Support for Osama bin Laden is declining around the Muslim world, and there is widespread Muslim concern about extremism, but relations between Muslims and westerners nonetheless remain poor, a new global opinion poll has found.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project report published on Thursday, called “The Great Divide”, paints a complex picture of evolving attitudes between the west and Islam, which appeared to defy any simple divide between pro-west or pro-fundamentalism.
Despite the controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, solid majorities in France, the UK and US retained a favourable overall opinion of Muslims. But there had been a sharp decline in Spanish attitudes, and Germany attitudes remained unfavourable. For the most part, Pew found that “Muslims public feel more embittered toward the west and its people than vice versa”, and “by overwhelming margins Muslims blame westerners for the strained relationship”. But at the same time, Muslims had seen a decline in support for terrorism and kept an enduring belief in democracy.
Anti-Jewish sentiment nonetheless remained “overwhelming” in predominantly Muslim societies. Also of note was a significant drop in Turkish opinions of Christians, with the percentage holding a positive view falling from 31 per cent in 2004 to 16 per cent today. Turks were also less concerned about the rise of extremism than Muslims elsewhere.
The report found that Muslims living in Europe offered a middle ground, as they more often associated westerners with positive attributes, such as generosity and respect for women.
Commenting on the findings, Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, said: “We have not engaged enough in the battle of ideas”, and noted a tendency in the west to see the Muslim world as monolithic, equated with terrorism.
John Danforth, a former senator and UN ambassador, said the polls showed that the source of Muslim anger directed at the west was not directed at its political systems or religions but perceptions of western values and lifestyles. For Muslims, the west was a place of selfishness, arrogance and violence, he said, and asked: “Where do they get that idea? Television I suppose.”
He expressed alarm at the growing intervention in US politics of fundamentalist Christian groups, which he said was contributing to a polarisation of society. But he also criticised Muslim religious leaders for being “less than forthcoming” in opposing the use of violence.
Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center and polls director, noted a slightly more favourable view of Muslims in the US than before, a trend he attributed in part to what he said were efforts by President George W. Bush not to turn the “global war on terror” into a “clash of civilisations”.
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