Support for Suicide Bombings and Bin Laden Still High Among Some Muslims

By Patrick Goodenough | September 11, 2009 | 4:30 AM EDT

Palestinian supporters of Hamas attend a rally in Gaza City on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008, marking the group's 21st anniversary. (AP Photo)

( – A new survey gauging Muslim attitudes indicates that backing for suicide bombings against civilians, while generally down from earlier years, remains significant in some Islamic countries – challenging the assertion that Muslims supporting terrorism constitute a “tiny minority.”
In the Pew Global Attitudes Project poll released on Thursday, 68 percent of Palestinian Muslim respondents said suicide bombings against civilians were justifiable “to defend Islam from its enemies.”
That view was shared by 43 percent of respondents in Nigeria and 38 percent in Lebanon, where 51 percent of Shi’ites held the view compared to 25 percent of Sunnis.
Elsewhere, the proportion of Muslim respondents supporting suicide bombings against civilians was 15 percent in Egypt, 13 percent in Indonesia, 12 percent in Jordan, seven percent in Israel (Muslim Arab citizens), five percent in Pakistan and four percent in Turkey.
Of the eight countries polled, support for suicide bombings increased since last year in five of them.
On the other hand, this year’s results show a decline over the period since 2002.
Pakistan recorded the most striking drop: In 2004, 41 percent of respondents justified suicide terrorism, whereas the number recorded this year was five percent. Terrorism has surged in Pakistan since 2007, and this year alone, at least 750 people had been killed and 2,276 injured in 365 bombings inside Pakistan as of the end of August, according to figures compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal in New Delhi.
The Pew survey also found although majorities in Nigeria (54 percent) and the Palestinian territories (52 percent) expressed “confidence in the al Qaeda leader [Osama bin Laden] to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
In the other countries surveyed, the Saudi terrorist enjoyed the backing of 28 percent of respondents in Jordan, 25 percent in Indonesia, 23 percent in Egypt, 18 percent in Pakistan, 16 percent in Israel, four percent in Lebanon and two percent in Turkey.
The biggest drop in support for bin Laden was measured in Indonesia (down 34 points since 2003), Jordan (down 28 points) and Pakistan (down 28 points). The trend in Nigeria was in the opposite direction – up 10 points since 2003.
‘Tiny minority’
The poll comes amid reports that the New York Police Department – after taking flak from Muslim organizations – has inserted into a key report on terrorism a “statement of clarification,” saying among other things that “a tiny minority of Muslims … subscribe to al-Qaeda’s ideology of war and terror.”
The two-page statement has been added to a report first drawn up by two NYPD intelligence analysts in 2007 and reportedly used by government agencies around the U.S.  The report is entitled “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat.”
The report examines the jihadist ideology, inspiration provided by al-Qaeda, and the process of radicalization, including political, social, economic and personal factors that can act as catalysts. It also highlights the role of the Internet in disseminating the jihadist ideology.
When the report first came out, it caused a stir among Islamic organizations. In response, some came together to form the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), which late last year released a critique.
In it, MACLC said the NYPD report “presents a distorted and misleading depiction of Islam and its adherents,” calls their loyalties and motivations into question, and “erroneously associates religious precepts with violence and terror.”
It contested the NYPD’s argument that the threat of “Islamic-based radicalism” was growing, calling it unsubstantiated and speculative.
To back up that position, MACLC cited a 2008 Gallup Center for Muslim Studies survey which found that across 10 Muslim-majority nations, the radicalized group – those saying 9/11 was “completely justified” and voicing an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. – comprised “about seven percent of the total population.” (Seven percent of 1.3 billion, the estimated number of the world’s Muslims, is 91 million).
The “statement of clarification” now inserted by the NYPD points out that the report focuses on terrorism in the West, inspired by and linked to al-Qaeda.
“The twisted ideology that underpins this specific type of terrorism claims its
legitimacy from an extremist misinterpretation of Islam. As a consequence, this particular type of terrorist ideology has historically found most of its supporters to be Muslim.
“Nevertheless, NYPD understands that it is a tiny minority of Muslims who
subscribe to al-Qaeda’s ideology of war and terror and that the NYPD’s focus on al-Qaeda inspired terrorism should not be mistaken for any implicit or explicit justification for racial, religious or ethnic profiling.”
In a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly this week, MACLC welcomed the appearance of the “statement of clarification” but said the police department needs to do more to publicize the move, which it said had apparently been made “without any public announcement.”
It also argued that the report itself remained unchanged, and said it regretted that the statement of clarification “was relegated to an insert within the report, rather than being implemented throughout the text itself.”
MACLC raised several other unresolved concerns, saying the report “should more clearly state that there is no per se link between Islam and terrorism and that the report’s focus on al-Qaeda should not be read to suggest such a link.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow