Support for Bin Laden, Violence Down Among Muslims, Poll Says

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005

Osama bin Laden's standing has dropped significantly in some pivotal Muslim countries, while support for suicide bombings and other acts of violence has "declined dramatically," according to a new survey released yesterday.

Predominantly Muslim populations in a sampling of six North African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries share to a "considerable degree" Western concerns about Islamic extremism, according to the poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, conducted by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization.

"Most Muslim publics are expressing less support for terrorism than in the past. Confidence in Osama bin Laden has declined markedly in some countries, and fewer believe suicide bombings that target civilians are justified in the defense of Islam," the poll concluded.

The one exception is attitudes toward suicide bombings of U.S and Western targets in Iraq, a subject on which Muslims were divided. Roughly half of Muslims in Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco said such attacks are justifiable, while sizable majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia disagreed. Yet, support for suicide bombings in Iraq still declined by as much as 20 percent compared with a poll taken last year.

The results, which also reveal widespread support for democracy, show how profoundly opinions have changed in parts of the Muslim world since Pew took similar surveys in recent years. The poll attributed the difference in attitudes toward extremism to both the terrorist attacks in Muslim nations and the passage of time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In May 2003, many Muslims "saw a worldwide threat to Islam and [bin Laden] represented opposition to the West and the United States," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center and project director. "Tempers have since cooled."

The poll results are a rare piece of good news for the Bush administration, which has faced difficulties seeing gains in its two top foreign policy goals -- combating terrorism and promoting democracy in the Islamic world.

"These are eye-catching results, but not surprising," said Augustus Richard Norton, a Middle East specialist at Boston University. "Muslims, like non-Muslims, are plugged into the world. . . . It is one thing to be caught up in the supposed glamour of attacking the superpower or global bully, but it is quite another to have to pay the consequences economically, politically -- not to mention personally. This is what has happened in places like Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, where many people now see extremist Islam as a threat to their lives, not a fantasy game of kick Uncle Sam."

The survey, conducted from April through mid-June, before the London bombings, polled 17,000 people in the six Muslim-dominated countries and in 11 major Western and Asian nations, including the United States. They were asked about their attitudes toward Islam, Muslim nations and extremist violence. More than 6,200 interviews in Muslim countries were conducted in person, while interviews in the West and in Asia were done by telephone and in person.

The new poll also found that growing majorities or pluralities of Muslims now say that democracy can work in their countries and is not just a Western ideology. Support for democracy was in the 80 percent range in Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco. It was selected by 43 percent in Pakistan and 48 percent in Turkey -- the largest blocks of respondents in both countries because significant numbers were unsure.

"They are not just paying lip service. They are saying they specifically want a fair judiciary, freedom of expression and more than one party in elections. It wasn't just a vague concept," Kohut said. "U.S. and Western ideas about democracy have been globalized and are in the Muslim world."

At the same time, most Muslims surveyed said they think Islam is playing an increasing role in their politics, a development they view as a positive shift in response to economic problems, growing immorality and concern about Western influence. Jordan was the only exception.

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