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Turning against terror

The sages teach that tragedy is instructive -- if its bitter lessons can be swallowed. Now a new poll finds that support for suicide bombings and other violence against civilians has plunged across the Muslim world, markedly, though not exclusively, in countries that have experienced such attacks. The data, released Tuesday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, point out a clear path toward Western reconciliation with the estranged Islamic world -- if we’re deft enough to take it.

The Pew poll and other recent surveys paint a seemingly contradictory picture of Muslim public opinion. In country after country, Muslims distrust the United States and reject its policies. They see the “global war on terror” as a war on Islam and actively fear U.S. military intervention. A stunning 93% of Bangladeshis and 92% of Moroccans, for example, say they are somewhat or very worried that the U.S. could someday pose a military threat to their nations. At the same time, however, Muslims increasingly repudiate Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s methods (though not necessarily its political goals).

This contradiction is worth probing. In Lebanon, for example, 63% of those polled this spring said they opposed the U.S.-led war on terror. But only 34% thought that suicide bombings against civilians were sometimes or often justified -- down from 74% who considered suicide bombing justifiable in 2002. Support for Bin Laden plummeted from 20% to 1% of those surveyed in Lebanon, and substantial drops were also registered in Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan and Kuwait.

The exception to this trend is in the places where Muslims see themselves at war with a vastly stronger enemy: Israel and Iraq. A stunning 70% of Palestinians see suicide bombings that kill civilians as justifiable, and large numbers across the Arab world view U.S. troops in Iraq as fair game. Also, Shiites are more likely than Sunnis to endorse suicide bombing. Nevertheless, the data suggest that terrorist tactics are falling from favor.

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Can Western leaders drive a deeper wedge between extremist groups like Al Qaeda and Muslims around the world? One person who has clearly decided to try is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He has forbidden his ministers to use the inflammatory phrase “war on terror” and pointedly avoided calling the Glasgow airport attack “Muslim” or “Islamist.” Instead, he simply branded it “criminal.” British Muslims were overjoyed. Critics mocked Brown’s political correctness, rightly noting that linguistic self-censorship will not inspire similar self-restraint by the terrorists setting off the bombs.

The question, however, is whether British police will now receive more cooperation from Muslim citizens on whom they depend for information to thwart the next bombers.


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