The following is a summary of general findings from Gallup's survey of 10,000 people in the predominantly Islamic countries of Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The report is being released today at a Tuesday Briefing summit event in Washington, DC. Watch this page and other Tuesday Briefing topic pages in the coming weeks for more detailed findings based on this groundbreaking study.
It is evident from the data reviewed in this project that the people of Islamic countries around the world have significant grievances with the West in general and with the United States in particular.
The extent of these views has not been well documented before this time. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about the views of Muslims since Sept. 11, but little substantiation. The data reviewed in this project underscore the reality of the major perceptual gulf that exists between the West and the countries of Islam.
The residents of many of the nine countries included in this project -- Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, and Indonesia -- have strongly unfavorable opinions of the United States and U.S. President George W. Bush. At almost every opportunity within the survey, respondents overwhelmingly agree that the United States is aptly described by such negative labels as ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased. There is overwhelming disagreement with statements that the West and the United States are trustworthy, are friendly, care about poorer nations, or are willing to share technology.
The people of Islamic nations also believe that Western nations do not respect Arab or Islamic values, do not support Arab causes, and do not exhibit fairness toward Arabs, Muslims, or in particular, the situation in Palestine.
At the same time, the survey documents the degree to which the images and perceptions of the people of the Islamic culture are by no means monolithic. Their views of the West are more nuanced than might have been imagined. The respondents claim to pay close attention to current affairs and as an apparent result, they do not respond with blanket condemnations of the West, but seem quite able and willing to give the West its due in specific areas.
The respondents acknowledge in particular the technological prowess and progress made by the United States and the West. They recognize the West's economic prosperity and are quite aware of the freedoms the people of the United States and other Western countries enjoy.
But there appear to be two overwhelmingly negative perceptual barriers between the people of Islamic countries and the West that rise above all else.
Negative Perceptions of the West
First, it is evident that these respondents simply don't think that the United States and the nations of the West have respect for Arabs or for Islamic culture or religion. The people of these Islamic cultures say that the West pays little attention to their situation, does not attempt to help these countries, and makes few attempts to communicate or to create cross-cultural bridges.
Second, these respondents have deep-seated disrespect for what they see as the undisciplined and immoral lifestyles of people in Western nations. These sharply disapproving perceptions are evident at numerous points within the survey context. The disapproval extends not just to the sexual and violent content in movies and music, but respondents also hold the view that the West embodies the concept of an inappropriately relaxed culture, and that the West has lost respect for its own traditions and religion, extending even to a lack of respect for its elders.
Again, it is not that the people interviewed in this project don't have a keen awareness of what the West has that many Islamic nations don't -- economic success, technological knowledge, and even personal freedoms. But there is a strong feeling that the United States and the West have little interest in helping spread this success and know-how to other nations. There is also the overwhelming view that the decadent and undisciplined and irreligious lifestyle that they believe has accompanied the West's success in many ways overwhelms the positives.
The negative view of the West's lifestyle has no doubt developed to a significant degree on the basis of the deeply religious commitment of these Islamic cultures -- documented at numerous points in these data.
But in a number of these countries the desire for economic success vies with religion and family in terms of its importance. Additionally, in many ways the data document the depressed view that these respondents have of their own current situations.
Thus, most likely as a result of the confluence of all of these factors, the citizens of Islamic nations are -- at least outwardly -- not as much envious or covetous of the success of the West as they are resentful -- resentful that the powerful West does not help, seemingly does not care, and that it flaunts its own immorality and lack of religion.
The people of these countries do not long to visit or live in the United States. Asked where they would send a son if he had a full scholarship to attend a university anywhere in the world, the United States scores no higher than European countries and well below local countries. Many profess little interest in visiting the United States.
One of the ironies evident from the data collected in this study is the apparent error in communication that exists between these Western and Islamic cultures.
Respondents in Islamic nations perceive the United States as immoral and irreligious, while in point of fact, every study we have in the United States documents the degree to which average Americans (not those portrayed on television and in the movies) attend church regularly, profess deeply religious views, and are in many ways conservative in their beliefs and lifestyles. Surveys in the United States also document the degree to which Americans have empathy for the people around the world and are willing to support foreign policies designed to help them.
Still, all of these perceptions -- no doubt developed and reinforced over a period of many years -- provided the foundation on which the events of the last six months since Sept. 11 have been played out.
The study provides support for the conclusion that the residents of these Islamic countries do not condone the attacks of Sept. 11. Vast majorities -- although not all -- say the events of that tragic day are morally unjustifiable.
But this perception exists despite the fact that sizable minorities doubt the "official" conclusion in the West that Arabs were behind the attacks. In fact, many in the Islamic world have concluded that the attacks were actually perpetuated by the United States itself, or the Israelis, or at the least non-Muslim terrorists.
Thus, it may not come as a surprise that these people have such a strongly negative reaction toward the subsequent U.S. response and military action in Afghanistan. In most of these countries, significant majorities of the people say that the U.S. war in Afghanistan cannot be justified at all. In many countries, residents are more likely to consider the war waged in response to Sept. 11 as morally unjustifiable than think so about the basic attacks themselves.
There is some recognition on the part of sizable percentages of the respondents that the United States is engaging in the actions in Afghanistan in reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, and in the attempt to shut down al Qaeda. But numerous others in the Islamic world offer different responses as the primary U.S. motive -- including power grabbing, a desire to take over and control additional peoples or lands, and a desire to corner Afghan resources, including uranium.
All of this type of reaction to the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath fits directly (and to a significant degree predictably) into the apparent foundation of distrust that has built in the minds of these respondents over the past years and decades.
So what is to be done? There is a positive note when we look for answers to this question in the results of this survey. The people of Islamic nations are in many ways apparently concerned about the need to find peace and rapprochement between the Arab/Islamic world and the West. But they don't think that the West itself is motivated to build these bridges, and there is fairly deep-seated pessimism that such a time will ever come.
There are, however, strong suggestions from the Arab and Islamic side of the equation about what to do. The one cry to the West that seems to be most dominant: trust, respect, and understand us.
The people of the Islamic world say that the West should moderate its attitudes and exhibit less prejudice toward Arabs and Muslims, that the West should show more respect and should not underestimate the people of the Islamic world. The people of the Islamic world say that the West should increase its level of economic concern and support around the world, should moderate its stance on the Palestinian issue, should attempt more dialogue and cultural interaction, and should make much stronger attempts to understand what the Islamic religion is and what it stands for.
There is little sign that the people of Islamic nations perceive that these things are happening now, but the responses in this survey identify many of the issues that the Islamic people would suggest be addressed in order to repair United States' and Western relations with this part of the world.