Day: July 22, 2011

Can citizens bridge the divide?

Pew yesterday published the results of its survey of Western and Muslim attitudes towards each other, updating a 2006 survey.  Andy Kohut presented the results at a Carnegie Endowment event yesterday, “A Great Divide?  How Westerns and Muslims See Each Other.”  I won’t try to summarize:  best that you read it in Pew’s own words.

There were some striking findings.  The percentages of Muslims believing that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks has gone down since 2006.  Pew deadpans:

There is no Muslim public in which even 30% accept that Arabs conducted the attacks. Indeed, Muslims in Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey are less likely to accept this today than in 2006.

Another stunner:

Muslim publics have an aggrieved view of the West — they blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity. Across the Muslim publics surveyed, a median of 53% say U.S. and Western policies are one of the top two reasons why Muslim nations are not wealthier.

This despite very large quantities of aid given to some Muslim countries by the West, and an astounding amount of money sent to other Muslim countries in payment for oil.

On a more hopeful note:

…both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism. More than two-thirds in Russia, Germany, Britain, the U.S. and France are worried about Islamic extremists in their country. Fully 77% of Israelis also hold this view.

But extremism is considered a threat in predominantly Muslim nations as well. More than seven-in-ten Palestinian and Lebanese Muslims are worried about Islamic extremists in their countries, as are most Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey.

The Carnegie Endowment discussion yesterday had some high points too. Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council noted the similarity of what people want in Muslim countries and in the West (freedom and democracy, no violence) but underlined the U.S. neglect of education about the world beyond its borders, noting that less than half of 8th graders know that Islam originated in Saudi Arabia.

Shuja thought Muslims react more to U.S. policy than to Americans as a people (or the U.S. as a political system); they see the U.S. as backing autocratic rulers, fighting in Islamic countries and wanting to sustain its hegemony. Six out of ten Pakistanis want improved relations with the U.S., but few have any direct contact with Americans.  What we should be trying to do is establishing more society-to-society, people-to-people relations, in particular with the middle class, but American visa policy does the opposite (and is opaque and demeaning to boot).

Samer Shehata of Georgetown University agreed, suggesting that U.S. policy has given Muslims little reason to change their views of the West in a positive direction since 2006, apart from the still incomplete withdrawal from Iraq.  He also noted that there have been no serious protests against the NATO action in Libya, which is broadly supported in Muslim countries.  Still, Muslim attitudes are heavily conditioned by the Palestine/Israel conflict, the presence of U.S. troops in Muslim countries, and U.S. support for Arab and other autocrats.  Shehata also asked a lot of good questions about the assumptions and framing of the Pew survey.

Kohut agreed that personal exposure makes a difference to attitudes, whereas there appears to be little correlation with age and education.  American assistance after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake was positively received, but the effect was not dramatic.  President Obama has disappointed Muslim expectations.

On 9/11, Shuja Nawaz said that in Pakistan most of the conspiracy theories originate on the crackpot fringe in the U.S., but no one counters them once they reach Pakistan, where they consequently gain greater currency.

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