The video reappearance of Osama bin Laden is a reminder that extremists with murderous methods continue to threaten innocent people worldwide. His emergence after three years of hiding also provides an opportunity to take stock of how differently the world now views the terrorist leader -- and that view is turning darker than bin Laden's newly dyed beard.
People in America and many other Western nations have expressed strong disapproval of bin Laden and al-Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks. What's new is the dramatic decline in his standing in majority-Muslim countries. Polls in the two nations that have suffered some of the worst of al-Qaeda's violence -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- show that more than 90 percent of those populations have unfavorable views of al-Qaeda and of bin Laden himself.
Pollsters say that it is difficult to find 90 percent agreement that apple pie is American -- yet polling in Turkey two years ago found that 90 percent of citizens believe the al-Qaeda bombings in London, Istanbul, Madrid and Egypt were unjust and unfair; 86 percent thought that there was no excuse for condoning the Sept. 11 attacks; and 75 percent said bin Laden does not represent Muslims.
Support for terrorist tactics has fallen in seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries polled as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project since 2002; in most cases, those declines have been dramatic. Five years ago in Lebanon, 74 percent of the population thought suicide bombing could sometimes be justified. Today it's 34 percent -- still too high, but a stark reversal. Similar declines in support have occurred in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan.
Perhaps most significant, Muslim populations are increasingly rejecting bin Laden's attempts to pervert their faith. WorldPublicOpinion.org found in April that large majorities in Egypt (88 percent), Indonesia (65 percent) and Morocco (66 percent) agree: "Groups that use violence against civilians, such as Al Qaida, are violating the principles of Islam. Islam opposes the use of such violence." These shifts in attitude are beginning to show up in actions. Sunni leaders in Iraq's Anbar province are working with coalition forces against al-Qaeda because, as one local leader said to journalists, all the terrorists bring is chaos -- "killing people, stealing goats, everything, you name it." After recent terrorist attacks in Algeria, protesters shouted: "Terrorists are not Muslims" and "no to terrorism; don't touch my Algeria."