Muslim Publics Oppose Al Qaeda’s Terrorism, But Agree With Its Goal of Driving U.S. Forces Out

Muslim Publics Oppose Al Qaeda’s Terrorism, But Agree With Its Goal of Driving U.S. Forces Out

A study of public opinion in predominantly Muslim countries reveals that very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals. People in majority-Muslim countries express mixed feelings about al Qaeda and other Islamist groups that use violence, however, perhaps due to a combination of support for al Qaeda”s goals and disapproval of its terrorist methods.

Large majorities support allowing Islamist groups to organize parties and participate in democratic elections. In some majority-Muslim countries, Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are forbidden from participating in elections.

Steven Kull, director of, comments, “The U.S. faces a conundrum. U.S. efforts to fight terrorism with an expanded military presence in Muslim countries appear to have elicited a backlash and to have bred some sympathy for al Qaeda, even as most reject its methods.”

The survey is part of an ongoing study of Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia, with additional polling in Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Azerbaijan, and Nigeria. It was conducted July through September, 2008 by with support from the START Consortium at the University of Maryland. Margins of error range from +/- 3 to 4 percent.

In nearly all nations polled more than seven in 10 say they disapprove of attacks on American civilians. “Bombings and assassinations that are carried out to achieve political or religious goals” are rejected as “not justified at all” by large majorities ranging from 67 to 89 percent. There is a growing belief that attacks on civilians are ineffective, with approximately half now saying that such attacks are hardly ever effective.

Asked specifically about the U.S. naval forces based in the Persian Gulf, there is widespread opposition across the Muslim world. Opposition is largest in Egypt (91%) and among the Palestinians (90%), but opposition is also large in America”s NATO ally Turkey (77%).

Views of al Qaeda are complex. Majorities agree with nearly all of al Qaeda”s goals to change U.S. behavior in the Muslim world, to promote Islamist governance, and to preserve and affirm Islamic identity. However only minorities say they approve of al Qaeda”s attacks on Americans.

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