WASHINGTON — Public support for Osama bin Laden and terrorist violence has declined markedly in several Muslim countries, although it remains substantial, a new poll shows.
A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey found that confidence in Bin Laden "to do the right thing regarding world affairs" fell in four of six sampled countries over the last two years. Support for violence against civilian targets has fallen in five of the six countries since they were last polled by the Pew project.
Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said the results suggested that "people are tiring of terrorism in these places," perhaps because most of the countries have themselves suffered such attacks.
At the same time, the figures show that there remains "a pretty substantial body of support" for deadly attacks in defense of Islam, Kohut said.
The six Muslim-majority countries polled were Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey.
Kohut said the changing attitude toward Bin Laden may reflect a cooling of anger toward the United States since May 2003, when Pew last asked the question. At that time, memories of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two months earlier were fresh, and many Muslims saw Bin Laden as a defender.
Support for Bin Laden fell in Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco and Turkey, yet it rose in two countries that Washington considers key allies: Jordan and Pakistan. Sixty percent of respondents in Jordan and 51% in Pakistan say they have "a lot" or "some" confidence that the Al Qaeda leader will do the right thing, up from 55% and 45%, respectively.
As for violence against civilians, 13% of people surveyed in Morocco this spring thought it was justified "often" or "sometimes" to defend Islam from its enemies, down from 40% a year earlier. In Pakistan, the share who approved of violence "often" or "sometimes" fell from 33% in 2002 to 25% this year, and in Indonesia that figure fell from 27% in the summer of 2002 to 15% this year.
One exception to the trend was Jordan, which has a large population of Palestinians and long-standing sympathies with the minority Sunni Muslims in neighboring Iraq. In the summer of 2002, 43% said that violence against civilians to defend Islam was justified "sometimes" or "often"; by this spring, the figure had jumped to 57%.
Muslims in the six Muslim-majority countries were asked whether suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq were justified: 24% of those in Turkey said yes, as did 49% in Lebanon and Jordan and 56% in Morocco, although the figures for three of those countries were down somewhat from 2004 (the Pew project did not ask the question last year in Lebanon).
Among the wider population, the survey found that large shares of those surveyed considered terrorist violence a threat to their own country. Seventy-three percent of Moroccans said they considered it a threat to their nation, as did 52% of Pakistanis, 47% of Turks and 45% of Indonesians.
The polling was done between April and mid-June, and involved 17,000 people in the six countries as well as 11 Western and Asian nations. The margin of error varied by country, from 2 to 4 percentage points.
Amid some decline in support for violence carried out in the name of Islam, many Muslims see peaceful Islam as an increasingly important force in their countries' politics -- and consider that a welcome development, the poll suggested.
In Pakistan, 48% said Islam was taking an increasing role in politics in their country, versus 23% who thought its role was declining. Majorities in Morocco and Indonesia and pluralities in Lebanon and Turkey also saw a growing role for the religion.
Many who said that Islam was playing an increasingly large role said this was in reaction to rising immorality in the country, or to offset growing, undesirable Western influences.
Muslims were split on the reasons for Islamic terrorism. Sizable minorities in most of the predominantly Muslim countries pointed to poverty and lack of education as key causes. But pluralities in Jordan and Lebanon cited U.S. policies as the most important cause.
The survey found that majorities in Britain, France, Canada, the United States and Russia had a "somewhat" or "very favorable" view of Muslims. Pluralities in Spain and Poland held that view.
Among the Western countries, only in the Netherlands and Germany did a majority or plurality hold unfavorable views of Muslims. Fifty-one percent of the Dutch and 47% of Germans said they had unfavorable views of Muslims.
The survey also found that many Chinese held negative views of Islam and other religions. Forty-seven percent of the Chinese surveyed said they had unfavorable views of Christians; 49% said the same of Jews, and 50% of Muslims.
Full survey results are available at www.pewglobal.org.
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Support for suicide bombings and other terrorist acts has declined in several predominantly Muslim nations, as has confidence in Osama bin Laden to act correctly in world affairs:
"Often" or "sometimes" support suicide bombings
"A lot" or "some" confidence in Osama bin Laden
Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project