A Recent Poll on Islamic Extremism in Saudi Arabia
I knew I said I wouldn't likely blog much over the next few days but today I could not help myself.
A recent poll has been released by some group called Terror Free Tomorrow relating to supposedly negative attitudes of Saudis towards terrorism and Islamic extremism seems to have made quite a few rounds in the Western press, and even the Arab press. In one of the most well known Arab papers, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdul Rahman Rashid, who I guess I'd call the Arab world's Tom Friedman (business is good, money makes for moderation, etc.), suggests in a piece on the subject that the poll "hands to the Saudis proof of their innocence (صك البراءة) who have been repeatedly accused of sympathy for terrorism . . ." The organization itself touts the results in a similar manner, suggesting that it shows that Saudis have turned "dramatically" against terror and have favorable opinions of the US.
Then you look at the results, and you get a little confused. First, Rashid had indicated that 85% of the country were anti-Bin Laden. Not quite 15% are pro, and 64% are anti. I guess the other 21% don't have an opinion or declined to answer, though the poll doesn't tell us. (Surely they wouldn't say they never heard of the guy.) That's actually not that high, especially if the relatively small Shi'a population was part of this poll, because they'd hate him for declaring them infidels regardless of his position on anything.
Then the good people at Terror Free Network drop a real gem. "Upon closer analysis, however, even a favorable opinion of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda does not indicate hardened anti-American attitudes or support for terrorist attacks." What? Are they with Bin Laden because they like the beard then? How can this be? Yet looking at their "data", you can draw this conclusion. Most normal people would then question the data, but not the Terror Free Network apparently.
So let's see, 15% like Bin Laden, and 11% like Al Qaeda, yet 88% completely approve of the Saudi security forces going after Al Qaeda in Saudi. What this means is that some 3% are predisposed to Bin Laden,and very much want their security forces to crush his movement. 51% want war with Israel until it doesn't exist, 89% have unfavorable opinions of Jews, and yet 80% oppose suicide bombings, the current weapon of choice in the drive to drive out Israel. It makes no sense.
So what happened? Look at how they did the survey. Telephone. From a foreign country. I have two country examples I can draw from to some comfortable degree, totally totalitarian Iraq under Saddam, and much more free America. I've lived elsewhere, but I'd be considered a foreigner in those places and so don't want to draw on that experience.
What would happen if someone were to call me here and ask me my opinion of Al Qaeda? I'd tell them what I think. I hate those guys, they're the main reason I get stopped at an airport, the bastards. And what would happen if Ididn't feel this way (which trust me is not the case)? I'd say the same thing. We all know about the wiretapping, would I really tell some random guy I didn't know on a telephone that I sympathized with AlQaeda if I did, which I don't (and I'll keep repeating that). And that's America, I could tell you what people used to say on the phone in Iraq, but suffice it to say, it's even more pronounced dissembling. You won't close to an accurate result this way.
The funny thing, the fellows at the Terror Free Network seem to know this. When they report on Iran, they go out of their way to emphasize that 61% of the people would tell the pollsters on the telephone that they oppose the Iranian system of government. Well, great, but why not point that out when the numbers skew in the other direction because of fear of a pro-American authoritarian government rather than an anti-American one?
This very point was raised to researchers at the Yale Conference that was the subject of an earlier post when polling attitudes of Muslim Americans towards similar subjects. The responses, by Amaney Jamal who helped lead a Pew poll, and Mark Barreto and Karam Dana who conducted a survey with similar results (American Muslims like their lives here, don't support terrorism, etc. were the results) were careful and considered. Jamal pointed out that many of the questions were not of the sort that would necessarily raise suspicions, like are you satisfied with your life in the US. She did acknowledge, however, that distortions on answers showing very little sympathy with Al Qaeda could be distorted. It doesn't seem to be the case because the results of Dana and Barreto show much the same thing, and they did these things in person, asking each person to fill out a survey anonymously and stick into a box before anyone could look at it, which seems as accurate a measure as can be expected.
The satisfaction of most American Muslims is not close to a surprise to me, and it can readily be evidenced by how American Muslims approach questions of shari'a in the progressive manner that they do. It's why the Muslim feminists, and Khaled Abou El Fadl, and Abdullahi An-Naim, mentioned in my last post have so much more of a following here.
These Terror Free people though are making the same case for Saudi, yet to do it are almost fabricating results, asking people questions on the phone in a nation with an appalling human rights record, according to our own State Department, and failing to mention how that might skew results. They do give reasons for failing to do face to face interviews, but don't explain what's going to happen when you do that. And a shockingly naive Western press eats it all up, reporting the Terror Free Network as "bipartisan". Which it is, but what the hell does American politics have to do with this? The problem is that it's telling Americans what they want to hear rather than what is, not Democrats or Republicans.
As for the Arab press, it is naturally disturbed by the rise in Islamic extremism and eager to show the world a different face seems to report them also without inspection. (There is a different face to the Muslim world, of course, that is rarely covered, but there are still disturbing numbers who favor some forms of political violence, even if not Osama style where the numbers are fewer but not insignificant.)
When the distortions are considered in the poll, the numbers make more sense. No problem hating Jews, the Saudi mass media, government controlled, spews out venom like that all the time. No problem hoping the Arabs will fight until Israel is destroyed, no problem arguing for Saudi nuclear energy.
But Al Qaeda? Suicide bombing, now that it has hit Saudi soil? And even worse, not supporting the government in its fight against Al Qaeda? Impossible. And that's where the counterintuitive skewing clearly lies, and why we have Saudis supporting Bin Laden,and supporting the Saudi fight against him, supporting the most extremist position in the Arab world concerning Israel, and negatively characterizing the means used by those extremist positions.
So let's conclude by looking at this one more time. These folks called up random people, and asked them, all of whom knew very well they could be talking to government agents for all they knew, what they thought of Bin Laden. 64% said they didn't like him (5% of those may have been the Shi'a, as noted above), 15% said they did, and 21% thought about it and said, either no opinion, or I'm not telling you. And that's not including the people who refused to answer the poll in the first place. Sorry, I don't think that's good news at all.