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World: Poll Finds Muslim Approval Of Terrorism Declines

Muslims in a central London mosque A new survey shows that support for terrorism and suicide bombings has declined in several Muslim countries. The survey, conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project -- part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center -- also shows that many people in Muslim countries share Western concern over Islamic extremism.

Prague, 15 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Rami Abdulrahman is a journalist based in Amman, Jordan. He told RFE/RL that as a Muslim he believes suicide attacks and other acts of violence cannot be justified as a means to defend Islam.

“I don’t think it's justified as a means for anything because it includes bloodshed, it includes attacks on people‘s freedom and liberty across the world, and it backlashes against the Muslim world with anger and frustration,“ Abdulrahman said.

The survey, whose findings were released on 14 July, was conducted in Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, and Lebanon.

It shows that Muslims in some countries, including Jordan, still believe suicide attacks are justifiable against the United States and other Western countries with troops in Iraq.

But the broader trend is a step away from terrorism. The number of people worried by Islamic extremism is growing. And the number of people supporting terrorism is shrinking.

Dick Leurdijk is a senior research fellow with the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. He told RFE/RL that declining support in Muslim countries for terrorist acts is a positive development that could, in the longer term lead to the isolation of terrorists and their supporters.

“I do consider this as a hopeful sign. This indeed suggests that one of the most important things in terms of how to counter terrorism, is that the answer is not only to be found in Western societies, but also in the Islamic societies. And if the lessons of a number of terrorist attacks since 9/11 indeed would be that many people in Muslim countries do not consider this in line with the Koran and Islam, then the consequence would be that the terrorists are isolating themselves from the grass roots in the Islamic countries. That could indeed lead to a situation where the bases for them would be lost,” Leurdijk said.

Abdulrahman believes the media is playing an important role in increasing public awareness about terrorism.

“The Muslim community is watching the news the whole time and they are seeing that many people are dying out of terrorism and they don’t believe that this is related to their religion -- that no religion in the world will justify the killing, the horror, and the terror that is being created by those so-called Muslim fighters. The media is portraying the true image of terrorism, the ugly image for terrorism and people can't take that any more,” Abdulrahman said.

The survey findings show that nearly three-quarters of Moroccan respondents, and about half of those in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia, see Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries. Some of these countries, including Indonesia and Morocco, have been the target of recent terrorist attacks that left many dead.

According to the poll, Muslims are divided on the causes of radical Islam. While some point to poverty, unemployment, and a lack of education as the causes of Islamic extremism, others in Jordan and Lebanon blamed U.S. policies as the most important cause.

Abdulrahman says many Muslims desire closer ties with the West.

"I think people in the Arab and Muslim world today realize the importance of making peace with the Western world, with the whole world in general because what they want today is better economy, they want trade relations and they believe that these attacks are only keeping us living in the Middle Ages," Abdulrahman said.

The survey also shows that support for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has declined markedly in some countries. For example, 49 Moroccans supported bin Laden two years ago. This year, that figure dropped to 26 percent.

In Indonesia, the world most populous Muslim nation, support for bin Laden has also dropped significantly during the past two years.

But the situation in Jordan and Pakistan is different. In Jordan, confidence in bin Laden rose to 60 percent from 55 percent. In Pakistan, 51 percent of those surveyed registered confidence in him, up from 45 percent four years ago.

During the survey, 17,000 people were interviewed in some 17 Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

According to the Pew survey outside the Muslim world, there is also a growing concern about Islamic extremism. Fifty-two percent of Russians, 48 percent of people in India and 43 percent of Spaniards said they were very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country.

The survey was conducted before the terrorist attacks in London that killed at least 54 people.

(The survey results can be found at
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.