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Polling the Muslim World, Part II

In my last post, I described the distressing amount of support for al Qaeda revealed by a recent poll of public opinion in four U.S.-allied Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

This was not the only disconcerting finding of the survey. Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes. The poll then asked for the “primary goal” of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.” (Please note, all numbers above and below have been rounded.)

In addition to such paranoia, the poll pointed to other delusions. Asked to identify the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, for every three respondents who pointed to al Qaeda, four pointed the finger at the U.S. or Israel.

As for the roots of this hostility to the U.S., the poll cast doubt on some common assumptions. It is often said that the publics in Muslim countries are angry at U.S. support for the regimes that oppress them. But asked if they favored pushing the U.S. “to stop providing support to such governments as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan,” only a modest plurality agreed. The one country that registered strong agreement with this proposition was the one democracy, Indonesia. By contrast, in Egypt—the only country surveyed that was also mentioned in the question—a narrow plurality opposed pushing the U.S. to cut aid. So much for the idea that Egyptians are hostile to us because we support their government.

A second explanation of anti-Americanism that the survey cast into doubt is the war in Iraq. There is no question that the war has fueled rage at the U.S.: when respondents were asked whether they approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, slightly more than half said yes, slightly more than one-quarter said no, and the rest were undecided.

But then came the interesting part. When the same question was asked about attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the proportions were scarcely different. Then, when asked about attacks on U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf, support dropped, but only by a few percentage points. This suggests a hostility to the U.S. that goes well beyond our actions in Iraq.

Finally, there is hostility to U.S. support for Israel. When asked to identify al Qaeda’s goals and their own attitude toward these goals, 76 percent said they agree with al Qaeda’s goal of making the U.S. “stop favoring Israel.” But virtually identical numbers said they agreed with other goals, namely “keep[ing] Western values out of Islamic countries” (75 percent); “stand[ing] up to America and affirm[ing] the dignity of the Islamic people” (75 percent); and forcing a removal of U.S. bases “from all Islamic” countries (74 percent). Nearly as large a share (71 percent) said they agreed with the goal of “strict application of shari’a law in every Islamic country”; and a somewhat smaller but still substantial majority (65 percent) agreed with al Qaeda’s goal of “unify[ing] all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate.”

In sum, Muslim publics are undeniably angry at the U.S. because of our actions in Iraq and our support for Israel. But they are angry at us for many other reasons, too, some of them having far less to do with our actions than with their own self-definition.

Given this much agreement with al Qaeda’s goals, it is little wonder that Osama bin Laden was relatively popular with these respondents. Thirty percent said they had positive feelings about him; 29 percent said their feelings were mixed; only 19 percent reported having negative feelings.

I don’t know what all these data mean, but they certainly dispel the bromide that the terrorists are little more than a renegade band out to hijack Islam. They may indeed be attempting to hijack it, but, if this survey is accurate, a disturbing number of their co-religionists are ready to go along for the ride.


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