Following recent attacks in Egypt, London, and Iraq, the role of neo-conservative plotting in the war on terror can be clarified by a detailed review of the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey.
This survey was carried out by the respected Pew research centre in July this year, before the bombings in London. Its findings debunk many myths and need to be carefully assessed.
A key finding was that worry about Islamic extremism was relatively low in the US and much higher in a number of other countries. India and Russia shared the position of being the most concerned countries at 84%, with Germany second at 78%, Spain third at 77% and the Netherlands fourth at 76%. France and Morocco, the latter an Islamic state, were the fifth most concerned about Islamic extremism at 73%, while the UK and the US came in sixth at 70%. This is an unexpected result and does suggest that there is much more than neo-conservative plotting involved here. The fact that an Islamic state, Morocco, is more concerned about Islamic extremism than the US is particularly striking.
Looking firstly at the non-Islamic countries, a key question is why such a level of concern? Much of this concern has clearly been generated by terrorist and other attacks in Russia, India, Spain and France (the 1995 Paris bomb attacks by Algerian terrorists). However, in Germany and the Netherlands, who come in second and fourth in terms of level of concern, no major terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda have yet occurred. The explanation has to be connected to significant Islamic immigration, some notable hate murders in the Netherlands and concerns about the lack of assimilation of sizeable numbers of Muslim citizens and residents.
In this regard, hostility towards Islam and Muslims was lower in the UK and the US than in many EU states. In the US there was a 57% favourable view of Muslims and a 22% unfavourable view. In Germany, the favourable view was 40% while the unfavourable was 47%, while in the Netherlands, the favourable was 45% and the unfavourable was 51%. In the West overall, only the Dutch and Germans held such net unfavourable views. Clearly, there are many issues here and much work to be done in the EU to avoid an unnecessary and potentially disastrous clash of civilisations.
On a more positive note, it is of interest to see the level of concern in Islamic states about Islamic extremism. It is notable that in the July 2005 survey, Morocco at 73% had a higher level of concern about such than the US and the UK at 70%. Other Islamic states surveyed had the following levels of concern – Pakistan 52%, Turkey 47% and Indonesia 45%. This suggests on a broader level that there is no current clash of civilisations and that Muslims are as concerned about extremism as the West is. This provides significant possibilities for building a strong coalition worldwide against Al-Qaedaist terrorism.
It is also of note in this survey that concern on the part of Muslims about threats to Islam are in decline. While their level of concern in this area is still high, the fact that such concern is reducing is a positive and unexpected development in view of the widely-assumed negative impact of the war in Iraq.
A final point of note is that in Islamic states support for terrorist actions against civilians worldwide and for suicide bombings in Iraq is declining. Support for Osama Bin Laden is also in decline. In particular support for terrorist actions and for Osama Bin Laden declined dramatically in Indonesia and Morocco where major Al-Qaedaist terrorist attacks occurred. Clearly, terrorist attacks, even against Western targets in Islamic states are proving counter-productive and do lead to a decline in support for terrorism and for Osama Bin Laden. From this perspective, the recent attack in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt was a major tactical blunder on the part of the Al-Qaedaists. However they are not stupid and Osama Bin Laden is a skilled tactician and propagandist. The bad news for the West is that when these trends are absorbed by Al-Qaedaists, further attacks on Western targets such as London are more likely.
Ireland is also a target in this regard, not only because of Shannon. Looking at the actions and the statements of the Al-Qaedaists, we are a target because of our support for East Timorese independence (seen by them as imperialism against the Islamic nation in Indonesia), our strong and active support for the UN, and our Christian, party culture. Al-Qaedaists are always prepared to attack “soft” targets – the attack on Paddy’s Bar in Bali, because of Australia’s leading role for the UN in securing the independence of East Timor, being a prime example and one very relevant to us. The track record of the Al-Qaedaists would suggest that a target in the Irish tourist sector which killed Americans and other Europeans would be considered particularly valuable.