How goes the battle for hearts and minds in the war on terrorism? A survey released yesterday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, including polls conducted in six predominantly Muslim countries, offers some clues. (Note that all components of the survey were taken before the London bombings.)
Osama bin Laden, it turns out, has a bit of a PR problem in the Muslim world. Asked how much confidence they had in bin Laden “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” the percentage of respondents answering “a lot of confidence” dropped, since May 2003, from 38 to 25 in Jordan, from 37 to 14 in Morocco, from 19 to 8 in Indonesia, and from 4 to less than 1 in Lebanon. In some countries, outright anti-Ladenist sentiment has also grown; the percentage of respondents answering “no confidence” jumped from 29 to 40 in Morocco, from 67 to 73 in Turkey, and from 64 to 78 in Lebanon.
Support, among Muslims, for suicide bombing against civilians has also faded. (Only Muslims were asked this question.) The percentage saying the practice is “never justified” jumped since March 2004 from 35 to 46 in Pakistan and from 38 to 79 in Morocco, and jumped since the summer of 2002 (the last time the question was asked in these countries) from 54 to 66 in Indonesia and from 12 to 33 in Lebanon. (The Turks held stable on the issue, with 66% saying suicide bombing is “never justified,” statistically identical to the 67% who gave that answer in March 2004.) Most interestingly, opposition to suicide bombings in Iraq specifically was higher, in several countries, than opposition to suicide bombing in general; 56% of Pakistanis and 41% of Lebanese oppose that “insurgent” tactic, along with 43% in Jordan, where only 11% oppose suicide bombing in general (and by “general,” obviously, they mean “Israel”).
Concern over the threat of Islamic extremism is widespread in several of these countries, with the percentage deeming the threat “very great” or “fairly great” at 47 in Turkey, 53 in Pakistan, 73 in Morocco, and 45 in Indonesia. Interestingly enough, respondents in different countries define “Islamic extremism” differently. In Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco, the prevailing view is that Islamic extremism means “Using violence to get rid of non-Muslim influences in our country.” But to pluralities in Turkey and Indonesia, it means “advocating the legal imposition of strict Shari’ah on all Muslims.” The respondents in those two democracies, it seems, are less worried about their Muslim extremists killing people than they are about their getting elected — another point in democracy’s favor, I’d say.
It isn’t all good news; in Pakistan, bin Laden’s popularity has actually grown; 51% of Pakistanis express “some” or “a lot of” confidence in bin Laden. And bin Laden’s support is slightly broader, if less intense, in Jordan, where the percentage expressing “some confidence” in bin Laden grew faster than the percentage expressing “a lot of confidence” dropped. The popularity of suicide bombing has also grown in Jordan, and the 79% of Moroccans who said suicide bombing was “never justified” shrunk to 40% when Iraq was brought up. Anti-Semitism remains endemic in the Muslim world, where the number holding a “very unfavorable” opinion of Jews reaches 99% in both Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey, where 60% hold an unfavorable opinion toward Jews (44% “very unfavorable”), is among these countries the philo-Semitic standout.
But the trends are headed in the right direction. Fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq does not seem to have massively radicalized the Muslim world; if anything the opposite is happening. Another defeat for defeatism.
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