Opinion polls in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that more than 90 per cent of those populations have unfavorable views of al Qaeda and of Osama himself. Pakistan is also among the Muslim countries where al Qaeda has greatly lost its popularity — from above 75 per cent five years ago to 34 per cent now. Pravda.Ru has interviewed several major experts in the field of terrorism to explain this information.
“It is easy to explain why Iraqis dislike al Qaeda. First, most Iraqis are Shia, which the al Qaeda movement regard as heretics. Second, al Qaeda-affiliated groups are killing civilians in Iraq.
It is also easy to explain why so many Afghans have similarly unfavorable views of Islamicist radicals. Most Afghans hate the Taliban, which brutalized the country from 1995-2001 and continues to wreak havoc there. Afghans associate bin Laden and al Qaeda with the Taliban.
Pakistan is a more interesting case. Until recently, Osama bin Ladin and al Qaeda had made some in-roads in attracting support from moderate Muslims, according to a number of opinion polls. The U.S. invasion of Iraq no doubt caused some of this shift in moderate opinion, but I suspect that what we're seeing now is these same moderates beginning to realize that the al Qaeda movement is a dead-end. They're looking for an alternative. The challenge for the United States, Russia, and other countries with a stake in global security is to help identify that alternative,” says Andrew J. Grotto, Senior National Security Analyst at the Center for American Progress.
“I think al Qaeda has lost considerable popularity because its indiscriminate violence has provoked a backlash among Muslims, who have been its principal victims. Al Qaeda has murdered more Muslims than non-Muslims, more Afghans than Americans. Also more Iraqis than Americans,” says James Phillips, Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.
“There are a number of possible explanations. Let me highlight two. First, attacks attributed to al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted primarily in the deaths of Muslims, not outsiders. So most citizens of these countries are beginning to recognize al Qaeda leaders as criminals, not saviors. Second, most Muslims do not agree with the repressive vision of Islam propagated by the likes of bin Laden. They do not want to go back to the 7th century. They want to remain faithful to Islam, but live in the 21st century,” believes Philip Crowley, Senior Fellow and Director of Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress.
“The drop in popular support is a reaction to the senseless slaughter that has now killed thousands of innocent Muslims. At first, al Qaeda was favored as a rebellion against the Western--and particularly American--occupation and dominance of Muslim nations. But al Qaeda attacks are increasingly focused on fellow Muslims. And al Qaeda has now become the chief justification for America continuing its war in Iraq. The reasonable and expected reaction by Muslims is to reject both al Qaeda and America. "A plague on both your houses," they say. Nor is there widespread support for the harsh Muslim law al Qaeda favors and has tried to impose in the little territory they occupy,” Joseph Cirincione, Senior Fellow and Director for Nuclear Policy at CAP.
Pravda.Ru: Do you think that Islamic radicals have become disappointed in terrorism as political means?
P.J. Crowley: Unfortunately, no. The number of incidents of terrorism around the world is on the rise. The real challenge is to reduce popular support for terrorism as a legitimate weapon. Look at Northern Ireland. Intercommunal tension remains, but in the late 1990s, the public made clear to the radicals on both sides that they had gone too far because their attacks killed innocents, not combatants. The war ended and now they are trying to resolve existing differences through a political process. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, while occupiers are still perceived as legitimate targets, there is this recognition that the violence has not achieved anything. The people are looking for other options, which provide an opening for political solutions.
James Phillips: Muslims who see al Qaeda's mass murders at close range are horrified and reject its totalitarian ideology. And those forced to live under the thumb of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq quickly turned against its harsh punishments, arrogant self-righteousness, and intolerant treatment of other viewpoints. Although many Muslims initially welcomed al Qaeda as possible champion against the West, now see it as a threat to themselves.
Pravda.Ru: Is it possible that Muslim countries will cooperate with the West to eradicate al Qaeda?
Andrew J. Grotto: Muslim countries are already cooperating with the West to eradicate al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and other countries are all working with the United States and the West. The real question iswhether they could do more to help. I believe they could at the operational level, particularly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But one of the most important ways these countries could help is by instituting meaningful democratic reforms at home; this would greatly reduce al Qaeda's ability to attract supporters, as the undemocratic character of these regimes is one of their main rallying cries. I'm not holding my breath, however--these governments are not likely to make such reforms any time soon.
Joseph Cirincione: We can expect more cooperation with Muslim states against Al Qaeda, especially as the US withdraws from Iraq. This will be true of Shia governments, in particular, including Iran, but will also be true as Sunni governments. We see this happening already in Anbar Province in Iraq. Before the current surge in troops began Sunni tribal leaders concluded that Al Qaeda was their enemy, not their ally, in large part because of the harsh rule they tried to impose on the towns and cities they occupied.
P.J. Crowley: Ultimately, this must be resolved within Islam itself. Major powers like the United States and Russia cannot defeat all of the radicals militarily. Occupations tend to generate more terrorists and terrorism, and at an enormous cost. Muslims will decide eventually that bin Laden is a false prophet. Outside powers must first and foremost avoid giving al Qaeda any pretext to preach and recruit and expand. Al Qaeda is trying to convince moderate Muslims that there is a war between the West and the modern world and Islam. It is not true, but conflicts like Iraq and before it Chechnya give that message credibility. People and governments in the Islamic world will cooperate with the West if it promises to make their lives better. Take Afghanistan. Afghans opposed the Soviet occupation, but did not accept the Taliban's repression. They want the more tolerant and moderate Karzai government to succeed, but now it must make the life of the average Afghan measurably better. This is where the West must help -- reconstructing society, building effective institutions of government, generating economic opportunity and making the streets safer. If the Karzai government succeeds in doing those things, then al Qaeda will be further isolated. The same in Iraq. This is how you defeat extremism -- giving people a credible, tangeable and effective alternative.
James Phillips: I think most Islamic radicals continue to support terrorism because it is a useful tool for seizing power. But many Muslims have grown less romantic and more cynical about terrorism unleashed in the name of Allah.
Many Muslim governments cooperate with the West against al-Qaeda because they realize that al-Qaeda is ultimately more of a threat to them than it is to the U.S.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik