Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

A spark of good news from the Mideast

By Frida Ghitis
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
ISIS militants stand near the site of an airstrike near the Turkey-Syria border on Thursday, October 23. The United States and several Arab nations have been bombing ISIS targets in Syria to take out the militant group's ability to command, train and resupply its fighters. ISIS militants stand near the site of an airstrike near the Turkey-Syria border on Thursday, October 23. The United States and several Arab nations have been bombing ISIS targets in Syria to take out the militant group's ability to command, train and resupply its fighters.
HIDE CAPTION
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
Iraq under siege
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS terror threat
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are more opposed to extremism
  • Frida Ghitis: The results are startling and highly encouraging for long-term peace
  • She says Muslims are turning against groups that support violence and terrorism
  • Ghitis: Extremists are still making territorial gains, but their ideology is losing ground

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- It's time for some good news from the Middle East. The region is a tangle of sectarian bloodshed, territorial clashes and ideological disputes. But there is one bright light, an important, positive development that we should pause to appreciate.

A recent poll of 14 Muslim-majority countries by the Pew Research Center has come up with startling, highly encouraging results: Muslims are becoming increasingly opposed to extremism.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Muslims are turning against organizations that support violence and terrorism. Public approval for suicide bombings is way down, and so is support for the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and Boko Haram.

It's a dramatic change from the days just after 9/11 when any Westerner traveling through the Muslim Middle East and Asia could see troubling signs. I remember the Osama bin Laden T-shirts flying off the shelves in the bazaars, the burning Twin Towers shirts hawked by street vendors, the jaw-dropping conversations, even with some educated people who found justification for every manner of terrorist activity.

At long last, that ideology is significantly receding. While extremists are making territorial gains, their ideology is losing ground. They are losing the war of ideas.

Fasting for the holy month of Ramadan
Marvel Comics creates Muslim superhero
Last Look: How should Muslim women dress?

In 2003, al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden was one of the most trusted leaders in the Muslim world. Support for bin Laden was particularly strong among Palestinians, Jordanians and Pakistanis. In 2004, a survey showed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was the most admired man in the Middle East. The Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, which has carried out and claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings, once enjoyed strong popular support of the Palestinian population.

Now all of them -- bin Laden, Hezbollah and Hamas -- have seen their popularity plummet.

The new survey was taken in the spring, before ISIS swept into Iraq from Syria and before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Favorable views of al Qaeda are scarce. Unfavorable views stand at 96% in Lebanon, 85% in Turkey, 83% in Jordan, 81% in Egypt and 42% in Pakistan. The highest level of approval is found in the Palestinian territories, at 25%. Researchers found antipathy toward al Qaeda among Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The Islamist Boko Haram, whose name became internationally known after kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls, is despised by more than 80% of Nigerians.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, maintains strong support among Lebanon's Shiites, but majorities see it unfavorably in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere.

Hamas, whose rejectionist stance against Israel has a tendency to increase its popularity during times of strife, may be enjoying a boost during the current upsurge in violence, but its image has deteriorated greatly overall. Large majorities had unfavorable views of Hamas in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Even in the Palestinian territories, the majority said it had a negative opinion of the group.

Not only are terrorist groups losing hearts and minds, more Muslims are rejecting their methods.

A dozen years ago, Pew asked Muslims around the world if they thought suicide bombings could be justified in defense of Islam. The results were depressing.

In Lebanon, for example, 73% said yes. Two years later, in 2004, when asked whether suicide bombings against Westerners in Iraq were justified, majorities said yes in Morocco and Jordan, which are relatively moderate countries. In most countries, even when majorities disapproved, there were large numbers that would not reject that particularly vile method of murder.

Since then, the suicide bombers have expanded their targets and gone from killing Americans and Israelis to massacring other Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Syrian, Nigeria, Indonesia and many other places. Islamic extremism has been morphing from an ideological rallying cry to a brutally oppressive fighting force in many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The percentage who thought suicide bombings can be justified to defend Islam "often" or "sometimes" was just 3% in Pakistan, where 83% said "never." In Tunisia it was 5%, with 90% saying never. In Israel, 16% of Israeli Muslims said it can be justified, 48% said never.

In the Palestinian Territories 46% said it could be justified, the numbers were higher in Gaza (52%) than in the West Bank (36%).

The refusal to reject suicide terrorism is still too high in some places, but the general trend is positive and significant.

When ISIS started to broadcast images of the mass murder its forces are committing in Iraq, it was sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Rejection happens the moment terrorists kill close to home, turning supporters into opponents. Similarly, in Jordan, admiration for bin Laden plummeted in 2005 after a series of suicide bombings killed scores of people in the capital.

Public opinion polls don't translate into battlefield success or electoral victories that sweep murderous extremists from power. But the latest survey gives us hope.

Despite the relentless barrage of horrible news and the unending human misery in the Middle East, the tide of public opinion is moving away from extremism. That can only count as a much-needed encouraging sign for a long-term future of reconciliation, when radicalism will be rejected and peace can return.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Tensions in the Middle East
Here's a look at some of the most serious conflicts involving Israel and its neighbors -- conflicts that have spanned more than six decades.
updated 9:01 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Fifty days of fighting. Thousands of rocket attacks and airstrikes. And a number of failed cease-fire agreements.
updated 5:04 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
19-year-old Udi Segal explains why he won't join his country's military.
updated 8:28 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
The sights at the Gaza zoo couldn't be sadder, after it was nearly destroyed during recent Israel-Hamas conflict.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Both Hamas and Israel have chosen conflict over real peace negotiations again and again in the past, writes Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Mohammed Najib says Hamas' objectives also include ending its political isolation.
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
With so many conflicts, on so many fronts, here's a quick look at what's happening.
updated 10:29 AM EDT, Sat July 5, 2014
Alan Elsner: How Israel reacts will be decisive turning point for both Israelis and Palestinians.
updated 4:59 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
The Israel-Gaza conflict impacts families on both sides. Karl Penhaul speaks to the family of a militant killed in Gaza.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A sense of Egypt's historic role and the traditional animosity of their military toward Islamist radicalism have propelled Egypt to take a central role in the on-off cease-fire talks.
updated 5:50 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
If the Gaza truce holds and Israel's Operation Protective Edge comes to its conclusion, some things are certain.
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
CNN's Tim Lister says, to secure peace, Israel needs to offer Gazans a better future.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Hamas must be tamed through politics, not the failed strategy of war, argues Ed Husain.
updated 2:20 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Hamas' political leader, who lives in Qatar, sits down with CNN for an exclusive interview.
updated 6:43 AM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Nafoz Mohammed is living in a cramped two-room apartment with 16 other people, hours holed up in fear.
updated 12:54 AM EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
Karl Penhaul visits a destroyed section of Gaza and learns how the bombing has affected one student's aspirations.
updated 2:15 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
The birth of a child is normally a joyous occasion, but it is tinged by sadness and anxiety in Gaza. Ian Lee reports.
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Amid the Gaza conflict, experts try to figure out who's in charge of "the resistance."
updated 6:10 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
The opening was so small that CNN's Wolf Blitzer -- no physical giant -- had to bend down to climb inside.
Follow CNNArabic for the latest news and analysis from the Middle East and rest of the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT