adults of a certain age. This should lower the numbers, while my extremely low percentage should actually be higher. I’m guessing the true number would remain roughly the same.
- One bias we might need to account for is the type of media these populations are receiving about both the west and about ISIS. For all we know they’re being told that ISIS are heroes. This of course wouldn’t make the situation any better, but it might at least give some explanation if it were true.
- My table above excludes a couple of countries from the poll that are lesser-known and that have smaller populations.
- When these numbers are at 1% for all these countries, that’s when we’ll know the moderates have won. That’ll still be millions of people, but it’ll be a far more manageable minority when compared to the moderates.