Fares Braizat, a researcher at Jordan's premiere political research center, the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan in Amman, presents some findings from surveys in five Arab countries "to assess Arabs’ perceptions of what constitutes terrorism" in today's Open Democracy. Among the most important of his findings:
"Respondents were asked to indicate whether they considered each a “terrorist organisation” or a “legitimate resistance organisation” On average, across country and sample categories, around 90% of respondents labelled The Islamic Jihad Movement, Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hizbullah as “legitimate resistance organisations.” The exception here is Lebanon, where a lower but still significant two thirds defined them as “legitimate resistance organisations”.
Respondents saw a distinct difference between the organisations listed above and al-Qaeda, yet still significant numbers across the survey considered it also to be a “legitimate resistance movement”, although the results vary widely from country to country: 8% in Syria, 18% in Lebanon and 41% in Egypt saw it as a “legitimate resistance movement”. In Palestine and Jordan the figure is around two thirds. In Jordan there is a tendency to define al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization as levels of exposure increase: it was higher for business sample (33%) and higher still for media samples (48%). Generally there is a clear trend among respondents to answer this question with “do not know” or “refuse to answer”. For example, within national samples, 19% in Jordan, 49% in Syria, 27% in Lebanon, 21% in Palestine and 20% in Egypt indicated one of these two responses. For Lebanon, 54% in the national sample,(62% of university students, 53% in the business sample and 58% in the media sample) defined al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization. Looking at Lebanese national sample data by religion, 56% of Muslims and 88% of Christian respondents defined al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization. Interestingly, however, both groups defined Islamic Jihad, Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hizbullah as legitimate resistance organizations."
Braizat's team then asked about 14 different specific acts, and asked whether or not they should be considered "terrorism".
*The attacks on 9/11 were labeled "terrorism" by 73% in Lebanon, 71% in Syria, 62% in Egypt, but only 35% in Jordan and 22% in Palestine - those last numbers, especially in Jordan, are pretty startling.
*Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza is considered "terrorism" by a huge margin, ranging from 88% in Lebanon to 97% in Syria.
*American led coalition activities in Iraq are labeled terrorism by 86% of Jordanians, 94% of Syrians, and 64% of Lebanese.
*Attacks on US military personnel in Iraq are seen as terrorism by 18% of Jordanians, 9% of Syrians, 28% of Lebanese, 9% of Palestinians, and 14% of Egyptians.
*The bombing of the UN building in Baghdad is seen as terrorism by 48% of Jordanians, 78% of Syrians, 80% of Lebanese, 36% of Palestinians, and 61% of Egyptians.
*The hotel bombing in Morocco: 50% of Jordanians, 72% of Syrians, 75% of Lebanese, 30% of Palestinians, and 73% of Egyptians.
*When asked generically about killing civilians, Arabs disapproved: 88% of Lebanese, 85% of Syrians, 77% of Egyptians, 76% of Jordanians, and 64% of Palestinians.
I would want to know more about the samples and methodology and all that - especially in Syria - but I thought I would just pass on these interesting results from Braizat's surveys. They show pretty clearly the enormous gap in perceptions between Arab and Western publics about what should be considered terrorism - as well as some interesting variations across Arab countries, and some important points of possible agreement across the Arab-American divide.