More Muslims reject violence

The most encouraging news of the last week – the results of the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey showing a decline in Muslim support for violence against civilians – failed to grab many prominent headlines. But it contributes to evidence that a substantial number of the largely silent majority of Islamic moderates may have had enough.

When most Muslims finally stand up and apply their considerable group pressure to the minority radicals, no matter how fearsome the latter’s saber-rattling and rhetoric might appear, Islamic extremism will diminish as quickly as it took root during the past generation.

Of course, I fully realize that such proactive behavior can and does happen far more easily in Western countries than in those located deep within the Islamic world, where democratic systems and respect for civil liberties are fairly scarce. Thus, it is all the more heartening that the Pew survey found declining support for suicide bombings and other civilian-directed violence in many Muslim nations.

“Overall, majorities in 15 of 16 Muslim publics surveyed say that suicide bombings can be rarely or never justified,” according to the report. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan registered the most impressive drops, compared to 2002 numbers.

Now, it would be naive to conclude that those trends necessarily suggest the waning of Islamic extremism, that the war against terrorism has succeeded, or that we should be turning our collective global attention to other issues. Far from it.

It is interesting to note, though, that in many of the countries where support for suicide attacks has fallen, there also has been declining support for terrorist guru and financier Osama bin Laden. For example, the Pew report notes, “the percentage of Jordanian Muslims who have confidence in bin Laden as a world leader has fallen 36 percentage points since 2003.”

I strongly suspect that much of the reason for the changing viewpoints comes from the terrorists’ targeting of so many Muslims in recent years. Combine that with moderate Muslims’ general revulsion for suicide bombings, as well as their rejection of terrorism, and the new attitudes make perfect sense.

Every Muslim who loudly and consistently condemns acts of violence by those who distort the true meaning and purpose of Islam, including bin Laden, deserves praise. And I especially appreciate the efforts of Muslim communities that have chosen to police their own more effectively, and work closely with authorities to monitor and round up miscreants.

Muslims who remain mostly silent and prefer to avoid the public spotlight, however, do themselves, their communities and their religion an injustice.

It may take several more years of atrocities by extremists supposedly acting in the name of Islam to yank inactive moderates from their complacency. Almost inevitably, situations of this type have to worsen before they improve.

But I firmly believe that most of the rest of the moderates will come around. They surely have no more desire to live in a world designed by bin Laden and his ideological sympathizers than the rest of us. Said differently, they have has much at stake in defeating Islamic terrorism as anyone.

My hope is that the next Pew survey will show ever-growing sentiments against Islamic terrorism, not only in the countries that posted standout results last week but across the board.

Violent Islamic extremism – indeed, the entire spectrum of terrorism – is not invulnerable. Although terrorism has defied eradication over the millennia, it shrinks in the face of intense, persistent, creative and sufficient counter-measures.

Until such time, and to secure that essential end, the moderates of all communities must pull together and unrelentingly rail against every manifestation of the terrorist scourge.