Islamic Views of the U.S.: The Palestine Factor

by Lydia Saad, Senior Gallup Poll Editor

There is nothing ambiguous about perceptions of Western policy toward the Palestinians among the residents of the nine predominantly Islamic countries surveyed for Gallup's 2002 Islamic study. Only a handful of people living in most of these nations believe the West acts fairly in its stance on the Palestinian issue. This leads to the question: How much does the Palestinian-Israeli conflict factor in fostering residents' negative views of the West -- and in particular, of the United States?

It is not possible to conclusively answer this question with the data at hand, but the Gallup 2002 Islamic study provides some insights. One fact is clear: the issue has much greater significance in the Arab nations surveyed -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco -- than in the non-Arab nations of Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia. It also seems clear that the perception that Western nations are not fair in their stances toward Palestine fits in with a more generalized view that the West is unfair to the Arab and Islamic worlds. What is not clear is whether the Palestinian issue drives these concerns, or whether it is just one of several examples of Western bias that might extend to Afghanistan, Iraq, Gulf oil and other situations.

Arab Countries Sharply Focused on Palestine

A valuable indication of the salience of the Palestinian issue to the Islamic world comes from a pair of questions that asked respondents about their attention to various news items. The Gallup study finds that news about the Palestinian situation is widely followed in all five Arab countries surveyed, but that it is of far less interest in the four non-Arab countries surveyed.

More than 80% of respondents in Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia say that news on this subject has recently attracted their attention. The topic is of far less interest in Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia, where entertainment programming, local news and news about Sept. 11 (among other stories) generally receive much higher viewership.

Because of the pervasiveness of entertainment programming in the nine countries surveyed, comparing attention to news of Palestine with attention to entertainment shows is revealing. As the following chart shows, attention to news about Palestine exceeds attention to entertainment programming in Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. The two types of programming are of relatively equal interest in Lebanon. In Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia interest in news of Palestine lags far behind entertainment shows.

% Saying Programming Has Recently Caught Their Attention

Entertainment Programming

News About Palestine

Jordan

77

90

Kuwait

70

88

Saudi Arabia

77

86

Morocco

75

84

Lebanon

74

66

Turkey

70

41

Pakistan

55

34

Iran

80

27

Indonesia

81

16

A slightly different news attention question expands on this finding. It shows that not only do the non-Arab countries in the study not follow news of Palestine closely -- the majority don't follow it at all. Roughly three-quarters or more of adults living in Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia are "very frequent" followers of news about the situation in Palestine. This compares with 41% in Lebanon and fewer than 25% in the non-Arab countries.

Frequency of Following News About Palestine

 

Very frequently

Occasionally

Hardly/Not at all

%

%

%

Jordan

75

13

12

Kuwait

63

21

17

Saudi Arabia

62

21

17

Morocco

61

20

20

Lebanon

41

16

43

Turkey

22

16

62

Pakistan

17

11

72

Iran

11

12

77

Indonesia

3

5

92

Anti-Palestinian Bias

As noted, the Gallup study reveals that rank-and-file citizens in the nine predominantly Islamic countries surveyed are skeptical about the neutrality of the Western world in its handling of the Palestinian conflict. This is based on a question that asked respondents whether each of 10 positive attributes applies to Western nations. In most of the nine countries, the statement "fair in their stance toward the situation in Palestine" was the item least likely to be associated with the West. This response was strongest in all of the Arab countries surveyed but also in Pakistan and Turkey. Perceptions of Western fairness on the situation in Palestine are scarce in Indonesia and Iran, but other attributes rank lower.

To illustrate the position of perceived Western fairness toward Palestine in context with other Western attributes, the results from Lebanon, which maintains relatively friendly relations with the West, are shown below.

Results in Lebanon

%

Perceptual Image of the West

Technologically advanced

94

Equality of their citizens regarding rights and duties

78

Produce enjoyable films and music

74

Treat fairly minorities living in their societies

29

Care about poorer nations

22

Willing to share technological know-how with less developed countries

21

Respect Arab/Islamic values

10

Take positions that support Arab causes

5

Fair in their stance toward Arab/Islamic countries

3

Fair stance toward the situation in Palestine

3

One noteworthy finding is that while perceived fairness in the treatment of the Palestinians ranks extremely low, it is roughly on par with perceived unfairness toward the Arab and Islamic worlds more generally. Thus, it is not clear whether the Palestinian issue is the sole cause for the perception that Arabs and Muslims are treated unfairly, or whether the Palestinian issue is merely perceived as one example of many cases of unfair treatment that might extend to other controversies such as those existing in Iraq, Indonesia and the Persian Gulf.

A more direct indicator of the effect that the Palestinian factor has on Islamic views of the West comes from the correlation between respondents' attention to news about Palestine and their personal impression of the Western countries. For this analysis, Gallup has looked at the relationship between attention to news about Palestine and attitudes toward the United States.

In most of the nine countries surveyed, respondents who pay very close attention to news about Palestine have a lower opinion of the United States than do respondents who pay less close attention. In Lebanon, for example, the percentage of respondents stating they have an "unfavorable" opinion of the United States is 51% among those paying very close attention to news about Palestine, compared to just 32% among those paying less close attention to the issue.

Overall, Gallup sees statistically significant increases in negative attitudes toward the United States according to respondents' attentiveness to the Palestine issue, with an average increase in negative ratings of about nine percentage points across all nine countries.

Such gaps in U.S. ratings between the attentive and non-attentive publics are not seen in conjunction with several news items measured in the survey, including news about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, local economic news and local/national current news. This would suggest that the Palestinian issue is an important driver of negative attitudes toward the United States.

However, almost precisely the same level of negative impact on views of the United States seen in conjunction with the Palestine issue is seen according to respondents' attention to the situation in Afghanistan. This would support the idea that the Islamic world has multiple grievances against the United States' foreign policy toward the Arab/Islamic worlds that jointly contribute to negative attitudes toward the United States.

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/5554/Islamic-Views-US-Palestine-Factor.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030