Is support of al Qaeda low?

The Pew Research Center has good news on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death:

A year after the death of its leader, al Qaeda is widely unpopular among Muslim publics. A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted March 19 to April 13, 2012, finds majorities – and mostly large majorities – expressing negative views of the terrorist group in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The media coverage mostly reflected this take advanced by Pew.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times, for instance:

Muslims in Middle East, Asia think poorly of Al Qaeda, poll finds

A new poll covering thousands of Muslims in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon found that most thought poorly of Al Qaeda nearly a year after Osama bin Laden’s death.

The results came just after U.S. intelligence officials announced that the terrorist group has been greatly diminished since the death of Bin Laden, suggesting that Al Qaeda has been losing Muslim hearts and minds along with organizational muscle.

And here’s CNN:

Poll: Many Muslims in Mideast, Pakistan have poor view of al Qaeda

Most Muslims in several key Middle Eastern and Asian countries hold negative views of the terrorist network al Qaeda a year after U.S. forces killed its leader, Osama bin Laden, according to a recent survey.

The poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, released Monday, found that a high proportion — between 71% and 98% — of Muslims questioned in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon viewed al Qaeda in an unfavorable way.

In Pakistan, where U.S. Navy SEALs killed the al Qaeda leader during a raid on a compound a year ago, 55% of the Muslims surveyed had a negative opinion of the terrorist group, according to the poll. Only 13% had a favorable view.

US News:

After bin Laden’s Death, al Qaeda’s Popularity Wanes

Osama bin Laden’s death didn’t fuel support for al Qaeda. In fact, the group remains as unpopular as ever in much of the Middle East.

A Pew Research Center Survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey shows a majority of Muslim citizens hold unfavorable views of al Qaeda one year after Osama bin Laden’s death.

We have looked at this poll previously, and the coverage that comes with it, and while few would disagree that it’s great news that the percentage of Muslims in five countries who don’t like al Qaeda is as low as it is, it still is alarmingly high to me.

So on the one hand, you can highlight that “only” 21% of Egypt, 15% of Jordan, 13% of Pakistan, 6% of Turkey and 2% of Lebanon express even favorable views toward the terrorist group. But you could also say that these polls reflect support of al Qaeda that would work out to 47,284,049 Muslims in only five of the 50 countries in which a majority of the population is Muslim.

If roughly similar percentages of Muslims support al Qaeda in the remaining countries — which include Indonesia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia — we’re talking a lot of support.

I’m trying to think if the media would report that “only,” say, 12% of Floridians support the methods of Terry Jones, the Koran-burning pastor. Or the KKK or some group like that.

What would be nice for media coverage to look into is what this “support” means in any case. Is al Qaeda losing favor in the Arab World for their terrorism or because they haven’t been terribly proficient lately? What about the support of other Islamist groups?

In other words, what do these numbers mean? Do they reflect a growing dislike of terrorist movements? Of terrorist methods? Do they even reflect anything about terrorist movements in general or just al Qaeda in particular? Answering those questions might change these headlines some.

Crashing percentage image via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

  • sari

    I’m trying to think if the media would report that “only,” say, 12% of Floridians support the methods of Terry Jones, the Koran-burning pastor. Or the KKK or some group like that.

    Perhaps not the best example. Racist and bigoted thought remains entrenched in large portions of the state. Sympathizers should count as supporters.

    One can judge increased or decreased support by comparing numbers from previous years. I agree that, absent a definition and without comparative figures, “support” becomes almost meaningless. What does the survey say about how Muslims in these same countries view the U.S. and Europe? The two together would say more than either apart.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    I share your questions at the end, Mollie, and that’s what I thought of first. In a way, it’s like saying sales of Ford is down and implying people are buying fewer cars when it is possible that sales of Chevy and cars in general are up. it is a complicated question. Without probing Why, the poll can only leave us wondering.

  • Jerry

    Mollie, I think you missed a big opportunity here. The word “support” is very vague and you should have criticized the vagueness of the poll assuming the translation into English is accurate.

    I have no idea what people meant when they were in favor or opposed. Nor do I know how much the people offering an opinion knew about al Queda in the first place. Look at elections here in the USA and “low information voters”. How many offering an opinion were “low information”? How many have the wrong idea of what al Quaeda stands for? How many agree with some of what they say but disagree with violence?

    If the survey had asked questions like the following, then we’d have something much, much more meaningful: Do you support or oppose terrorist attacks on US civilians which will inevitably also kill Muslims?

  • John M.


    At the risk of over-generalizing, huge swaths of the Muslim world are “low information.” Conspiracy theories of a wide variety thrive in an environment where the formal channels of information dissemination (i.e. the media & government) are considered untrustworthy. Let this be a warning to the journalists here.