A "great divide" separates the worldviews
of Muslims and Westerners, according to the results of a major
new survey which suggests that European Muslims, who held the most tolerant
views, could be a bridge between the two groups.
"Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical, violent, and as lacking tolerance,"
according to an analysis of the survey by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes
Project. "Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners
as selfish, immoral, and greedy as well as violent and fanatical."
But the survey also found that was less true among European Muslims. "In
many ways, the views of Europe's Muslims represent a middle ground between the
way Western publics and Muslims in the Middle East and Asia view each other,"
The survey and analysis, which were released by Pew here Thursday, found that
positive views held by Muslims of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and terror
tactics associated with him have declined over the past year, quite substantially
in Pakistan and Jordan, where suicide attacks killed more than 50 people in
Amman hotels over the last year.
At the same time, the percentage of Muslims who believe that Arabs did not
carry out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon has increased.
Majorities in Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and among the Muslim community
in Britain doubt that Arabs had any role.
The survey, which was carried out in 13 countries from the beginning of April
until mid-May, found that negative views of Muslims have become especially pronounced
in Germany and Spain, where only 36 percent and 29 percent of respondents, respectively,
expressed favorable opinions of Muslims. Both marked major declines from the
last Pew poll one year ago.
By contrast, nearly two-thirds of French and British citizens said they had
favorable views of Muslims. Fifty-six percent of Russians agreed with that opinion,
as did 54 percent of U.S. respondents.
Interestingly, British and French respondents were the most upbeat as well
about the prospects for democracy in Muslim countries. Six in 10 respondents
in France and Britain said democracy can work well there, while only 49 percent
of U.S. citizens and an average of four in 10 Spanish and Germans agreed.
More than 60 percent of Indonesians and Jordanians said they had favorable
views of Christians, followed by 48 percent of Egyptians.
But only about one in four Pakistanis described their views as favorable, while
only about one in seven Turks agreed, a possible reflection of growing anti-European
and anti-U.S. opinion resulting from negotiations over Turkey's admission to
the European Union and the popular anger there against the U.S. invasion of
By contrast, Muslims living in Europe were much more positive about Christians,
one of a number of indications in the survey that European Muslims are not only
considerably less alienated from the societies in which they reside than many
recent analyses have suggested, but also that they could act as a moderating
force in the Muslim-Western divide.
Nine out of 10 French Muslims said they had positive views of Christians, followed
by eight out of 10 Spanish Muslims (in spite of the strongly anti-Muslim views
of most Spanish). Roughly seven out of 10 English and German Muslims also said
their views of Christians were favorable
Of all Muslim populations surveyed, French Muslims were by far the most positive
toward Jews 71 percent said they had favorable opinions, roughly twice
the percentage of Muslims in Britain, Germany, and Spain.
Elsewhere in the Muslim world, views of Jews were far more negative: in Indonesia,
17 percent of respondents said they had favorable opinions; in Turkey, 15 percent;
in Pakistan 6 percent; and in the two Arab countries countries surveyed, Egypt
and Jordan, only 2 and 1 percent, respectively.
As to relations between Muslims and Westerners, majorities in 10 out of 12
countries described them as "generally bad." In Europe, the most negative
views were found in Germany (70 percent said "generally bad") and
France (66 percent). Fifty-five percent of U.S. respondents described it the
Turkey was the most negative of the predominantly Muslim nations, with nearly
two-thirds opting for "generally bad" although 77 percent of Nigerian
Muslims made the same assessment followed by Egypt (58 percent), Jordan (54
percent), and Indonesia (53 percent). Pakistan, where a slight plurality said
that relations were "generally good," was the only exception.
The Pew analysis concluded that Muslims hold "an aggrieved view of the
West they are much more likely than Americans or Western Europeans to
blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity. For their part, Western
publics instead point to government corruption, lack of education, and Islamic
fundamentalism as the biggest obstacles to Muslim prosperity."
Thus, Muslims, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, tended to blame the
controversy over the Danish cartoon depictions of Mohammed earlier this year
on Western disrespect for Islam. Majorities in the U.S. and Europe, on the other
hand, blamed the crisis on Muslim intolerance.
In many respects, the two groups hold mirror images, however. When asked to
choose among a list of negative traits Muslim and non-Muslim respondents saw
in the other group, the survey found that Muslims in the Middle East and Asia
often by large majorities generally view Westerns as selfish, arrogant,
and violent. European Muslims, particularly those in France and Spain, however,
tended to be far less damning about the traits of non-Muslims than in predominantly
At the same time, majorities of non-Muslims in Europe found Muslims to be fanatical
and violent, although only minorities in Britain, the U.S., and France subscribed
to that view.
The survey's findings suggested that French and Spanish Muslims were the least
alienated from their surrounding societies, even if the general public in Spain
was found to be the most hostile toward Muslims of any of the European societies
covered by the poll.
Four in ten non-Muslim Spaniards said they believe that most or many Muslims
in their country support Islamic extremism, but only 12 percent of Spanish Muslims
agreed. Of the four minority publics surveyed, British Muslims are the most
critical of their country and "come closer to views of Muslims around the
world in their opinions of Westerners."
The religious divide was found to be surprisingly sharp in Nigeria, where,
for example, nearly three out of four Muslims and Christians ascribed negative
traits to the other groups. Nigerian Muslims also constituted a "conspicuous
exception" to the trend toward declining confidence in bin Laden in the
More than six in 10 Nigerian Muslims said they have at least some confidence
in the al-Qaeda leader, up from 44 percent in 2003. In addition, nearly half
of Nigeria's Muslims said that suicide bombings could be justified often or
sometimes in the defense of Islam.
(Inter Press Service)