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Concern Is Rising in the Middle East Over Islamist Extremism

With the Islamic State, the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, making territorial gains in Iraq, the horror of the Syrian civil war continuing unabated, and Israel in mourning over the kidnapping and killing of three teenagers, it is perhaps no surprise that the countries of the Middle East are alarmed at the spread of militant beliefs in the region. With violence and unrest marring the region, new data released by the Pew Research Center for 14 countries with substantial Muslim populations shows high levels of concern for Islamist extremism.

 

 

With the Syrian Civil War entering its fourth year and a coalition of violent extremist groups challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, border nations Turkey and Jordan have seen double-digit increases in the levels of concern expressed over militant violence, In Turkey, 31 percent say they are concerned over extremism. In Jordan, that figure is 62 percent.

In Lebanon, a country to which millions of refugees from the war have fled, 92 percent say they are concerned by extremism, a worry that is shared by the country's Muslims and Christians.

The Syrian civil war is also having an apparent effect on Hezbollah, the mighty Shiite political and military group based in Lebanon. Having deployed fighters in Syria to bolster the Assad regime, Hezbollah is seeing its popularity plummet in several nations in the region. In Lebanon, however, it has retained a formidable base of support:

Interestingly, the poll, which was carried about between April 10 and May 25 and included more than 14,000 responses, shows a decline in the popularity of Hamas -- the militant group in control of Gaza and labeled a terrorist group by the United States --  within the Palestinian territories. Since it took control of the Gaza strip in 2007, Hamas has seen in its unfavorability ratings markedly rise among Palestinians:

More radical groups are also experiencing challenges in the court of public opinion. In Nigeria, where the militant group Boko Haram gained worldwide notoriety earlier this year for their kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls, some 76 percent say they have a highly unfavorable opinion of the group.

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147 Years Since Its Birth, It’s Still Fleur-de-Lis and Maple Leaves for Canada

Today is Canada's 147th birthday and as a present to itself, the country might finally be putting its national identity crisis to rest. Since its birth, America's northern neighbor has been grappling with a conflict between its British and French roots. The residents of its French-speaking province, Quebec, have by and large felt no great deal of affection for their English-speaking countrymen, and have several times attempted to secede. But now, on the occasion of Canada's birthday, that split appears to be healing -- at least in the minds of Quebec residents.

According to a new poll from the Association for Canadian Studies, a Montreal-based think tank, some 64 percent of Quebecois, as natives of Canada's predominantly French-speaking province are known, say they no longer feel the need to choose between allegiance to Quebec and Canada, perhaps signaling the end of Canada's cultural divide.

Quebecois separatism and nationalism have long been defining features of Canadian politics, and Tuesday's finding marks a significant milestone for a region that has often resisted being part of Canada and has agitated for independence. Canadian territory was first colonized by France in the 16th century and remained under the French colonial yoke until 1763. Ever since, New France, now called Quebec, has existed as a distinct culture within Canada. This separate identity has often clashed with the rest of Canada, with its roots as a British colony. That conflict has spawned two popular referendums for independence, in 1980 and 1995, both of which failed.

But even as residents of Quebec are feeling less of a divide between their Canadian and Quebecois loyalties, they aren't exactly rushing into Canada's embrace. When the ACS pollsters asked Quebecois how attached they feel to the rest of Canada, they found that their level of attachment has remained mostly the same over the last 10 years.

For now, Quebec has largely put its ambitions for independence on ice. In April elections, the separatist Parti Quebecois, the main political vehicle for Quebecois nationalism, lost control of the provincial government to the more federally-minded Liberal party. Many observers saw it as a sign of a newfound fondness for Canada among the province's historically antagonistic residents.

Moreover, Quebec's young people aren't hankering for independence. According to the ACS poll, 65 percent of Quebecois between the ages of 18 and 24 say they are strongly or somewhat strongly attached to Canada. This finding is in line with a June poll from ACS that found 61 percent of Quebecois were not interested in separating from Canada.

Though Quebec's independence movement isn't gaining much traction, nationalist sentiment in Quebec is being channeled toward other expressions of the province's French-inspired identity. During its time in power from 2012 to 2014 at the provincial level, the Parti Quebecois pushed projects promoting the French language and religious secularism. Though it died in the provincial legislature, Bill 14 would have mandated that Quebec's business owners advertise in French and restricted the use of English in the workplace. The Parti Quebecois also tried to promote secularism through such things as the Quebec Charter of Values, which, if approved by the legislature, would have banned public employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim veil, at work.

Despite the dissipation of Quebec's identity crisis, there is still appetite for similar legislation. Among francophone respondents, 54 percent would like to see the charter become a topic of public debate once more after it effectively died with the Liberal party's electoral win.

That public sentiment is having an impact on Quebec's Liberal government. This fall, Premier Philippe Couillard is planning to introduce a diluted version of the charter at the provincial legislature.

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