in the Muslim World
By Husain Haqqani
and Kenneth Ballen
So much for the popularly
peddled view that anti-Americanism in the Muslim
world is so pervasive and deep-rooted it might take
generations to alter. A new poll from Pakistan,
one of the most critical front lines in the war
on terror, paints a very different picture -- by
revealing a sea change in public opinion in recent
Long a stronghold for Islamic extremists and the
world's second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistanis
now hold a more favorable opinion of the US than
at any time since 9/11, while support for al Qaeda
in its home base has dropped to its lowest level
since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift
in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian
assistance for Pakistani victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake
that killed at least 87,000. The US pledged $510
million for earthquake relief in Pakistan and American
soldiers are playing a prominent role in rescuing
victims from remote mountainous villages.
Released today (December 19, 2005), the poll commissioned
by the nonprofit organization Terror Free Tomorrow
and conducted by Pakistan's foremost pollsters ACNielsen
Pakistan shows that the number of Pakistanis with
a favorable opinion of the US doubled to more than
46% at the end of November from 23% in May 2005.
Those with very unfavorable views declined to 28%
from 48% over the same period.
Nor is this swing in public opinion confined to
Pakistan. A similar picture is evident in Indonesia,
the world's most populous Muslim nation. Again that's
largely because of American generosity in the wake
of a major natural disaster. A February 2005 poll
by Terror Free Tomorrow showed that 65% of Indonesians
had a more favorable opinion of the US as a result
of American relief to the victims of last December's
tsunami. If these changes in Pakistan and Indonesia
influence thinking in other countries, then we could
be looking at a broader shift in public sentiment
across the Muslim world.
While support for the US has surged, there's also
been a dramatic drop in support for Osama bin Laden
and terrorism. Since May, the percentage of Pakistanis
who feel terrorist attacks against civilians are
never justified has more than doubled to 73% from
less than half, while the minority who still support
terrorist attacks has also shrunk significantly.
There's been a similar increase in the number of
Pakistanis disapproving of bin Laden, which rose
to 41% in November up from only 23% in May.
The important point is that direct contact with
Americans on a humanitarian mission, including military
personnel, clearly has a positive impact on how
Muslims view America. In Pakistan, 78% of those
surveyed said that American assistance has made
them feel more favorable to the United States. America
also fared much better in the opinion of ordinary
Pakistanis than the other Western countries that
also provided aid, or even local radical Islamist
groups that made a much-publicized effort to provide
That doesn't mean there isn't still more work to
be done. The Muslim street is still not sold on
specific American policies, with the poll finding
the Pakistani public now oppose current US policy
in the war on terror by a larger margin than in
But the overall message from Pakistan, pointing
towards a potential trend in the Muslim world in
general, is a positive one. By cutting out the middle
men who all too often portray a poisonous image
of the US, direct American engagement in humanitarian
assistance not only ensures its aid reaches those
in need but can also play a powerful role in marginalizing
the foot soldiers for bin Laden and other supporters
of extremist Islamic causes.
[Mr. Haqqani is director of Boston University's
Center for International Relations and author of
"Pakistan Between Mosque and Military"
(Carnegie Endowment, 2005). Mr. Ballen served as
counsel to the House Iran-Contra Committee and the
Speaker of the House, and is president of Terror
Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization based in
Washington, DC(Courtesy Wall Street Journal, December
of Terror Free Tomorrow Poll in Pakistan:
• 73% of Pakistanis surveyed now believe suicide
terrorist attacks are never justified, up from 46%
just last May.
• Support for Osama Bin Laden has declined
significantly (51% favorable in May 2005 to just
33% in November), while those who oppose him rose
from 23% to 41%.
• US favorabilty among Pakistanis has doubled
from 23% in May to more than 46% now, while the
percentage of Pakistanis with very unfavorable views
declined from 48% to 28%.
• For the first time since 9/11, more Pakistanis
are now favorable to the United States than unfavorable.
• 78% of Pakistanis have a more favorable
opinion of the United States because of the American
response to the earthquake, with the strongest support
among those under 35.
• 79% of those with confidence in Bin Laden
now have a more favorable view of the US because
of American earthquake aid.
• 81% said that earthquake relief was important
for them in forming their overall opinion of the
• The United States fared better in Pakistani
public opinion than both other Western countries
and radical Islamist groups.
• While opinion of the United States itself
improved significantly, this did not translate into
increased support for US-led efforts to fight terrorism.
Tellingly, those who oppose US efforts against terrorism
grew, from 52% in May to 64% now.
• The support base that empowers global terrorists
has dramatically declined in Al Qaeda’s home
base. This is a major blow to Al Qaeda and other
• American humanitarian assistance can make
a significant and immediate difference in eroding
the popular support base for global terrorists,
but the US “war on terror” has not.
• The United States must sustain its relief
and reconstruction efforts in Pakistan in order
to prevent popular support for Islamist radicals
from rebounding. Indeed, 78% of Pakistanis want
continued American assistance.
• The poll follows similar findings from previous
Terror Free Tomorrow public opinion surveys in Indonesia
and the Palestinian Territories. 65% of Indonesians
had a more favorable opinion of the United States
because of American tsunami relief. Similarly, a
strong majority of Palestinians want the United
States to become more involved in resolving the
• These public opinion surveys, in three distinct
regions of the Muslim world, demonstrate for the
first time that American policies based on humanitarian
interventions result in substantial, favorable changes
in Muslim opinion, while the declared US “war
on terror,” for the most part, does not.