Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Political Science and International Relations disciplines
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA USA 24401
This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published December 15, 2002 in the News Leader (Staunton, VA): p. A11.
It is presented both as a scan of the original (go here) and in a more easily read and printable form, below.
The version below includes citations to sources, citations not included in the original printed form.
A large, multi-nation public opinion poll released in early December by the Pew Center for Research compared attitudes about life, personal satisfaction, views of the U.S. government and culture, the pending war on Iraq, and much more. News accounts about it have stressed the decline in American popularity that the poll found. But majorities in 35 of the 42 nations polled still rate the U.S. favorably. This thimbleful of good news is washed away, however, by a dark river of ill will toward America across the Muslim world.
The most disturbing finding in the report is a section concerning support for suicide bombing in defense of Islam. Across the Middle East, and in other predominantly Muslim states affected by the war on terrorism, disturbingly large segments of society embrace the tactic. Support among Muslims ranges from a high of:
· 73 percent in Lebanon, to
· 43 percent in Jordan,
· 44 percent in Bengla Desh,
· 33 percent in Pakistan,
· 27 percent in Indonesia, and
· 13 percent in Turkey.
Disturbingly, all across West Africa support for suicide bombings among Muslims also is high: Ivory Coast 56 percent, Nigeria 47 percent, Ghana 30 percent. The polls, however, were taken prior to the recent victimizations of Kenyans in East Africa in the Mombasa hotel bombings.
These figures underline the depth of the problem facing us in the war on terrorism. Osama bin Laden's central tactic enjoys broad social support. These poll figures, of course, bear no relationship to the number of actual individuals willing to become human kamikazes. But it is clear from these polls that social ostracism of bombing and bombers is not occurring. Indeed, the opposite interpretation seems borne out by the Pew results. Social approval of violence in the name of Islam may be encouraging those who make the deadly choice.
Social encouragement to extremists takes many forms in the Middle East. One element is denial of responsibility for mass murder. Saudi Arabian-U.S. relations were roiled in recent weeks by reports of charitable donations from the wife of their ambassador here, donations that found their way to a Saudi friend in San Diego, a man who then helped to fund two of the September 11 hijackers' expenses. Top Saudi officials were sent to smooth over the matter in effective public relations speeches all around the capital. But in the Middle East, more notable were the comments of Prince Nayef Ibn Abd Al-Aziz, the Saudi Minister of Interior (i.e., the man who oversees their police forces). As reported by the Middle East Media Research Institute, on November 29, 2002, and speaking of the September 11 attack here, he told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasa: "I cannot still believe that 19 youths, including 15 Saudis, carried out the September 11 attacks with the support of bin Laden and his Al-Qa'ida organization. It's impossible. I will not believe that these people have the power to do so horrendous an attack." The prince went on to claim the attacks were a plot by Zionists to discredit Arabs: "we put big question marks and ask who committed the events of September 11 and who benefited from them. Who benefited from events .? I think they [the Zionists] are behind these events."
No nation other than Kuwait more directly benefited from the American 1990-91 Desert Storm campaign than did Saudi Arabia. In the years since, no Arab nation has received more U.S. aid than Egypt. Yet, the Pew Poll found a bare six percent of Egyptians hold a favorable view of the U.S. The public in other key U.S. allies in the region is barely more positive: Pakistan ten percent favorable (69% unfavorable); Jordan 25 percent favorable (75% unfavorable); Turkey 30 percent favorable (55% unfavorable). The places where the U.S. has sacrificed the most, and has been the most generous and steadfast, are the very places where publics are most hostile.
The hostility most clearly is expressed about suicide bombing, but it extends to a lack of sympathy for our War on Terrorism in general. In Egypt, only 5 percent support the War on Terrorism, and nearly eight in ten (79%) oppose it. In Jordan, 13 percent support and 85 percent oppose; in Pakistan, 20 percent support and 45 percent oppose; in Turkey, 30 percent support and 58 percent oppose. Clearly, the unity felt in Fall 2001-- a world united against terror-was momentary, and now is an illusion.
Reversing these attitudes is a monumental task, one likely to absorb the energy of a generation in a Herculean effort not unlike the Cold War. We would be well to conceive the problem to be one of large dimensions, rather than to think of it as a criminal justice problem of catching, trying, and convicting a few terrorists.
Gordon Bowen's continuing commentary can be found at: /faculty/gbowen/Bowenweblog.htm
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