WASHINGTON — Support for suicide bombings and other violence against civilians dropped sharply in recent years in five Muslim countries, according to polls released Tuesday.
The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey found drops of more than half in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lebanon and Pakistan since 2002. Support dropped by nearly half in Jordan and somewhat less than that in Tanzania and Nigeria. Turkey's change was within the margin of error.
Lebanon saw the steepest decline. Whereas 74 percent saw suicide bombings and other violence against civilians as a justified means of defending Islam in 2002, the number dropped to 34 percent this year.
The polling was done in April and May, either face to face or by phone. The margin of error was 2 to 4 percentage points, depending on the country.
"Muslim public opinion, as the result of increased suicide bombings, has come to realize the poisonous and murderous nature of this kind of attack," said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Arab and Muslim politics at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
Gerges, the author of several books on radical Islam, said there'd never been much support among mainstream Muslims for suicide attacks.
Sectarian violence in Iraq has revolted ordinary Muslims and increased public disapproval of suicide bombings, said Mike Davis, a University of California at Irvine professor who wrote a recent history of car bombs.
"Initially, when the attacks were confined to the U.S. or Israel, it was understandable why the attacks would draw patriotism or sympathy," Davis said, referring to the unpopularity of those countries in the Muslim world. "The sectarian campaign has produced a backlash."
The survey comprised 15 Muslim countries and the Palestinian territories but lacked comparable 2002 numbers for the others.
Palestinians were the only group in which a majority said violence against civilians was justified at times. Forty-one percent of Palestinians think such tactics often are justified and 29 percent think they're sometimes justified, according to the survey.
Gerges attributed that finding to "the perception that the Palestinians are facing a highly powerful military apparatus" that they can't fight with less controversial tactics. Many moderate scholars and clerics throughout the Muslim world oppose suicide bombings everywhere but the Palestinian territories, he added.
Among the survey's other findings:
The survey's margin of error ranged from 2 to 4 percentage points, depending on the country. Jordan and Tanzania had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria and Turkey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Pakistan had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. The sample size was about 1,000 in most of the countries polled.
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To read more about the survey, go to http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/257.pdf