Fewer Muslims support Al-Qaeda

9/11 : 5 YEARS ON
WHO IS WINNING?

Five years after the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, many around the world are wondering who’s winning in the war against terror that US President George W. Bush has declared. The Straits Times Foreign Desk sums up the debate. Many are disenchanted with the terror network’s methods.

MANY Muslims around the world are increasingly disenchanted with Al-Qaeda’s murderous methods but, paradoxically, the United States has been unable to take advantage of this.

A number of surveys on perceptions towards America since 9/11 have revealed one clear fact.

The US has not won the battle for public opinion for fighting terrorism in the Arab and Muslim world, according to Mr Andrew Kohut, head of the respected Pew Research Centre.

Pew, which does global polling on public attitudes, found that in many countries, including Morocco, Jordan, Turkey and Indonesia, there has been significantly less support for the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and suicide bombings.

For example, the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll, published in June, showed a dramatic slide in support for Osama bin Laden among Indonesians.

Only 4 per cent of Indonesians said they had a lot of confidence in the terror leader, down from 19 per cent in 2002.

At the same time, a growing majority of people in the country were against suicide bombings, with 71 per cent saying that such attacks and other forms of violence against civilian targets were never justified, up from 66 per cent last year and 54 per cent in 2002.

Mr Kohut cited Morocco as another country where the decline in Osama’s standing has been steep. In 2003, about 50 per cent of Moroccans expressed confidence in Osama to do the right thing in international affairs; today, Mr Kohut said, about 25 per cent hold this view.

Jordan was another conspicuous example where support for terrorism dropped from 50 per cent to 25 per cent in a 2005 survey.

“The numbers are falling because people see in their own countries the horrors of terrorism,” he explained.

Indonesia and Jordan are among the countries that have been hit by major terrorist strikes since 9/11.

Mr Kohut said: “The attack at the wedding in Jordan last year was a horrible event. It is one thing for these events to take place in a faraway country like America and other Western oppressors. But if it happens in their country, it will have a bearing on people’s perceptions.”

Despite the declining appeal of terrorism, however, Mr Kohut noted that Al-Qaeda was still able to successfully franchise its operations and continue its so-called global jihad against America and the West.

“It really does not take mass support to recruit terrorists,” he said.

Fuelling that recruitment drive, of course, was the deep-seated antipathy towards US policies which has made it very difficult, despite its best intentions, for the Bush administration to win the battle for the hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

Mr Kohut attributes this largely to what many Muslims perceive to be unilateral actions in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict and also in the fight against terrorism.

“In the end, it is only reaction to major policies that can move the needle,” said Mr Kohut.

“Much depends on whether conditions will change for issues that significantly affect global perceptions towards the US.

“But these are things that will take time. You just need to think about how long the Cold War lasted,” he said.

When asked about how Americans viewed the Muslim world, Mr Kohut said there was much scepticism about President George W. Bush’s drive to spread democracy in the Middle East.

“They are sceptical about the values of people in Muslim countries that they really want democracy,” said the Pew head.

The Pew Research Centre, which was established in 2002, has interviewed 110,000 people in 50 countries over the past five years. Most of these surveys were carried out in Arab and Muslim countries, Western Europe, China and Japan.

The surveys are mentioned and used in Congress. Policymakers, lobbyists, the press and ordinary citizens also refer to the findings, which provide quantitative information, public opinion, demographics and economic analysis of the key issues that Pew finds most important in the US.

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