WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About one-quarter of young American Muslims believe to some extent that suicide bombings can be justified to defend Islam, while nearly 80 percent of all U.S. Muslims reject such attacks, a survey showed on Tuesday.
The nationwide poll of 1,050 Muslim adults by the Pew Research Center said the U.S. Muslim community is largely moderate, assimilated and happy.
But the community also contains pockets of support for Islamist militancy among Muslims aged 18-30 and black Muslims, the survey showed.
The survey, billed as one of the most far-reaching polls of Muslims living in the United States, asked the following question about suicide attacks:
“Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified.
“Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?”
The survey found 26 percent of younger Muslims believed suicide bombings are often, sometimes or rarely justified, compared with 69 percent who believed such attacks can never be accepted.
By contrast, 13 percent of all U.S. Muslims felt suicide attacks could be justified often, sometimes or rarely, while 78 percent completely rejected the deadly tactic that has been used by al Qaeda and other Islamist militants.
The poll, conducted from January 24 to April 30 in four languages, had a 5 percent margin of error.
“It’s not something they see themselves engaging in. It’s more of them seeing what’s happening abroad and ... feeling that in these situations, suicide bombings are justified for others,” said Farid Senzai of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Michigan-based research group that studies U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
Senzai attended the news conference as a member of the Pew survey project’s outside advisory board.
Experts said the level of Muslim youth support for suicide bombings was similar to patterns seen in Europe.
Support in some degree for suicide bombings among younger European Muslims ranged from 22 percent in Germany to 29 percent in Spain, 35 percent in Britain and 42 percent in France, according to a May 2006 Pew poll.
Pew estimates that there are 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States, a tiny fraction of an overall U.S. population of 300 million people. But Muslim population estimates vary widely, ranging as high as 7 million, because the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask about religious affiliations in its national surveys.
Pollsters said they were surprised to find that only 40 percent of U.S. Muslims believed Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The survey suggested 53 percent of Muslims believe their life has become more difficult since the 2001 attacks because of discrimination or government surveillance.
But the findings also showed that 78 percent of U.S. Muslims are either “pretty happy” or “very happy” with their lives.