Poll: Muslims distrust U.S.

Majority in 4 nations surveyed don’t think al Qaeda was behind 9/11, say America wants to undermine Islam.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Khalil Fadel, a political psychology expert from Egypt, was watching coverage of the attack on New York when one of his patients came running into his clinic.

“I’m so happy,” the joyous patient cried to the shocked Fadel. “If the Americans decide to invade Afghanistan, I will go there to fight against them.”

Such anti-American sentiment led the White House 18 months ago to launch a “public diplomacy” offensive led by Karen Hughes, President Bush’s longtime confidante and White House counselor.

A new poll of four Islamic nations suggests that much work remains to be done.


According to the poll, published Tuesday by WorldPublicOpinion.org, skepticism and distrust of American motives remains high, and support for attacks on American troops in the region widespread — along with continuing disbelief that al Qaeda was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The most interesting thing is how central the perception is that the United States has an intention to harm Islam, undermine Islam,” said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org.

Kull said respondents in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan expressed support for what they described as the goals of al Qaeda, such as standing up to the United States, affirming the dignity of Muslims worldwide, and pushing the United States to stop siding with Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

That support, Kull said, led to many respondents questioning al Qaeda’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Fewer than half of respondents in each country said they were very or somewhat confident that they knew who was behind the attacks, and of those, fewer than one-third blamed al Qaeda, with others not answering the question or blaming the U.S. government, or Israel.


But a majority of respondents said that attacks on civilians — including Americans — are never justified, according to the poll, which was conducted in conjunction with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Majorities in Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified. Egyptian respondents were more divided on the question.

At the same time, majorities in the four countries said they support globalization, democratization and religious freedom — values Kull said suggest that support for al Qaeda is less about supporting the group’s goals, and more about supporting its opposition to American hegemony.

“Al Qaeda’s grip on Muslim society, I would say, comes out not being that strong,” Kull said. “It’s not like bin Laden emerges as a new leader in the Muslim world.”

Kull’s hypothesis was supported by comments by Mohamed Habib, deputy supreme guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a technically banned fundamentalist movement that managed to win 88 seats in Egypt’s 444-seat legislature in 2005.


“The American-Zionist coalition aims to bring Muslims to their knees, steal their wealth and destroy their culture,” he said, when asked by The Chronicle about the poll.

However, he said, attacks against civilians “contradict with Islam” and are “crimes against humanity.”

Rena Pederson, a spokeswoman for the Office of Public Diplomacy headed by Hughes, takes the long view of changing those perspectives.

“It is hard in the midst of conflict to see those long-term goals. But we have to keep trying to build positive relationships there,” she said. “This is not something you can spin your way out of. We have got to sit down with people face to face on a person-to-person basis and dialogue.”

Pederson noted that her department has sharply increased public-diplomacy programs that were largely mothballed after the Cold War; programs such as Fulbright grants — including resuming grants to Iraq and Afghanistan — and ramped up “citizen dialogue” programs bringing foreign students, journalists and religious leaders to the United States, and sending American Muslims overseas.

Nancy Snow, a senior fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, noted, however, that most of the office’s money is going to international broadcasting instead of person-on-person programs. Neither, she said, are the office’s professed goals being reflected in U.S. policies.

“The U.S. global war on terror is not winning hearts and minds, as the administration believes, but convincing many Muslims that they’ve got a target on their backs,” she said.

Aaron David Miller, who advised six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations and now is a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, agreed that U.S. policies on the ground continue to be the major factor in shaping overseas opinion.

“You can change the pretty wrapping on the package, but people aren’t stupid. They know what the contents are,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there that have yet to make up their minds about the United States, and we’re not helping them.”

The survey was conducted in the four nations between December and February, in face-to-face interviews with pools of between 1,100 and 1,240 respondents in each nation, with margins of error between three and four percentage points.
CHART:

PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD

A poll of four major Muslim countries has found that, in all of them, large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy. Most want U.S. military forces out of the Middle East and many approve of attacks on U.S. troops there, but most also disapprove of attacks on civilians and support democratization efforts.

— Whether it is a goal of the U.S. to weaken and divide the Islamic world
Egypt

Definitely: 83%
Probably: 9
Probably not: 2
Definitely not: 2
Don’t know: 4

Indonesia
Definitely: 31%
Probably: 42
Probably not: 9
Definitely not: 6
Don’t know: 12

Morocco
Definitely: 49%
Probably: 29
Probably not: 6
Definitely not: 5
Don’t know: 11

Pakistan
Definitely: 51%
Probably: 16
Probably not: 6
Definitely not: 2
Don’t know: 25

— Opinion of attacks on U.S. military troops in Iraq
Egypt

Strongly approve: 83%
Somewhat approve: 8
Mixed feelings: 2
Somewhat disapprove: 2
Strongly disapprove:2
Don’t know: 3

Indonesia
Strongly approve: 9%
Somewhat approve: 10
Mixed feelings: 11
Somewhat disapprove: 14
Strongly disapprove: 47
Don’t know: 9

Morocco
Strongly approve: 39%
Somewhat approve: 29
Mixed feelings: 11
Somewhat disapprove: 6
Strongly disapprove: 8
Don’t know: 7

Pakistan
Strongly approve: 20%
Somewhat approve: 11
Mixed feelings: 11
Somewhat disapprove: 11
Strongly disapprove:22
Don’t know: 25

— Opinion of the position of Islam regarding attacks against civilians
Egypt

Certainly supports: 2%
Supports: 2
Opposes: 7
Certainly opposes: 83
Don’t know: 6

Indonesia
Certainly supports: 3%
Supports: 7
Opposes: 38
Certainly opposes: 37
Don’t know: 16

Morocco
Certainly supports: 0%
Supports: 2
Opposes: 22
Certainly opposes: 61
Don’t know: 16

Pakistan
Certainly supports: 1%
Supports: 2
Opposes: 16
Certainly opposes: 67
Don’t know: 13

— On a democratic political system as a way of governing their country
Egypt

Very good: 52%
Fairly good: 30
Fairly bad : 7
Very bad : 7
Don’t know: 4

Indonesia
Very good: 14%
Fairly good: 51
Fairly bad:20
Very bad : 4
Don’t know: 10

Morocco
Very good: 28%
Fairly good: 33
Fairly bad : 12
Very bad : 4
Don’t know: 23

Pakistan
Very good: 17%
Fairly good: 34
Fairly bad : 11
Very bad : 10
Don’t know: 28

Results based on interviews conducted face-to-face in respondents’ homes by survey agencies in each country: Egypt, Jan. 17-Feb. 19; Indonesia, Dec. 12-Jan. 8; Morocco, Dec. 9-19; Pakistan, Jan. 15-Feb. 15.

Source: WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland

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San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Apr. 25, 2007
Matthew B. Stannard and Arm Emam
www.sfgate.com

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This post was last updated: Apr. 26, 2007