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What Makes a Radical?

Understanding extremists and the nature of extremism requires a global perspective that extends beyond conflicting opinions of experts or anecdotes from the "Arab street." What do Muslims polled across the world have to say? How many Muslims hold extremist views? What are their hopes and fears? What are their priorities? What do they admire, and what do they resent?

According to the Gallup Poll, 7% of respondents think that the 9/11 attacks were "completely" justified and view the United States unfavorably. Among those who believe that the 9/11 attacks were not justified, whom we'll call "moderates," 40% are pro-United States, but 60% view the United States unfavorably.

Analyzing and comparing the answers of the 7% with the moderate majority produced some surprising results. By focusing on the 7%, whom we'll call "the politically radicalized" because of their radical political orientation, we are not saying that all in this group commit acts of violence. However, those with extremist views are a potential source for recruitment or support for terrorist groups. This group is also so committed to changing political conditions that they are more likely to view other civilian attacks as justifiable: 13% of the politically radicalized versus 1% of moderates say that attacks on civilians are "completely justified."

What is the age and gender of those with extremist views? They are younger, but not substantially: 49% are between the ages of 18 and 29; 41% of those with moderate views are in the same age range. Contrary to what some might expect, while political radicals are more likely to be male (62%), 37% are female. In addition, a minority of suicide bombers have been women.

What Is the Link Between Terrorism and Poverty or Ignorance?

The Arab Development Report of 2005 and many other studies of Muslim countries well document the existence of significant poverty and illiteracy. These problems are found in Palestinian refugee camps and in the slums of Algiers, Cairo, Baghdad, and Jakarta as well as in many other non-Muslim developing nations. Poverty and lack of information and skills necessary for social mobility result from deep-seated economic and social problems that can generate broad-based discontent. But are lack of education and poverty key factors that distinguish those with extremist views from moderates? The data say no.

The politically radicalized, on average, are more educated than moderates: 67% of the politically radicalized have secondary or higher educations (versus 52% of moderates).

Radicals are not more economically disadvantaged: 65% of the politically radicalized say they have average or above-average income, versus 55% of moderates.

Based on the largest and most in-depth study of its kind, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think presents the remarkable findings of the Gallup Poll of the Muslim World, the first ever data-based analysis of the points of view of more than 90% of the global Muslim community, spanning more than 35 nations.

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