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18 May, 2011

Ten Years after 9/11, Pew Poll Shows U.S.-Muslim Schism As Wide as Ever

Ten years after 9/11 and the launch of the so-called “war on terror”, the people of six Islamic-majority countries and the Palestinian Territories continue to hold a negative perception of the United States, its president Barack Obama and American policies towards some of the key issues and conflicts in the Islamic world, according to the results of the latest survey by the Pew Research Centre. The survey also finds that the rise of pro-democracy movements has not led to an improvement in America’s image in the region. Indeed, in Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan, views are even more negative than they were one year ago.

The survey can be downloaded in full here.

At a time when geopolitics has clearly moved to the forefront of issues impacting on global travel & tourism, the poll should offer food for thought in assessing the return on investment the American public is getting for its tax dollars, whether the continuing schism between the United States and the Islamic world is making Americans safer and more secure, whether it is sustainable in terms of time, effort and money, and how much business is being lost by American companies as a result.

The U.S. travel industry is simplistically seeking changes in U.S. visa policies in an attempt to bring back visitors, but that is only treating the symptom and not the cause. No-one in the U.S. travel industry appears to have the guts to ask challenging questions and hold policy- and decision-makers accountable, both of which are fundamental rights of citizens in a truly democratic establishment. Living in a state of denial about how these wars have contributed to the US$14.29 trillion debt burden and the gross irresponsibility of passing this on to the future generations is truly a shocking state of affairs.

The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project March 21- April 26, before the announced death of Osama bin Laden and the ratcheting-up of the NATO attacks in Libya, the third Muslim-majority country where the West is involved in a conflict.

The Project is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, principal, the Albright Stonebridge Group, and by former Senator John C. Danforth, partner, Bryan Cave LLP. Assessing the relationship between the Islamic countries and the United States has been an ongoing focus of the project which conducts public opinion surveys around the world on subjects ranging from people’s assessments of their own lives to their views about the current state of the world.

Concerns Still Present

The latest poll results, released on May 18, show that with the exception of Indonesia, Obama remains unpopular in the Muslim nations polled, and most disapprove of the way he has handled calls for political change roiling the Middle East. Moreover, many of the concerns that have driven animosity toward the U.S. in recent years are still present – a perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally, opposition to the war on terror, and fears of America as a military threat. And in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Pakistan, most say their own governments cooperate too much with the U.S.

While the “Arab Spring” has not led to a change in America’s image, it has generated considerable interest and excitement, especially in the Arab nations surveyed. More than 85% of the respondents in Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon have followed news about political demonstrations in the region, and in Arab countries there is widespread optimism that the protests will lead to more democracy. Most Israelis have also followed the political upheaval in neighboring countries, but they are divided over whether it will produce more democratic societies.

The enthusiasm for democracy displayed by protestors in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere is consistent with public opinion in majority Muslim nations. Democracy is widely seen as the best form of government, especially in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, where more than seven-in-ten hold this view. Moreover, people in the Muslim nations surveyed clearly value specific features of a democratic system, such as freedom of religion, free speech, and competitive elections. And publics in many Muslim countries increasingly believe that a democratic government, rather than a strong leader, is the best way to solve national problems.

Travel Impact Newswire will continue to cover this issue in depth, as part of the ongoing process of change in the global economic and geopolitical order. How long the U.S. and indeed the global travel & tourism industry can continue to sweep it under the carpet remains to be seen.

Excerpts from the survey:

++ The image of the United States remains overwhelmingly negative in predominantly Muslim countries. U.S. favorability ratings are low in nearly all of the Muslim nations surveyed, and majorities or pluralities in all seven say the U.S. does not take the interests of countries like theirs into account when making foreign policy decisions. Moreover, many continue to see the U.S. as a potential military threat to their countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama also receives low marks in largely Muslim countries. With the exception of Indonesia, majorities in the countries surveyed lack confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. And for the most part, Obama’s handling of issues in the Muslim world, including the recent uprisings in the Middle East, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Iran and Afghanistan, are met with disapproval.

++ Majorities in Jordan (57%), Lebanon (54%) and Pakistan (54%) believe their countries’ governments cooperate too much with the U.S. government; a 39% plurality in Egypt shares this view.

Views about cooperation with the U.S. are more mixed in Turkey, where 26% say their government cooperates too much with the U.S. and the same percentage says the Turkish government does not cooperate with the U.S. enough; about a third (32%) of Turks say their country cooperates with the U.S. about the right amount.

++ Support for U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism remains low in most of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. Just 9% in Jordan and 14% in Turkey and Pakistan say they favor American anti-terrorism efforts; 21% of Egyptians and about one-third of Lebanese (35%) express support.

The war in Afghanistan, a cornerstone of American anti-terrorism efforts, is unpopular in the Muslim world. At least two-thirds in the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed say U.S. and NATO troops should withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Jordanians are especially inclined to favor withdrawal from Afghanistan; nearly nine-in- ten (87%) want troops to leave as soon as possible. About eight-in-ten (78%) in Egypt, three-quarters in Turkey and 71% in Indonesia and Lebanon also share this opinion, as do 68% in Pakistan.

++ Like the United States, President Obama receives low marks in most of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. Just about one-in-ten Pakistanis (10%) and Turks (12%) and 14% of Palestinians say they have at least some confidence in the American president to do the right thing in world affairs. Obama also gets negative ratings in Jordan and Egypt, where only 28% and 35%, respectively, say they have confidence in him.

Views of Obama are somewhat more positive in Lebanon; 43% in that country have at least some confidence in him. Still, nearly six-in-ten (57%) Lebanese say they have little or no confidence in the American president.

Indonesia is the only predominantly Muslim country surveyed where a majority expresses confidence in Obama to do the right things in world affairs. About six-in-ten (62%) Indonesians say they have confidence in Obama, while 35% do not.

++ Majorities or pluralities in nearly all of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed disapprove of Obama’s handling of four important issues in the Muslim world – the calls for political change in the Middle East, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the situation in Afghanistan, and Iran.

Obama receives his lowest marks for his performance on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. At least eight-in-ten in Lebanon (85%), the Palestinians territories (84%), Egypt (82%) and Jordan (82%) disapprove of the way Obama is handling this issue.

++ Arab publics are generally optimistic about the impact of the political demonstrations in Egypt and elsewhere. Clear majorities in Jordan (73%), the Palestinian territories (73%) and Lebanon (71%) believe the protests will lead to greater democracy in the Middle East.

Egyptians are also upbeat. Asked specifically about the future of their country, a majority of Egyptians (57%) say they are optimistic. And though only 41% say it is very likely that the next election will be free and fair, fully 71% say democracy is preferable to any other system of government.