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Poverty Fueling Muslim Tension With West

Joblessness and poverty are a more potent source of tension between Muslims and wider European and U.S. society than religious differences, one of the first major studies of Muslim integration since the Sept. 11 terror attacks claimed on Thursday.

Attacks by Islamic extremists on the United States and European capitals such as Madrid and London have sparked debate on whether a failure of Muslims to integrate into Western society has fueled extremism.

But a study of around 30,000 people in 27 countries by the Gallup polling company claims non-Muslims including the public and lawmakers have misunderstood the attitudes of most Muslims in the West, stifling attempts to promote understanding.

These Muslims are more patriotic, more tolerant and more likely to reject violence than the rest of Western society believes they are, the study claims. It suggests most European Muslims, for example, are as happy as other Europeans to live alongside people of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds, and share broadly similar views with their neighbors.

The findings appear to contradict the impression created by angry protests across Europe following the 2005 publication in Denmark of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and recent rallies in which small groups of British Muslims have disrupted homecoming parades for soldiers returning from Iraq.

But Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the London and New York-based Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and a faith adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, said the survey shows most Muslims welcome closer ties to the rest of society. The study focused chiefly on European Muslims, and the mistaken perceptions about their attitudes in wider European society.

“Many of the assumptions about Muslims and integration couldn’t be more wide of the mark,” she said. “European Muslims want to be part of the wider community and contribute to society.”

The study did not produce detailed data on attitudes of American Muslims on this subject. But Mogahed said that in the United States Muslims enjoy relatively good relations with the rest of society, and suffer less from economic inequality.

Despite their desire to belong, only a small number of Muslims questioned in Britain, for example 10 percent consider themselves integrated into British society. That compares to 46 percent of Muslims in France and 35 percent in Germany.

The global economic crisis could exacerbate such issues, with competition for jobs and resources adding stress to race relations, the study claimed.

Researchers found 38 percent of British Muslims said they had a job, much lower than the figure for the British general public 62 percent and lower than Muslims in Germany or France, where 53 percent and 45 percent respectively said they were employed. No figures were compiled for the United States.

“Economic integration may become more precarious in light of the current financial crisis affecting Europe,” Mogahed said.

Muslims questioned by Gallup were pessimistic about their prospects. It found 71 percent of Britain’s Muslims considered themselves to be struggling to get by, as did 56 percent of Muslims questioned in the United States. Research for the study was conducted in mid-2008, before the full impact of the current financial crisis hit.

“It’s not about faith, it’s not about ethnicity. The key thing that divides people is poverty and depravation,” said Mohammed Shafiq, of the British Muslim organization the Ramadhan Foundation.

British government research into radicalization also has highlighted joblessness and low pay as among factors that can push people toward extremism. Those with poor prospects can look to violent extremism to improve their sense of achievement and status, according to the research by security officials.

Another key finding of the study was that Muslims don’t prioritize their faith over patriotism, Mogahed said.

Attempts to create a greater sense of national identity among Muslims have been a key concern for European lawmakers, particularly in Britain where British-born Muslims have been behind several attempted terror attacks since 2001.

Four suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters and themselves in an attack on London’s subway and bus network on July 7, 2005 were Muslims born or raised in Britain three with family ties to Pakistan.

The study found that 77 percent of British Muslims feel a strong sense of British identity, compared to 50 percent of the country’s non-Muslims. In France, around half of Muslims and non-Muslims say they feel a strong sense of patriotism.

Muslims account for around 3 percent, or 2 million people out of Britain’s 60 million population. In France, Muslims represent almost 8 percent or 5 million people of the population of 65 million. In Germany they make up 4 percent or 3.3 million Muslims out of 82 million inhabitants.

Estimates of the U.S. Muslim population vary dramatically from 2 million to 6 million and beyond.

Gallup conducted multiple surveys in 27 countries in 2008. Polls of the general public typically questioned around 1,000 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The company said the polls of Muslims involved samples of 500 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Researchers interviewed Muslims and non-Muslims in Norway, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Israel, the U.S., Italy, India, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mali, Chad, Malaysia, Tanzania, Niger, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Djibouti and Bangladesh.

Source : Associated Press Writer, David Stringer

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