Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's not always about us, redux

Except, of course, that even if it's not about us, it can still affect us indirectly. UPI for July 15 reported on a new Pew poll which found that
[p]ublic support for Osama bin Laden and terrorist violence has dropped in several Muslim countries.
Unfortunately, while that statement is accurate, UPI thoroughly mangled the details of the report. (Among other errors, it identified the poll as having been done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press when it was actually done by Pew's Global Attitudes Project.) However, the real details are available at this link to the Pew Center's summary.

The research, the Project says,
conducted among more than 17,000 people in 17 countries this spring, finds that while many Muslims believe that radical Islam poses a threat, there are differing opinions as to its causes. Sizable minorities in most predominantly Muslim countries point to poverty, joblessness and a lack of education, but pluralities in Jordan and Lebanon cite U.S. policies as the most important cause of Islamic extremism.
The results show a drop, in some cases a dramatic one, in support among Muslims for attacks on civilian targets as compared to an earlier survey done in the summer of 2002. For example, the percentage of Lebanese Muslims who said such attacks were justified "often" or "sometimes" tumbled from 73% to 39%. In Pakistan, the drop was from 33% to 25% (while those who responded "rarely" or "never" jumped from 43% to 65%). Support in Indonesia dropped to roughly half its previous level: From 27% to 15%. Morocco also showed a clear decline, this one in comparison to a survey in March of 2004. Then, 40% said attacks on civilians were "often" or "sometimes" justified; now the figure has shrunk to 13%.

Turkey, with 14% answering "often" or "sometimes," was essentially unchanged.

The only nation showing a clear increase in support for such attacks was Jordan: up from 43% in the summer of 2002 to 57% now. UPI suggests one reason why that might be so: It quotes the Los Angeles Times as noting that Jordan has a large Sunni population with close ties to Iraq's. That connection and the resulting natural sympathy could easily be a source of support for attacks on civilians, justified by the war. That possibility is buttressed by another finding of the poll:
When it comes to suicide bombings in Iraq, however, Muslims in the surveyed countries are divided. Nearly half of Muslims in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco, say suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. However, substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia take the opposite view.
Overall, Muslims who answered the poll were more likely to approve of attacks against Americans and other foreign civilians in Iraq than on civilians elsewhere - indicating that, as many of us have been saying, our presence in Iraq is driving more Islamic fundamentalist terrorism (or at the very least, more support for such terrorism) than our withdrawal would.

In its coverage, UPI completely blows the question about Osama bin Laden, seemingly equating support for him with support for acts of terrorism. The actual question had to do with the level of confidence that respondents had in bin Laden to "do the right thing in world affairs." While that level is up some in Jordan and Pakistan (I can't help but wonder if in the latter case it has something to do with admiration due to the fact that he's still out there, successfully eluding US forces), it is down, in some cases sharply, in Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon; indeed, it the latter, he has almost no support at all.

I'm not surprised by these figures; I recall a while ago reading (and I thought posting but I'll be damned if I can find it) about the increasing debate in Muslim communities in the Middle East about the morality of attacks on civilian targets and how some questions that had earlier seemed unaskable were now coming to appear unanswerable.

Hatred does have a way of burning out eventually. It often takes years and often burns out the hater before it burns out itself, but it does eventually - eventually - cool. The truth is, no community can long withstand the self-destructive effects of open flames of hatred; the conflicts that sustain themselves the longest are those that usually smolder rather than blaze.

I think the saddest realization I ever came to is that most of our conflicts don't end because people become wise or forgiving or realize the immorality or cruelty of what they have done - they end because of exhaustion. Sometimes that's a material exhaustion on the part of one side (leading to "victory" for the other); more commonly, it's a spiritual, an emotional, exhaustion on the part of both sides: They are just tired of it, sufficiently tired to let go of enough of their group egos to accept what before they would reject. That's one of the reasons that the perpetually-shaky months-old Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire (about which I have written way too little of late) has more or less held despite the strains and threats: Both sides are tired of the bloodshed; even Hamas is showing signs of the same tiredness. (Unhappily, the Israeli religious reactionaries opposing the pullout from Gaza don't seem to be as near that point yet.)

And someday, sometime, the anger among some of our fellow citizens will also fade and cool and we will as a people once again blink our eyes and to our collective shock rediscover the reality of poverty and prejudice and not dismiss them by saying to the one "you're lazy" and to the other "you're a whiner" or "you're a sinner." Maybe we can even pursue the dream of being a light unto the world by assailing our reality of being a blight unto the world.

I've started to spin 'way off here, so I'll cut myself off and just say this: We do live in a dark time. But we will survive.

Footnote: And maybe not quite so dark as we think. A survey that actually was done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, released July 11, revealed that
more than six-in-ten (62%) Americans see terrorist attacks over the past few years as a conflict with a small radical group, while 28% say they are part of a broader clash with Islam.
And the figures don't change much depending on how closely people followed the news of the London bombings.

The attempts by the right to turn the current stresses into an all-out culture war, pitting the moral, upstanding, "free" West against the ignorant, backwards, oppression of Islam, have not gained traction. So sorry, Christopher Hitchens. Better luck with the next target of your shifting hatreds.

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