Jordanian Poll Indicates Erosion of Public Support for al-Qaeda

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 6

The ramifications of the November 9, 2005 Amman suicide bombings indicate that the terrorist act played a major role in changing people’s attitudes toward terrorism. An opinion poll conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, a semi-government center, about the Jordanian public’s opinion on terrorism revealed a transformation in the public’s views. The opinion poll attributed this change in attitude to the effects caused by the Amman attacks. The poll was conducted December 1-7, 2005, and published in the beginning of January (the complete version of the poll findings can be found at http://www.css-jordan.org/polls/PostAmmanAttacks-en.pdf).

The opinion poll showed that the percentage of those who oppose the killing of civilians of an occupying country, in the event an Islamic country is occupied, rose from 76.9% in 2004 to 92% in this opinion poll. This number increased to 95% among opinion leaders (media figures, economists, statesmen, syndicate leaders, university professors and political party leaders).

The opinion poll concluded that the political factor plays a major role in determining the attitudes of respondents. The poll showed that the Arab-Israeli conflict has a significant effect on the classification of fighting groups. It recorded what it described a “dramatic drop” in the percentage of people who consider Hamas a “legitimate resistance group.” It went down from 86.7% in 2004 to 73.5% in this poll. Additionally, 5.8% of respondents considered Hamas a terrorist group as opposed to 1.8% in 2004. The poll attributed this change to the impact that the November 9 attacks in Amman had on Jordanians.

The same change applied for Hezbollah. The percentage of those who considered it a “legitimate resistance group” decreased from 84% in 2004 to 63.9%. In addition to the Amman bombings, as is the case with the attitude toward Hamas, the poll also attributed the change in support for Hezbollah to the political changes in Lebanon following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

The poll reported a “radical change” in Jordanians’ attitudes toward those who kill American and Israeli civilians, but reported no “dramatic change” in their attitudes toward killing U.S. and Israeli military forces. The percentage of those who considered the September 11 attacks “terrorist” acts rose to 61.4% as opposed to 34.6% in 2004. The poll also reported that the percentage of those who describe the killing of Israeli civilians as terrorist operations increased from 24% in 2004 to 48.5% in the present poll. At the same time, the poll recorded no change in the Jordanian public’s views on killing Palestinian and Iraqi civilians at the hands of Israeli and U.S. forces, respectively. The percentage remained at almost around 90% in the years 2004-2005 of those who considered it “terrorism.” The poll also showed an increase in the percentage to 88.7% of those who consider the assassination of Palestinian political leaders in the West Bank as terrorist acts.

On the other hand, the percentage of those who classify the operations of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq as “terrorism” fell from 86.3% in 2004 to 78.3% in this poll. At the same time, 63.6% described operations against U.S. forces in Iraq as “non-terrorist attacks,” which means a decrease from the percentage of 68.8% recorded in 2004—but the percentage still remains high. The poll also reported, however, that more than 92% of respondents considered the attacks on London, Sharm el-Sheikh and Amman as terrorist attacks.

With regard to al-Qaeda, the poll distinguished between an international wing led by Osama bin Laden and another one in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The poll reported that 67% of the Jordanian public described al-Qaeda/bin Laden as a “legitimate resistance group” in 2004; however, the percentage dropped to 20% in this poll. On the other hand, 48.9% considered it a “terrorist group” in this poll as opposed to 10.6% in 2004, which reflects a clear and dramatic change.

In contrast to the 2004 poll, the 2005 poll did not include al-Qaeda/al-Zarqawi, and 72.2% of the Jordanian public considered al-Zarqawi’s wing a “terrorist group” while 6.2% considered it a “legitimate resistance group.” The poll found that the difference between those who identify al-Qaeda/bin Laden and al-Qaeda/al-Zarqawi as terrorist groups was 23%; this means, according to the poll, that part of the Jordanian public still agrees with the motives of al-Qaeda/bin Laden more than they agree with those of al-Qaeda/al-Zarqawi.

This latest opinion poll is significant because it showed quantitatively the effect of terrorist operations on people’s attitudes. Moreover, it highlighted the importance of distinguishing between targeting civilians and the military, which is the basis of the problem in the definition of terrorism. It seems that this distinction became clearer among both the public and the intelligentsia. It also seems that this aspect plays a major role in the public’s views, especially if we realize, as the poll indicated, that the political factor plays a major role in determining that distinction in a way that brought on a transformation in public opinion.