Not surprisingly, the new Pew Global Attitudes Project results released yesterday show support for the US falling in Islamic countries:
- The most serious problem facing the U.S. abroad is its very poor public image in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East/Conflict Area. Favorable ratings are down sharply in two of America’s most important allies in this region, Turkey and Pakistan. The number of people giving the United States a positive rating has dropped by 22 points in Turkey and 13 points in Pakistan in the last three years. And in Egypt, a country for which no comparative data is available, just 6% of the public holds a favorable view of the U.S.
The war on terrorism is opposed by majorities in nearly every predominantly Muslim country surveyed. This includes countries outside the Middle East/Conflict Area, such as Indonesia and Senegal. The principal exception is the overwhelming support for America’s anti-terrorist campaign found in Uzbekistan, where the United States currently has 1,500 troops stationed.
Sizable percentages of Muslims in many countries with significant Muslim populations also believe that suicide bombings can be justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. While majorities see suicide bombing as justified in only two nations polled, more than a quarter of Muslims in another nine nations subscribe to this view.
Clearly the terrorists and their supporters give us the thumbs down, but why the dislike among “regular” Islamic folk?
Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and Editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs thinks he knows why:
- Although anti-Americanism is genuinely widespread among Arab governments and peoples, however, there is something seriously misleading in this account. Arab and Muslim hatred of the United States is not just, or even mainly, a response to actual U.S. policies — policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years. Rather, such animus is largely the product of self-interested manipulation by various groups within Arab society, groups that use anti-Americanism as a foil to distract public attention from other, far more serious problems within those societies.
This distinction should have a profound impact on American policymakers. If Arab anti-Americanism turns out to be grounded in domestic maneuvering rather than American misdeeds, neither launching a public relations campaign nor changing Washington’s policies will affect it. In fact, if the United States tries to prove to the Arab world that its intentions are nonthreatening, it could end up making matters even worse. New American attempts at appeasement would only show radicals in the Middle East that their anti-American strategy has succeeded and is the best way to win concessions from the world’s sole superpower.
THE BLAME GAME
For years now, anti-Americanism has served as a means of last resort by which failed political systems and movements in the Middle East try to improve their standing. The United States is blamed for much that is bad in the Arab world, and it is used as an excuse for political and social oppression and economic stagnation. By assigning responsibility for their own shortcomings to Washington, Arab leaders distract their subjects’ attention from the internal weaknesses that are their real problems. And thus rather than pushing for greater privatization, equality for women, democracy, civil society, freedom of speech, due process of law, or other similar developments sorely needed in the Arab world, the public focuses instead on hating the United States.
What makes this strategy remarkable, however, is the reality of past U.S. policy toward the region. Obviously, the United States, like all countries, has tried to pursue a foreign policy that accords with its own interests. But the fact remains that these interests have generally coincided with those of Arab leaders and peoples. For example, the United States may have had its own reasons for saving Kuwait from annexation by Iraq’s secular dictatorship in 1991 — mainly to preserve cheap oil. But U.S. policy was still, in effect, pro-Kuwaiti, pro-Muslim, and pro-Arab. After all, Washington could have used the war as a pretext to seize Kuwait’s oil fields for itself or demand lower prices or political concessions in exchange for fighting off Iraq. Instead, U.S. leaders did none of these things and sought the widest possible support for their actions among Arabs and Muslims.
So instead of PR, we need to call the leaders of Islamic nations – like our friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia – on their lies and subterfuge, and hold their feet to the fire to either speak the truth or give up our support. They need us way more than we need them.
You bet these Iraqis have had access to the “free flow of information”: they can’t even get it from Western news service Reuters, who seem to leave out something called “context” whenever they discuss the plight of average Iraqis:
- Struggling under U.N. sanctions and faced with the threat of a U.S. attack, Iraqis put on a brave face as they marked Eid al-Fitr Thursday, saying the Muslim festival brought good cheer.
But scratch the surface, and many voiced indignation at the crippling trade sanctions — imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait — and at what they see as an attack on their national pride from the arms searches U.N. inspectors have just resumed.
….Young children milled about, some in colorful clothes, eating sweets and fruits. But many of their parents, conditioned by years of war and sanctions, were angry.
Hassan Sabti, a 45-year-old lawyer, said the weapons hunt was a farce.
“They want to attack Iraq,” Sabti said. “Whether the inspectors come here or not, they want to hit (Iraq). But we told them to come so we can avert an attack.”
The Eid festival has been hard hit by the sanctions, which have reduced a well-to-do population enjoying the fruits of their country’s oil wealth to little better than poverty.
The average Iraqi made the equivalent of more than $700 a month before the embargo. Now, a government employee’s monthly salary is worth as little as $15. They manage to survive on government subsidies or handouts of staple foodstuffs.
Not a whiff as to WHY there are sanctions against Saddam’s government, not a hint of the accusations brought by the world community, by the UN Security Council, against Iraq regarding the propagation of weapons of mass destruction – just the deprivation and indignities visited upon the people BY THE SANCTIONS, not by the regime that necessitated the sanctions in the first place after invading its neighbor, tossing missiles at Israel, and committing genocide against its own people.
And we complain about al Jazeera and the Islamic government press – maybe this particular service should be called “al Reuters.”
And speaking of the benevolent Iraqi government: they have just been accused of torturing their own Olympic athletes. I wonder how the Reuters writer will spin that one: tough love?