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Support for Terrorism Falls…but More Slowly Than During the Bush Years

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.


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