Politics & Policy

Suicide Reversal?

Polling the Muslim world.

On Tuesday, Pew released a poll indicating that support for suicide bombings is on the decline in the Muslim world, among other things. How encouraging is this poll? What can we do — as a government, as private entities — to use the information constructively? National Review Online asked a group of experts — here’s what they came up with.

Peter Brookes

Obviously, it’s good news that Muslims, with the exception of the Palestinians, increasingly see violence, especially suicide bombings, against civilians by their co-religionists as unjustifiable.

In a way, it’s really no surprise considering the horrific, indiscriminate Muslim-on-Muslim violence we’ve seen since the last poll was taken in 2002.

It’s no wonder that support for Osama and his band of ruthless killers is down as well. Perhaps, we’ll see more Muslims take a stand against al Qaeda and its ideology of hatred and violence.

But they’ll only stand up and speak out — if they will at all, if this information gets into their hands — and, more importantly, they realize that they aren’t alone in their thinking.

While not trumpeting its role, U.S. public diplomacy assets must get this message to as many media outlets, eyes and ears in the Muslim world as possible — stat!

Peter Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.

Nonie Darwish

The poll is certainly encouraging. In spite of all the criticism the U.S. government is facing in its war on terror, there are tangible results in the Muslim world. In the last few years, I have seen significant positive change in Arab media allowing more honest dialogue on democracy and criticism of violence and radicalism. This could not have happened without the strong negative world reaction against radical Islam and Islamists following 9/11.

But the dwindling Muslim support for terrorism could be partially the consequence of Muslims themselves becoming victims of terror in Iraq, Jordan, the Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza. The poll did not differentiate between Muslim or non-Muslim victims of terror. I believe if the poll did the results could have been different. The poll did state that 70 percent of Palestinians support suicide bombing against civilians and by that of course they mean, Israelis.

Arabs are very sensitive to criticism, especially of their religion. Muslims for the first time in their history are confronted with worldwide criticism and feel they must provide substantial answers, or at least do damage control. Muslims finally are questioning certain aspects of sharia laws in Cairo and other Arab capitals. The West must continue the pressure in the realm of ideas, exposing the dangerous ideology of Jihad, intolerance and Islamic oppression of human rights.

– Nonie Darwish is author of Now They Call Me Infidel.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

As is the case for most surveys of public opinion in the Muslim world, the Pew survey is a mixed bag. It is encouraging that support for suicide bombings has declined in seven of the eight countries for which data is available for 2002 and 2007; more encouraging is the declining confidence in Osama bin Laden in all seven Muslim countries for which comparative data is available. Less encouraging is the support the survey found for Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor should we overlook the overwhelmingly unfavorable view of the U.S.

The unfavorable view of suicide bombings coupled with the favorable view of Hezbollah and Hamas indicates one problem with the survey: Suicide bombings are merely a tactic. Militants have many tactics beside suicide bombings, including IEDs, car bombs, mortars, and ambushes. The critical question is not whether respondents favor suicide bombings, but if they think violence in defense of Islam is justified.

There are a few areas where this survey can help in setting policy. First, although it will be a long and slow process, we should be cognizant of efforts in the Muslim world — such as those of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan — to produce religious consensus on concepts like jihad. The opposition to suicide bombings revealed by the survey can bolster such efforts. Second, the survey reveals continuing problems with U.S. public diplomacy. The fact that the U.S. is seen as a greater threat than al Qaeda in the Muslim world provides extremists with fertile recruiting ground.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam.

Raymond Ibrahim

The most effective way to build on the promising poll results indicating that more and more Muslims are becoming less supportive of suicide bombings — or, what are know in Islamic terminology as “martyrdom operations” — is to attack the question from a purely theological angle.

Rational or humanitarian arguments presented through a non-Islamic paradigm are useless when talking to zealots, which is what potential suicide bombers are. Nor is it enough for Muslims and non-Muslims to say that the Koran forbids it. Those holding to the opposite view have constructed elaborate and sophisticated — and ultimately compelling — arguments to the contrary, all articulated through the meticulous standards of Islamic jurisprudence. Treatises such as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents,” which offers all sorts of compelling proofs on behalf of suicide-attacks, must be addressed, dismantled, and refuted — also through Islamic jurisprudence.

Also, there is no denying that the carnal lure of paradise — replete with 72 virgins — is a compelling factor in winning suicidal recruits. This must be replaced with the “carnal” fear of the fires of hell; compelling — and descriptive — proofs of the severe and sure torments awaiting the suicide bomber must be elaborated.

Finally, all this must be performed by Muslim clerics who are no moderates and preferably not affiliated with the US. .or West, which would totally compromise their authority. Put another way, if the authority refuting suicide-bombings also just so happens to be against jihad and the draconian measures of Islamic law (e.g., religious discrimination against non-Muslims, death to apostates, and a male-centric sexual hierarchy) — all those things that under Islamic law are not open to debate and are refuted only by the “moderate” — his views will be considered tainted and automatically discredited.

For our part, we must acknowledge that this is fundamentally a religious issue and must therefore be addressed through the language of religion.

– Raymond Ibrahim is editor of the upcoming The Al Qaeda Reader.

M. Zuhdi Jasser

This week’s Pew study results are dangerously oversimplified. Improvements in economics and moods in the developing world are in no way reason enough for the sharp decline in support for suicide bombing. The recent 45-doctor plot in London and Glasgow told us that much. For now, it is not only too early, but downright irresponsible to have a collective sigh of relief.

As we have often seen, Pew avoids the why. In their latest report, they again ignore the most central global question: Islamism and its conflict with America and the West.

What if, in fact, the general support for the tactic of terror was decreasing simply because the Islamist enemy was beginning to achieve their ideological goals in their native countries? What if the Islamists were actually sensing a general global retreat of the uniquely American ideologies of pluralism?

Terror is only a means to the ends of political Islam. If political Islam is on the rise, doesn’t it stand to reason that apologetics for terrorism may then actually decrease?

Certainly freer markets, economic growth, and education may ultimately drive Muslim populations away from autocracy and corruption. But to where will it drive them? What alternative Muslim narratives are available in this war of ideas? With the current American mainstream-media (MSM) distractions, Islamists are free to control Arab and Muslim media alongside their dictators and monarchs and spread political Islam in the Middle East and in the West.

Our private and governmental resources have yet to hardly focus on the anti-Islamists and anti-Wahhabist Muslims. The Bush administration and MSM would similarly rather avoid any critical ideological engagement of Islamist movements around the world. Our public diplomacy has actually turned into “Islamist facilitation.”

Manifestations of Islamist fascism (i.e. terrorism) may wax and wane depending upon how threatened the Islamist ideologues are with extinction. The underlying disease — political Islam– however, will never go away without a direct ideological counter-jihad and counter-Islamism from within the faith.

We need a broad based network of anti-Islamist Muslims willing to take on Islamism as a political ideology. Our national resources need to deeply engage liberty-minded Muslims. They can then credibly deconstruct the false theocratic dream of the Islamic state and lift up the ideas of universal religious freedom and the separation of religion and politics within the Muslim consciousness. Anti-Islamist Muslims will need significant assistance in developing institutions and networks of individuals ready to globally and domestically counter political Islam.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, practicing Internist, and the Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org.

Judith Klinghoffer

What does the significant decline in support for suicide bombing in “defense of Islam” mean? It means that the much maligned American hard power forward strategy is winning the ideological war on terror. Blowing up Westerners may have seemed like romantic justice to ideological radicals and empowering to the masses but blowing up fellow Muslims has not. Nor have the images of flying body parts of fellow countrymen look edifying or helpful in selling the notion that suicide bombing defends Islam. Official pronouncements aside, more and more Muslims realize that each additional suicide bombing brings Islam and Muslims into greater and greater disrepute, puts them in the crosshairs of the world’s only superpower and increases rather than diminishes the insertion of infidel power into Dar al Islam.

If so, why the Palestinian exception? Because the poll was taken before they had the opportunity to experience Islamist violence firsthand and because from kindergarten on, they have been carefully taught to view suicide bombing as edifying, heroic, and profitable. It is also possible that many may consider it unsafe to think otherwise. Note that while 70 percent of the Palestinians consider suicide bombings justified, 71 percent consider terrorism a big problem, and 91 percent are unhappy with the way their country is run.

Mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, the survey serves to demonstrate that the world (and not just Israel) is paying and will continue to pay a deadly price for coddling the Palestinians with huge amounts of foreign aid while permitting their corrupt leadership to turn the Palestinian Authority into nothing but a suicide-bomber factory. This production must stop now. What does that mean? It means that to get another penny, posters advocating/celebrating suicide bombers must be outlawed as must schoolbooks, radio, and television programs so doing. And last, but not least, payments to “martyr” families must end. After all, given the decline in the popularity of suicide bombings in the rest of the Muslim world, the oil-rich Muslim-factory underwriters can no longer argue that ending the payments would risk their own survival.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Fulbright professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences co-author of International Citizens’ Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and History News Network blogger.

Victor Davis Hanson

The polls perhaps reveals a number of things. Globalization, free trade, lower taxes, and economic growth–mostly the present policy of the United States — have enriched and thereby pacified entire regions not long ago considered direct threats to U.S. security and the interests of the free world, like Southeast Asia, parts of Latin America, and Eastern Europe. More importantly, despite all the partisan rhetoric that that al Qaeda is growing and that ,mindlessly, we are pursuing only military options against terrorism embodied by suicide bombing, the precipitous drop in Middle Eastern and Muslim support for both such a tactic and Osama bin Laden himself reveals a different story: that the tide of history is slowly turning against the terrorists for a variety of reasons.

One, suicide bombing is not providing victory. It has neither toppled the elected governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel nor driven the U.S. from the Middle East, despite losing 3,000 of its own on 9/11 to such a tactic. The billions the United States has poured into the region, coupled with counter-insurgency efforts are reflected in the terrorists’ declining popularity: they can’t win a military victory; when pressed they turn on the innocent and helpless,bringing mayhem and shame to Islam in general; and they offer nothing other than nihilism to their constituents.

As far as the ‘deeper, but not wider anti-Americanism’ survey: personally, I am happy about the strong pro-American sentiment from most of sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe, Japan, and India — areas where cynicism, scape-goating, and blame-gaming is less rare — and rather honored as well by the antipathy toward the US arising from China, Russia, Germany and Spain (but, of course), and the Middle East who all share a sense that their lost past grandeur is somehow attributable to a grasping, capitalistic, free, and preachy United States. The anti-American polling in Germany and Spain (higher than in China and Russia) by any fair measure would qualify both as belligerents.

Finally, a plea: Can’t Pew do a comprehensive, country-by-country survey of what Americans here think of the rest of the world — an invaluable guide for both our friends and enemies?

Aaron Mannes

The news that fewer Muslims view suicide bombings as justified is obviously positive — and this despite inept U.S. strategic communications efforts. It is just possible that Muslim civilization is beginning to pull itself back from the brink. However, significant minorities still support suicide bombings. Digging deeper into the report, one learns that only 50 percent of Turks under 30 believe suicide attacks are never justified and 20 percent of Turkish men (as opposed to 12 percent of Turkish women) state that terrorist attacks against civilians are often or sometimes acceptable. The trends indicating a decline in Muslim support for terrorism are strong, but even 10-percent public support affords terrorists a strong base of potential recruits.

There are some interesting incongruities in the responses. While support for terrorism is down, Hamas and Hezbollah retain strong favorable ratings. Support for suicide attacks in the two largest Muslim populations in the world, Indonesia and Pakistan have collapsed (from 26 percent to 10 percent and 33 percent to 9 percent respectively). However favorable opinions of bin Laden have declined more slowly (from 46 percent to 38 percent in Pakistan and from 59 percent to 41 percent in Indonesia.) Some of this may reflect anti-Americanism which remains strong. In Kuwait, a country saved from Saddam by the U.S. military, two thirds of those polled considered the U.S. a military threat.

It is possible that the anti-Americanism cannot be easily rectified: Great powers are frequently resented. Public diplomacy may have some impact, but it will be at the margins. More crucial are strategic influence campaigns that foster (often indirectly) moderate voices that reject violence. These voices may not be friends to the United States. But if they reject violence they need not be America’s enemies, and most importantly they will be rescuing their own people from a future of Islamist madness.

One final note, the poll does not appear to include members of the world’s third largest Muslim population and largest Muslim minority. The attitudes of India’s Muslims (over 120 million people) will have an important role in shaping India’s future. Also, the recent attempted terror attacks in London and Glasgow were the first terror attacks involving Indian Muslims outside of the subcontinent. The attitudes towards terrorism among India’s Muslims have international ramifications and should be studied.

Aaron Mannes researches international affairs at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory”>Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics and is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.

Daniel Pipes

It is good news if Muslim support for suicide bombings is indeed declining. But it need not have much to do, as the poll takers theorize, with improved personal circumstances. Two other factors likely have more importance.

First, as Muslims themselves (in such countries as Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Pakistan) become the victims of suicide bombings, they increasingly reject this tactic. The Pew Global Attitudes Project itself noted in June 2006 that this “shift has been especially dramatic in Jordan, likely in response to the devastating terrorist attack in Amman last year; 29 percent of Jordanians view suicide attacks as often or sometimes justified, down from 57 percent in May 2005.”

Second, Muslims appear growingly aware that the terroristic ways of Osama bin Laden offer a less successful path to realizing the Islamist goals of imposing the Shari’a and creating a caliphate do than the political, lawful ways of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s newly-triumphantly reelected prime minister. Whereas terrorism stimulates its own antibodies and offers no plausible path to power, working through the system is proving successful in such diverse places as Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iraq, and Bangladesh, as well as in the West.

Therefore, this survey has more subtle and ambiguous implications than first appear.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures.

Robert Spencer

The poll results are, unfortunately, hard to attribute to a genuine reduction of support for the global jihadist imperative. When support for suicide bombings drops so sharply — from 74 percent to 34 percent — among Muslims in Lebanon in just five years, what catastrophe has there been of sufficient magnitude to have triggered such a massive change? Is it Syria’s ongoing interference in Lebanese affairs? The Israeli move against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006? The standoff between jihadists and the Lebanese Army at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp? Unlikely: Hezbollah emerged from last summer’s conflict stronger than ever, and Syrian kibitzing and jihadists in refugee camps were as much part of Lebanon’s reality in 2002 as they are in 2007.

We haven’t seen in Lebanon or anywhere else in the Islamic world any large-scale initiative to refute the jihad ideology, or to counter jihadist claims to represent true and pure Islam. Accordingly the sharp reduction in support for suicide bombing and other jihadist tactics recorded in the poll may represent little more than a growing awareness of the need to try to contain the damage that jihad terror attacks cause to the image of Islam. Underscoring this is Pew’s attribution of the findings to the fact that “economic growth has surged” — just after the Doctors Plot in Britain definitively refuted the common myth that poverty causes jihadism. Officials should make policy on the basis of this poll only with extreme wariness.

— Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of The Truth About Muhammad.

Bat Ye’or

First, we should consider with precautions any such survey. Questions have a general character and when it comes to the Muslim world it targets over a billion persons. That said, the dwindling Muslim support for terrorism that the survey detects might be true. The factors that triggered this decrease would be numerous.

Innovated by the Hezbollah in 1983, and by Palestinian Islamists, suicide bombings is a jihadist terrorist technique used to spread chaos among Israelis and was greatly popular in the Muslim world — even in Europe. Then it became a weapon used indiscriminately against Christians and other non-Muslims (New York, Bali, London, Madrid, etc.), and against Muslims (Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq). The mayhem in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon provokes horrors and insecurity within the Muslims themselves. They feel vulnerable to a weapon that some Muslims have enthusiastically approved when used against others and especially Israelis. Moreover, the radicalizations of the Muslim world, the Sunni-Shia tensions spreading in the Middle East and even in Asia, raise the sinister prospect of a spiral of uncontrolled terror throughout the Muslim world.

Reinforcing this feeling, the reactions in the West to such criminal behavior have irritated many Muslims. Now people request wider controls on immigration, asylum, and security measures. The continual threats by Islamists; the terrorist plots not always discovered; the restrictions regarding traveling; the long delays and waste of time imposed on masses of innocent Westerners have mirrored negatively on Muslims in general. Now they complain of Islamophobia without any consideration for all the sufferings and disturbances caused by Islamists. The insecurity that prevails in the West, as if whole continents were at war, is amply discussed — if not in the mainstream media, on the Internet and in countless books. This exposure of such inhumane acts and their consequences for Muslims in matters of immigration, restrictions, and public opinion affect the decrease in Muslim support for terror since it boomerangs against them. The policy of exposure and a wider accountability must continue until Muslims will, themselves, fight to eliminate the venomous hatred in their media, madrassas, and mosques that inspire jihadist terrorism.

– Bat Ye’or, a pioneer researcher on dhimmitude since the 1970s, is author of Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2002) and Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis (2004).

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