Changing how Muslims see America

By Amar C. Bakshijournalist Last week, the Pew Research Center released its annual survey of global public opinion, including a … Continued

By Amar C. Bakshi

Last week, the Pew Research Center released its annual survey of global public opinion, including a look at how seven majority-Muslim nations — Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey — view the United States and President Obama. The responses prompted a slew of U.S. newspapers to run virtually identical headlines declaring the “Muslim world” was “disappointed” with President Obama and “leery” of America’s global role. The Washington Post announced “Obama’s Muslim Outreach Faltering.”

Yet Obama still remains far more popular than his predecessor. Last year after the election of President Obama, Muslims around the world expressed significantly more confidence in the U.S. President — an increase of 38% in Indonesia, 24% in Jordan, and 31% in Turkey. Today, confidence in him and favorability ratings of the United States have dipped by several percentage points, kicking off a debate in the blogosphere over whether this decline was inevitable or the result of Obama Administration policy failures. This debate misses a far more important point.

In its focus on measuring U.S. popularity and Obama’s performance, recent coverage has overlooked the elephant in the data: the high percentage of respondents in Muslim majority nations who express “very unfavorable” views (the lowest possible response category) of Americans, the United States, and its impact on the world and have done so consistently for years and years. For the past eight years, around 55 percent of Pakistanis have held a very unfavorable view of the United States. Today, about 60 percent of Turks hold a very unfavorable view of the U.S., and the trend line is not improving. In Egypt, nearly 50 percent have a very unfavorable view of the U.S. – the worst rating since Pew started polling in Egypt in 2006. Neither the election of President Obama nor his appearance in Cairo seemed to have had any affect on these dismal “very unfavorable” figures.

Swings in “favorability” tell us how U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East or Afghanistan is being judged year by year. But the “very unfavorable” rating points to the large number of Muslims who distrust the U.S. almost no matter what it does on the world stage. The former gives a glimpse of the battle; the latter reports the state of the war.

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Deep distrust among many Muslims makes this Administration’s outreach particularly challenging. The White House Entrepreneurship Summit, the State Department’s Science Envoys, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s polio eradication partnership — all worthy initiatives — can come across to many Muslims as America trying to buy goodwill on the cheap, like BP building an aquarium after the oil spill.

Before seeking to be loved, the United States must first ensure it is not so widely hated.

But what can be done to influence those with the most intractably unfavorable views of the U.S.? The first step is to identify and examine their hardened anti-American narratives. Future polls should break down Muslim respondents by age, gender, denomination, and socio-economic background. Surveys should track respondents’ views of America’s motivations, not just whether they believe the U.S. takes account of their interests. The U.S. also needs more reporting from the ground on how and why Muslims feel the way they do.

The next step is to craft strategies to puncture the most prevalent anti-American narratives — such as the U.S. being at war with Muslims, or occupying Iraq to seize oil and dominate the region. This means taking actions to counter these views and aggressively publicizing these actions. The U.S. must promote stories that cause the most skeptical Muslims to pause and reconsider their views — stories such as ongoing U.S. efforts to withdraw from Iraq, the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Syria, and America’s prolonged attempt to foster dialogue with Iran.

The U.S. should also develop a global “Fight the Smears” campaign to nip new conspiracy theories in the bud, such as charges that the polio eradication campaign is in fact an attempt to sterilize Muslim populations. During the campaign the President proposed an “America’s Voice Corps” to “recruit, train, and send out into the field talented young Americans who can speak with — and listen to — the people who today hear about us only from our enemies.” This is a very good idea, and it is time to realize it.

In the future, the U.S. must take more time to explain to Muslim across the world why we do what we do. The fact that the Bush Administration failed to articulate a clear rationale for the war in Iraq, either before or during the conflict, opened a huge lacuna that has been filled with wild conspiracy theories. This in turn has helped build up staggering distrust of the U.S. in Jordan, Turkey, and other allies.

In Cairo last year, President Obama delivered a sweeping address to Muslims around the world calling for a new partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect, commitment to universal values, and greater engagement between citizens from Kansas to Cairo. The challenge for this Administration has been, and remains, to translate that vision into innovative ways to engage Muslim populations who are most estranged from the United States.

Leveraging America’s comparative advantages in business, technology, education, and science is an important start. But there are millions of people who see any U.S. good deed with a jaundiced eye. America does not need to sell its strengths to Muslims, who already respect its prowess. It needs to persuade Muslims who deeply distrust the United States to question their preconceptions. It must puncture hardened anti-American narratives to pry open space for dialogue where none currently exists.

Amar C. Bakshi
 is a foreign affairs student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a member of the British Council’s Transatlantic Network 2020. Previously, he reported for The Washington Post online about How the World Sees America.

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  • AKafir

    The muslim countries are mired in a war within Islam, and the muslims are loathe to acknowledge that. “It needs to persuade Muslims who deeply distrust the United States to question their preconceptions. It must puncture hardened anti-American narratives to pry open space for dialogue where none currently exists.”What ails the Muslims in the OIC countries is the lack of reform in Islam and the dominance of the religious groups that want to take the muslims back to the 7th century. The US government is not equipped to talk forthrightly about Islam and its problems and the reformation Islam needs so desperately.

  • Secular

    In my view, let the Muslim world be as it is. Does Pew foundation or the US government expend these kind of resources to see if the Buddhist world, Hindu World or any other world view US? The answer is resounding NO. Then why this special obsession with the muslim world. Does US care if the Burmese hate the US because the junta is oppressive, NO. Then why should we care Egyptians hate us? Mor attention we pay to the good for nothing countries the better we are. I say we just withdraw, social, cultural and all political entanglements with these countries. They want to buy stuff from US companies, well and good, same goes the other way around. Lets not bother them and lets not be bothered by them. They want to live in 7th century, we don’t have to facilitate that or thwart it, so be it. If Egyptians want to throw Mubarak and his family, what is to us? If they keep him what is it to us? I say we stop propping the him up with aid. It was in 70s Kissinger bought Sadat off of the Soviets. There are no soviets any more, so why bother. Enough is enough. Same goes for Saudi Arabia and the remaining 46 OIC. Deal with these 7th century nations, just like we deal with Switzerland, hands off. Once we do that the neanderthals will have nothing to rail against. IF they threaten Mohammed drawing cartoonist, we will tell them where to stick their threats. That will put a quick stop to the silent majority in those countries that hate us.

  • barferio

    It isn’t possible to please the muslims, no matter how modern they are. The US could give them everything they want and their opinion would not change.There is something wrong with them, with their culture, with their oppressive religious control of their world.We had a reformation, a renaissance, an enlightenment, and we’re still fighting against the religious nuts among us who want to revert to their own version of the biblical primitive state of some distant past. When will this happen within Islam?It cannot. Certainly they aren’t going to become “modern” from anything good or bad the US can do.We give their imams a devil to hate. Like all religions, hatred is a far more unifying force than anything else it offers.When you consider the state of Islam back in the 12th century, in Baghdad … or in moorish spain where the three big religions seemed to get along fine … what happened to Islam?We are slowly freeing ourselves from our own religious nonsense. I’m quite sure this is what they hate and fear the most.

  • Jihadist

    Let’s look at how Obama and/or US is viewed by Brazilians and Mexicans too. One can look up the whole Pew polls oneself. And Obama himself is viewed less favourably in US than in Europe, South Korea, India? Polls are like taking the temperatures of people on expectations and perceptions, especially on policies and/or initiatives, or lack of them.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    J A H A D I S T:Thank You for complimenting da asci-artsi’s.Note: In A-M-E-R-i_C-A; Judeo-ABE-JU’s & Judeo-ABE-XRSTN’s “iNTER-MARRY” (They Mix, Assimilate, blend-in) but; But the Judeo-ABE?-Islamic do-NOt ‘Intermarry with “KAFIR”(None-Islami)!(What a Rascist Word; that’s not fit to be thought, let alone blurted-out (Freudianly or NOt) in this great DYNAMIC, Future-Bound & Space-Forth sweet sweet, Manifest’d & Destined, NATION (OUR HOME; not MY-HOME!). Can Anyone Tell i [WE] US “HOW MANY ISLAMICs “Inter-Mary” with Kafirs (None-Islamic) Pleaze? And How Mant Christians & How Many Jews intermarried there with too? Also[Intermarriages; In America here) between the Judeo-VEDiC-Hindu’s With The 3-Major religions mentioned Above, & between The Jude-VEDiC-Buddhists inter-Alia, et al?Then America’s “Newly Established “RELiGIOUS-POLiCE” will Monitor Such “ASSiMILiTiTUDE” trends or the “Mixing-of-The-Mass”s STATS. So,HOW Many Islamics (not Arabs, Not Malaysia, Not Persian, lalala) hath inter-marriage’d into a None-Islamic Family, vis a vis so far in the last 3 years; anyone? That would be interesting to know aye? Hence, What the Future is gonna look like in sweet sweet U.S.A! Keep a Closer-Eye on Ameri-ISLAMi-Ummah (Community); not so much the JUwish Ummah,.Pleazzaa AMERiCA; Don’t Be Suckers for the Nth Time, Please! Think, “OUR-Kids” (Wards Of The Holyi STATE(U.S.A’s) NOt Church’s(Mosques, Temples etc..) is 1st; Not “MY Religion” (last)! PEACE, Paz, Shalom, Salaam, Mir, Ahimsa, Zhingyu..

  • shaheed-yahudi

    Ooooppss:Note: BABY “Blanket, Bottle & Pacifier” has it’s stages. But COLD TURKEY is best (depending on the Age) ELSE, use the ‘Process [slower] of Elimination’ approach instead.PS:

  • shaheed-yahudi

    (2 of 2) Soo, if, if it is written (on parchment paper or on trees or on rocks/clay..) and Gabrially said, Note: The Majority of Islamic-Ummah needs to Admit (NO more in denial) that Islam’s NOt “The Religion Of Peace” on MEBULA-Built (NOt Biblical) S.pace-S.hip Earth Today; but maybe tomorrow w (if any) but surely NOt Today, NOt near future). Nor will Islam ever Dominate KAFiR’s as OTTTOMAN-TURKs still Thurst + their 2ndary SAUDi “WAHHABi” (ELDERS of Islamic Zionizm) + their Tertiary AYATOLLAH (ELDERS of islami Zionist). Note: This World is getting Tired of Islam, not JU’s, not Xrstian, Not Hindu nor Buddha).Note: HAMAS is Baalist “CANAANites turned ISLAMIC ‘PALESTiNIAN’s (a Modern Name separating further Philistinism)), not ARABS. Fact: Islamic-SAUDI (Arabs); not JU’s or Kafirs Invaded Pagan GAZA 632 AD/CE (same Year Mr. Muhammad Died?), Later JERUSALEM 637 CE/AD; with Converted Gazans Help (bloody hand), then Tehran et al; plus Egypt, + Europe? So Islam (like The Holocaust(s) Never Happened) Tell US, that Pre- & Post Islamic her/hisSTORY ain’t what the “KAFiR”s are sayin is so (or Never Happened)?. Shaim On Immams, Rabbis, Shwarmi’s, Priests, et al who Try to HIDE or Distort (their CHURCH’s REALITY) as if any sin can be forgiven by such G-D Players & mortal Men/Wom!PS: MOSES {pbuh} was 1st JEW(via My Religion). JESUS {pbuh} was 2nd JU (via My Religion). But MUHAMMAD was NOt a JU nor a JEW (via My Religion). He Was ArABiAN, NOt SEMiTE! Not Babylonian, NOt Transjordanite, NOt Assyria et al. 1/2 HiTTiTE & 1/2 Arabian.Note: Even Joseph SMiTH {pbuh} , of the 4th ABEraHAMic Faith was 1/2 Jewish [WE (i) know the secret] and 1/2 Nordic. Even VYASA {pbu} was a 1/2 SEMITE & 1/2 Aryan [We (i) know the secret]. and Even GAUTAMA was 1/2 SiNO & 1/2 Semite.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    (1 of 2) Mr. B A K S H i: interestingly, ‘Bakshi’ sounds like ‘Bakshish’ [CHARiTY] in Hindu/Hurdu/Poshtoo. And Amar sounds like AMORA [Habi-bi or Love]in “CasiTalian.”Sir; FACT: “ARABous”s (from the South of Levantia) are NOt “ISLAMiC”! “AEGYPTian”s (from the West of Levantia) are NOt “ISLAMiC”! PASHA/OTTOMAN/TURKiSH (from North Of Levant) are NOt “ISLAMiC”, nor Is “IRAN” or PAKiSTAN or AFGHANiSTAN or MALAYSIA or INDONESIA..See CONCLUSION: ARAB-ous’s R’ ISLAMIC for Now (NOt Pagan or Idol Worshiping SAUDI’s anymore; Guess Why?) EGYPT-ian’s R’ ISLAMIC too for now (NOt Osiris/Seth Idol Worshipers; Guess Why?), & FARSi’s R’ also, for now, ISLAMi (NOt Zoroastrian Sun Worshippers anymore; Guess Why?), et al! So, When referring to TURKEY or PALeSTiNIAN they always must properly have a pre-fix of “Islam-ic”-Turkey, Islamic-Arabia, Islamic-Aegypt, Islamic-Malaysia. WHY?BECAUSE; The 54+ ‘SATANiC VERSUS’ Habi-bi’s (lover’s) Belong to a self-serving Class, via PAN-Islamic “OIC” of 54+ UNITED [ISLAMIC] NATIONS; competing for a Name-For G-D (or is it Allah?) with the “KAFIR-MAJORiTY” on S.pace-S.hip-Earth. aka S.S. GAiA, S.S. GEOiD, S.S. TELLUSng something?Important: Fact: It is the ISLAMi “AL TAQIYAH”ists that “Politicized” the “MY RELiGION” Psychosis/sickness post 1924+ & poisoning their kids with that stuff; NOt the KAFiRS (no islamic; not ABEraHAMics; includes Abeic Mormon’s); and surely NOt the JU’s(non Islamics; but ABEraHAMics) and surely NOt the VEDICS (Hindu/Budhists)..iMAGINE: The “Religion Of Everything before the Science of everything”? (NONE of any of the above SYSTEMS) Sorry.

  • WmarkW

    Muslims should study the Amish, Quakers and Jains to see how religions of peace really work.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    W M A R K W:”.. Muslims should study the Tragically {post 911} & Ironically {lesson}, but Amazingly {Miraculously}, i {WE] must Thank the EPONYMOUS Now MUHAMMADAN’s R’ DEMANDING to ‘ABOLISH’ These so called ANTi-WESTERN, Pre-Apocalyptic thinking Egyptian LAWYERS (Word Merchants/Lier’s) whom think’th just/un because they are endowed with some “LICENSED-JEALOUSY” (Law Shingle/Degree; a S-e-c-u-l-a-r, NOt Religious Degrees) that “AL TAQiYAH” Agents (Elders Of WAHHABi & Elders Of AYATOLLAHi’s ..) can BLASPHEMY their Muslim way into ISLAMICIZATION, Locally & later Globally?. Please see story: These Pre-Apocalyptic Lawyers should loose their “Licensed-Jealousy”! Keep an Eye out On all The ISLAMIC-ORGS, anywhere (‘NGO’ & ‘GO’ via ISLAMic-BROTHERHOOD & or SiSTERHOOD. Note: Their so-called MOSQUE(S) are EMBASSY’s (in all KAFIR Nations; not only in the Islamic 54+) Now THE-iSLAMiC-CREEP/SCARE hath managed to snake their-way(?) into the World-Trade Center area{Where i [WE] Lost Business, a Career/Vocation/Employment; yet Never Sued}. Important:: AEGYPTians & The Other 52+ “ORGANiZATIONs of ISLAMIC CONFERENCE”s, as a WHOLE, should ‘ABOLISH’ or ‘ORDER’ (NOt Fatwa) and render as “OBSCENE”ity, Islami-Ummah’s Favorite Book;