from International Institutions and Global Governance Program

World Opinion on Terrorism

August 12, 2009

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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Polls and Public Opinion

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

This page is part of Public Opinion on Global Issues. Download this chapter (PDF) or read more about U.S. opinion on terrorism.

This publication is now archived.

Concern about Terrorism

Concern about terrorism varies significantly around the world, with the highest levels found in the Middle East, South Asia, and Western Europe—all regions that have suffered significant terrorist attacks. Despite 9/11, Americans are only average in their level of concern. Download full chapter (PDF).

Attitudes Toward al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden

In most countries polled, a majority of the public has negative feelings about al-Qaeda, but in some countries (majority-Muslim, in most cases), these are only pluralities, and significant numbers have positive or mixed views of al-Qaeda. Worldwide, the numbers expressing positive views of Osama bin Laden have declined, but in some predominantly Muslim countries, one-fifth to one-third still express positive views toward him. Download full chapter (PDF).

Support for Multilateral Action Against Terrorism

Large majorities around the world think the UN Security Council should have the right to authorize military force to stop a country from supporting terrorist groups. Download full chapter (PDF).

Regional Cooperation on Terrorism

In North America and Europe, publics mostly give poor marks to the quality of transatlantic cooperation against terrorism. In the European Union, publics on average also give the European Union’s performance against terrorism a lukewarm assessment, while a large majority thinks more decision-making on terrorism should take place at the European level. Download full chapter (PDF).

Assessments of U.S. Efforts against Terrorism

In the struggle between the United States and al-Qaeda, the predominant view among world publics is that neither side is winning and that the “war on terror” has not weakened al-Qaeda. In recent years most have also seen the war in Iraq as increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks around the world. Download full chapter (PDF).

Principles for Treatment of Terrorism Suspects

Majorities or pluralities in most nations reject the view that, when dealing with terrorism suspects, rules against torture and the secret holding of detainees should be relaxed. However, in several countries majorities favor making an exception when dealing with a terrorist suspect who may have information that may save innocent lives. Majorities in the United States, Britain, Germany, and Poland, and a plurality in India endorse provisions of the Geneva Conventions that forbid detainees being held in secret or without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Download full chapter (PDF).

U.S. Treatment of Terrorism Suspects

In 2006, majorities in Great Britain, Germany, and Poland (and a plurality in India) believed that U.S. detention policies in place at Guantanamo were illegal, whereas a slight majority of people in the United States believed they were legal. In none of the five countries—including the United States—did a majority or plurality think the United States seeks to enforce a policy against torture in interrogations. Only minorities supported allowing the United States to use their country’s airspace for rendition of a terrorist suspect to another country, if that country had a reputation for using torture. Download full chapter (PDF).

Absence of Consensus over Who Was Behind 9/11 Attacks

In seventeen countries worldwide, majorities in only nine of those countries believe al-Qaeda was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks—though in none of the other countries does a majority agree on a different possible perpetrator. Even in European countries, the majorities that say al-Qaeda was behind September 11 are not large. Publics in the Middle East are especially likely to name a different perpetrator (Israel or the United States itself). Download full chapter (PDF).

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