The study, by Washington polling organisation the Pew Centre for the People and the Press, found that many people in predominantly Muslim countries share concerns over Islamic extremism, with many seeing it as a threat to their own countries.
“There’s declining support for terrorism in the Muslim countries and support for Osama bin Laden is declining,” Pew Centre director Andrew Kohut told reporters. “There’s also less support for suicide bombings.”
The survey, conducted among more than 17,000 people in 17 countries in April and May, found that nearly three quarters of Moroccans and roughly half of those in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia – all predominantly Muslim nations – see Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries.
There were differing opinions about the causes of radicalism, with sizeable minorities pointing to poverty, joblessness and a lack of education, while in Jordan and Lebanon more people blamed US policies as the most important factor.
In Europe and America, the poll found that fear of the growth of Islamic extremism both at home and around the world was rising. However, in Britain more people – 43% – said they were very worried about the growth of Islamic extremism abroad, with only 34% saying they were worried about it at home.
The non-profit and non-partisan Pew centre is a leading Washington polling organisation and the global attitudes survey is considered one of the most important benchmarks of cross-national attitudes.
The survey found that in Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia 15% or fewer said that suicide bombings and other acts of violence against civilian targets in defence of Islam could be justified; the figure in Morocco last year was 40%.
In Pakistan, only one in four – 25% – took the view that suicide bombings could be justified, a sharp drop from 41% last year. In Lebanon, which has been the victim of several recent bombing attacks, 39% now regard acts of terrorism as often or sometimes justified compared to 73% in 2002.
The one notable exception to the trend was Jordan, where a majority – 57% – said suicide bombings and violence were justifiable in defence of Islam.
Muslims in the surveyed countries were divided on suicide bombings in Iraq. Nearly half in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco, said suicide bombings against westerners in Iraq were justifiable, but substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia took the opposite view.
The survey showed that public confidence in Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaida, has dipped sharply since May 2003 in Indonesia, Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey.