Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

A spark of good news from the Mideast

By Frida Ghitis
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
An Iraqi child walks through a displacement camp Saturday, June 28, in Khazair, Iraq. Vast swaths of northern Iraq, including the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, have fallen as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, advances toward Baghdad, the capital. The ISIS militants want to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the region, stretching from Iraq into northern Syria. An Iraqi child walks through a displacement camp Saturday, June 28, in Khazair, Iraq. Vast swaths of northern Iraq, including the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, have fallen as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, advances toward Baghdad, the capital. The ISIS militants want to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the region, stretching from Iraq into northern Syria.
HIDE CAPTION
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
<<
<
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
>
>>
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
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
The U.S. government doesn't discourage those wanting to join, but some question why they would choose the IDF as opposed to the American military.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1224 GMT (2024 HKT)
Operation Protective Edge could buy Israel a couple of years of peace, analysts say. But is there an end to the cycle of violence?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
What are the goals for Hamas, the organization that governs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by many Western powers? And what is it willing to settle for to end the bloodshed?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
A discovery of rockets hidden in a vacant U.N. facility is the sort of evidence that Israel cites when it accuses Hamas of using civilians and their institutions as shields in the ongoing Gaza conflict.
This is a collaborative effort of CNN and people around the world, who are seeing the ripple effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
Every morning, Asya Abdul-Hadi wakes up in Denver and begins what has become an agonizing routine.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Is John Kerry coming to the Israeli-Hamas crisis too early, too late or just at the right time?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
How does this incursion compare to previous ones by Israel into Gaza, in terms of military force? Answers to that question and more by CNN's Ben Wedeman.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
Israel is confronting a problem beyond the Hamas rockets screeching overhead -- a threat from the tunnels beneath their feet.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
In the violent bedlam that has engulfed Gaza, not even the hospitals are immune from attack.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1807 GMT (0207 HKT)
Each with its unique crisis, all four countries are now unified in a heightened sense of anxiety as years of conflict come to a head.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
Part of Jerusalem is seeing its worst flare-up in years. Here's a look at some of the key questions about the fighting.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
A nurse, Malka Davidovich arrived at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Israel, where she was told her son, an Israeli soldier, was in the emergency room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Four young boys died Wednesday after the Gaza beach where they were playing was attacked by Israeli forces.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1944 GMT (0344 HKT)
In the twilight hours of Saturday, when the people of Gaza were breaking the daily Ramadan fast, fireballs illuminated the night sky.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
The violent cycle of retribution and retaliation only seems to be worsening.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 0003 GMT (0803 HKT)
The Israel Defense Forces sent a large force into Gaza -- infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and intelligence units backed by aerial and naval support.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 0018 GMT (0818 HKT)
A mob, wielding baseball bats, broken bottles and knives, swarms a Paris synagogue. Violence erupts at a pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
They call themselves "the resistance." Are they a terrorist network or an elected government -- or both?
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
Clashes in Jerusalem show no sign of stopping and many wonder if peace will ever come to the region. Ben Wedeman reports.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
The current violence between the Israeli military and Hamas is the latest in a long history of fighting in the region. Here's a look at some events along the way.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Israel is fighting to block rockets from striking its major population centers, deploying its Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept them.
ADVERTISEMENT