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Friday, July 15, 2005

Pew Poll Says Support for bin Laden is Down

It's beginning to look like we're making progress. The tide may be turning against the terrorists but there's no reason to gloat.

An encouraging survey reveals support for Osama bin Laden has dropped significantly in pivotal Muslim countries, while support for suicide bombings and other acts of violence has also "declined dramatically".

"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.

That's good news but should also be a wake-up call for policy makers. The reason that bin Laden and his ilk became popular was because of perceived injustices by the western superpowers.

He became their champion against the bullies. A sort of warped version of the Robin Hood syndrome. Public opinion, as fickle as it may be, will generally swing in favour of the "perceived" downtrodden victim.

"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 "liberators" were caught in a quagmire and soon became "occupiers" in the eyes of the Iraqi populace and sympathizing nations.

But Muslims and non-muslims alike are suffering at the hands of the terrorists. Muslims are being targeted in their own neighbourhoods, as evidenced by the recent London bombings. Or the car bombing of a soldier handing out candy to children.

The combatants use palatable words such as "collateral damage" or a "necessary sacrifice for the greater good of the whole". But in the public's view it's all bullshit.

The simple fact is you make friends by being nice, not by blowing them up, and that will be the fatal undoing of al Qaeda.

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."

It is all about perception of grievances, the realities of war and perhaps most importantly, who claims the moral high ground. Ironically, bin Laden has been so successful as a terrorist that he is now looking like the big-bad wolf in the eyes of the Muslim world.

Accordingly if we play our cards right, instead of unifying the Muslim world in a jihad it could all backfire on him. Because the simple fact is most Muslims are intelligent and decent people.

Augustus Richard Norton, a Middle East specialist at Boston University goes on to say:

"These are eye-catching results, but not surprising". "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."

Some will argue this is proof positive the Bush administration policy of brute force is beginning to work. But we can see there are other forces in motion.

Everybody loses in war. People are beginning to understand the insanity of it all, and to that end the platitude "violence begets more violence" rings even more loud and true.

This is not an opportunity for the Bush administration to gloat. It is an opportunity to show grace under fire. That will be a tough pill to swallow for those who believe force is the only answer. But when everyone knows you have the big club and can wield it, which do you think will have the bigger impact?

Teddy Roosevelt said it best -- "speak softy and carry a big stick". In the end the real victor will be the side that wins the hearts and minds of the people, and that takes time, patience, tolerance, education and perhaps most important of all - forgiveness.

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3 Comments: 'It's your turn to toss the ball'...

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous joan said...

That's good news. I hope you are right the tide has turned.

 Edit Comment
At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Jake said...

Excellent post. You make some good points. I just hope your optimism comes true.

 Edit Comment
At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Darrell Eugene said...

Rather disputable.

 Edit Comment

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