The continuing appeal of suicide attacks
A new report called "The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society" from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has found that the majority of the 38,000 Muslims surveyed in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa favor the implementation of sharia law, among other things. The report incorporates results from a two-stage survey: 15 sub-Saharan African countries with substantial Muslim populations were surveyed in 2008-2009; and 24 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa were surveyed in 2011-2012.
Those hoping for the development of peaceful democratic societies in Muslim-majority countries may be dismayed to find that while most Muslims worldwide "reject suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians," these attacks remain popular in several key countries. According to the report, "substantial minorities in several countries say such acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories."
The report is more upbeat with regard to the US, noting that "[f]ew US Muslims voice support for suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam; 81% say such acts are never justified, while fewer than one-in-ten say violence against civilians either is often justified (1%) or is sometimes justified (7%) to defend Islam."
But without digressing into the topic of Islamist attacks against civilians in America, it is important to note that the Pew study appears to corroborate the dismal experience of the Afghan High Peace Council in trying to get regional Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa condemning suicide attacks.
We at The Long War Journal have for some time been following the saga of the Afghan government's attempts to convene a "peace conference" involving Afghan and Pakistani clerics that would condemn suicide attacks. See LWJ report, Pakistani clerics endorse suicide bombings, reject proposed peace conference, for more information.
The Afghan Analysts' Network has also been tracking the issue, and has produced some in-depth reports, most recently the article "Is the Taleban Insurgency a Holy or an Unholy War? An Afghan-Pakistani ulema debate," in which author Borhan Osman remarked:
The Afghan government's hope that it could mobilise the Pakistani ulema's support for rejecting militancy not only remained unfulfilled, but what followed was the opposite. The very Pakistani ulema appointed by Islamabad to help Afghans in their peace efforts started disseminating their 'fatwa' of the permissibility of the strictest tactics of jihad in Afghanistan. And some found a keen audience in spreading their fatwa, thanks to the massive media interest.
Describing a March 30 radio debate between key Afghan and Pakistani clerics, Osman observed that the participants basically avoided the topic of suicide attacks and instead engaged in "an exchange of politically charged mutual labelling and sloganeering." He continued: "Polarised along political and nationalistic lines, some panellists even made remarks legitimising violence against the other country."
According to Osman, the only panelist who addressed the topic was controversial Pakistani mullah Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, who denied the TOLONews report that he approved of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, but he then "did not clearly spell out that he is opposed to this tactical means in all cases."
On April 18, a few weeks after the radio debate, the Afghanistan Islamic Research and Academic Centre in Kabul held a "meeting to discuss methods of peace and to clarify the controversial use of suicide bombers by Muslim extremist groups," TOLONews reported.
The meeting, which was attended by Afghan and Egyptian religious scholars, "declared suicide attacks forbidden or 'haram' under Islam [and] emphasis[ed] that this was in keeping with most Islamic teaching around the world."
That may be as good as it gets. The Afghan Peace Council's hoped-for consensus among Afghan and Pakistani clerics denouncing suicide attacks has not materialized. Meanwhile, the Taliban have announced that suicide attacks will feature prominently in this year's spring offensive.