WASHINGTON – A majority of civilians in Middle Eastern countries believe that the self-proclaimed Islamic State is a terrorist organization, not a religious one, according to a major public opinion poll released Wednesday.
“It’s not a religious thing, it’s a business thing,” said Munqith Dagher, primary investigator and CEO of the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies.
The survey was presented at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank where experts said the findings highlight the support of the Middle Eastern people for an international coalition to combat the terrorist group.
The poll, conducted by the independent institute, counted more than two million responses in Iraq, other Middle Eastern counties and Libya. It included a series of national surveys that concluded in 2014.
“There is a real support for the international coalition against Dai’sh,” Dagher said, using another name for ISIS.
He found that in Iraq, there was no difference in public opinion of ISIL between Sunnis and Shi’a people. The same trend showed up in other Middle East countries.
In Iraq, 95 percent of Sunnis “look to ISIL as a terrorist organization,” Dagher said. In Yemen, 82 percent, in Jordan, 73 percent, in Syria, 72.
Despite the results of the poll, ISIS has recruited people from all over the world, including some American citizens.
“[ISIS is] saying that we are bringing justice back to you,” Dagher said. “We are bringing fairness after you have been treated unfairly. We are defending our Sunni community.”
According to the center’s national security expert Anthony Cordesman, zeroing in on just one terrorist group is not the answer.
“There is a danger in focusing on one extremist movement and not on the history of violence within the country,” he said.
The key to successfully defeating ISIS is giving the citizens hope that the violence will end. Once people believe that ISIS can eventually be defeated, then they will have the confidence to carry on the fight, according to Dagher.
“If we want them to really fight,” Dagher said, “then we have to convince them that there is a hope waiting for them at the end of this very dark tunnel.”
Dagher said victory over the terrorists could be accomplished “within a few months” if people in the region are invested in the fight.
“It will take a long time unless there is a real willingness from the international community and the Iraqi government to deal with the real concerns of people who live there.”