Muslim Support for Bin Laden Falls, Poll Says

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People in several heavily Muslim countries have lost some of their enthusiasm for Usama bin Laden (search) and for violent acts like terror bombings, especially in countries where there have been recent terrorist acts, international polling found.

Surveys conducted for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press looked at attitudes of people living in Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, all countries with Muslim majorities, as part of an international survey of 17 countries done this spring.

In Lebanon (search), the number of people who think the use of bombings and other forms of violence is justified in defense of Islam (search) has dropped from 73 percent in the summer of 2002 to 39 percent now. A decrease in this number also was seen in Morocco, which fell from 40 percent a year ago to 13 percent now, and in Pakistan and Indonesia. In Jordan, the number of people who feel such violence is justified has grown slightly; the number in Turkey remains very low.

Since March 2004, the sentiment for bombings against Americans and their allies in Iraq dropped from 70 percent to 49 percent in Jordan, which neighbors Iraq, and dropped by smaller margins in Pakistan, Turkey and Morocco.

The polling was done before the terrorist bombings in London last week.

Public confidence in bin Laden has dipped sharply since May 2003 in Indonesia, Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey — all countries that have experienced recent terrorist bombings. In Pakistan and Jordan, a majority of people continue to say they have at least some confidence in bin Laden, the Saudi who leads Al Qaeda.

"Support for Usama bin Laden is waning, but there are still people who admire him and view him as a hero," said Ulil Abshor Abdala, chairman of the Islamic Liberal Network, a non-governmental organization in Indonesia that supports religious moderation and interfaith harmony.

"For some youth Usama Bin Laden is like Che Guevera, it does not matter what you say, he is a hero to them. Our challenge is how to limit the extent of this heroic admiration among the youth," Abdala said.

The United States remains broadly unpopular in those heavily Muslim countries. Solid majorities of the people in Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan and Indonesia have an unfavorable view of the United States, while Moroccans are split. Young people in Morocco, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey view America more favorably than the overall populations in those countries, the polling found.

Reasons for Islamic extremism varied from one majority-Muslim country to the next. Poverty and a lack of jobs were mentioned most often in some countries, while U.S. policies and influence were mentioned in others. Lack of education, immorality and lawlessness also were cited.

"The concern about the causes of extremism are varied," said Wendy Sherman, who was counselor for the State Department in the Clinton administration. "When the U.S. government looks at our counterterrorism efforts, we clearly have to use a variety of approaches."

The surveys found that public acceptance is growing in some majority-Muslim countries that democracy is not strictly a Western way of doing things but could work in their countries. In Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and Indonesia, increasing numbers of people feel that democracy can work there.

The Pew survey found some conflicting feelings about Islam in majority-Muslim countries.

In all of those countries except Jordan, people were more likely to say Islam is playing a greater role in their countries than it did a few years ago. The increasing role of Islam was overwhelmingly seen as a positive development in all those countries except Turkey. Respondents said growing immorality, government corruption and concerns about Western influence were among their reasons for turning to Islam.

A majority of people in Morocco and Pakistan say Islamic extremism greatly threatens their country, and almost half in Indonesia and Turkey said it poses a great threat. Few people in Lebanon and Jordan felt that way.

Muslims in Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Morocco say they think of themselves first as Muslims, then as citizens of their country. Muslims in Lebanon and Indonesia were divided on how they think of themselves first.

The polls were taken in various countries from late April to the end of May with samples of about 1,000 in most countries and slightly fewer than 1,000 in the European countries. The margin of sampling error ranged from 2 percentage points to 4 percentage points, depending on the sample size.