In the wake of the terror attacks on 9/11, Western politicians and pundits never grew tired to assure their audiences that the vast majority of Muslims regarded Al Qaeda as an extremist group that betrayed the principles of Islam. But beginning in 2003, the Pew Research Center documented that Osama bin Laden was actually widely admired. While Pew tended to present the results of the surveys in a way that highlighted the good news – just as the most recent report on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s demise emphasizes the erosion of support over the years – some of the numbers were (and are) arguably rather shocking.
This is perhaps particularly true for the support bin Laden enjoyed in supposedly moderate Indonesia: in 2003, it was 59 percent, and by 2011, more than a quarter of Indonesians still expressed positive views of bin Laden.
But bin Laden’s most loyal admirers were always found among the Palestinians: In 2003, 72 percent of Palestinians thought highly of bin Laden; by 2011, this percentage had shrunk to “only” 34% — which means that until recently, every third Palestinian admired the Al Qaeda leader. Given the pervasive glorification of terrorists in Palestinian society, this is arguably hardly surprising. And perhaps these numbers also go some way to explain why there is no peace: when Ehud Olmert tried to negotiate a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, more than half the Palestinians still had a positive view of bin Laden.