boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Poll says most reject idea of inevitable Muslim-West clash

Common ground seen as possible

LONDON -- A majority of people around the world do not believe the world is locked in a "clash of civilizations" that will lead to violent conflict between Islam and the West, according to findings of a poll published today.

The British Broadcasting Corp. World Service poll of more than 28,000 people found that 56 percent of respondents believed "common ground can be found" between Muslims and Westerners, while only 28 percent said violence was inevitable.

The survey also found that 52 percent of people believed that tensions between Muslims and Westerners were caused by political power and interests, compared with 29 percent who said religion and culture were to blame.

The poll was conducted for the BBC by the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

Pollsters questioned about 1,000 people in 27 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia; as well as four predominantly Muslim countries: Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia; and two countries with large Muslim populations: Lebanon and Nigeria.

The respondents were interviewed in person and over the phone from November to mid-January. The margin of error ranges from 2.5 percent to 4 percent, depending on the country.

Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, countries around the world have struggled with how to deal with Islamic radicalism at home and abroad.

The poll's results are hopeful, given they show most people believe differences between Muslims and Westerners can be worked out, said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland program. "Most people around the world clearly reject the idea that Islam and the West are caught in an inevitable clash of civilizations," he said.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents blamed tensions on intolerant minorities -- not cultural groups as a whole. But 26 percent identified fundamental differences between the cultures as the root cause.

In Britain, 77 percent of people believed common ground could be found between Muslims and Westerners, compared with 15 percent who saw violence as inevitable.

In the United States, 64 percent believed in common ground, but 31 percent saw conflict as inevitable.

Overall, 52 percent of the 5,000 Muslims surveyed said common ground was possible, including majorities in Lebanon (68 percent) and Egypt (54 percent), as well as pluralities in Turkey (49 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (47 percent).

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES