Experts: Islam-US Relations
By Pamela Hess
Washington, DC: Five years after the
United States received the world's sympathy for the Sept.
11 terror attacks, Middle East and terrorism experts and
a top poll taker reported to a Senate committee that the
attitudes of Muslims have shifted sharply away from the
A panel of experts told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
that, whether reasonable or not, the war in Iraq, the detainment
of prisoners at Guantanamo, and now the United States refusal
to intercede against Israel in Lebanon causes Muslims to
believe the United States has abandoned its core principles
of human rights, democracy and freedom.
In the year 2000, 52 percent of Turkish people polled reported
a favorable view of the United States. That is now down
to 12 percent favorable. In Indonesia in 2002, the favorable
rating was 61 percent. Even with massive US aid after the
tsunami, in 2006 only 30 percent of those polled report
a favorable impression of the United States. Nigeria has
also seen a sharp decline: 72 percent rated the United States
favorably in 2002; that is now down to 32 percent. And in
both Indonesia and Nigeria, Osama bin Laden is regularly
cited as a role model, the witnesses told the sparsely attended
Increasingly, that distaste for American policies is extending
itself to a dislike of Americans, where once the two were
considered separate issues. In Turkey, a NATO ally, 69 percent
report a dislike of Americans. In Pakistan, it is 52 percent.
In Indonesia, 60 percent dislike Americans and in Nigeria,
75 percent of Muslims report a dislike of or Americans,
according to Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research
Moreover, the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, including
those in Europe, do not believe the Sept. 11 attacks were
carried out by Arabs.
Clearly, the United States is losing the war of ideas.
Akbar Ahmed, a professor at the American University in Washington
and former high commissioner from Pakistan to Britain, traveled
throughout the Middle East and Asia from February to April
to discuss the tension between Islam and the United States.
"I have never encountered such intensity of emotion.
The Muslim world in the years of the Cold War, when the
United States was obviously the moral power, admired and
respected the United States. Today we found that many Muslims
do not see the United States as the moral power it once
used to be; in fact, many of the people we surveyed through
the nine countries said they would prefer Saddam Hussein,
the most ruthless and vile of dictators, to the Americans
The Israeli attack on Lebanon with apparent American blessing
only reinforces that view, said Muqtedar Khan, a fellow
at the Brookings Institution, and a periodic adviser to
the White House.
"The way we have abandoned Lebanon, I'm not very sure
if any moderate Muslims will be able to take a risk (and
move toward democracy,)" he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., disputed that point, saying
the Israeli attack was a result of Hezbollah's aggression,
and Iranian patronage.
Khan responded that soon after Israel began the attacks
-- an attempt to force the Shiite militia Hezbollah to return
kidnapped soldiers and withdraw from the border area --
US President Bush proclaimed Israel's right to defend itself.
"I was amazed how nobody has said Lebanon has a right
to defend itself," Khan said.
This reinforces belief in the Muslim world, fanned by al-Qaida
rhetoric, that the United States does not think Muslims
have the right to security or peace.
That alienates moderate Muslims who are agitating for human
rights and democracy in their own countries, and it strengthens
Islamic fanatics they oppose and against whom they are losing
"The vision that delivers reform, change, empowerment
and security (in the Muslim word) will win. So far Islamists
have done a better job than most in the Arab world, unlike
in South Asia and East Asia. Moderate and liberal Muslims
can win the battle for the soul of Islam only if they are
able to deliver. So far they have failed. So far everyone
has failed except for the radical who at least hit back
against those Muslims perceive as enemies," Khan said.
"The current crisis in Lebanon goes a long way to convince
Muslims that radical Islamists are right when they say that
Israel with the help of the United States is out to destroy
their nations," Khan said.
Ahmed said the US invasion of Iraq has set a dangerous precedent,
opening the door for the Israeli attack on Lebanon, as well
as a statement Tuesday made by Turkey that if US and Iraqi
forces do not crack down on Kurdish guerilla groups in northern
Iraq, it will take matters into its own hands.
"The United States needs to get ahead of events"
rather than just responding to them, said Ahmed, offering
economic and humanitarian aid and support for moderate forces
of Islam around the globe. "You need to make allies
who respect you. People feel like the United States is a
fair-weather friend. You need to play a long-term game,
learn to play the game through culture, honor, human rights
Khan compared the US relationship to the Middle East --
centered as it has been on oil -- to dating an extremely
beautiful person. The United States has responded only to
the beauty (the oil) and ignored everything else that needs
attention to make the relationship work. (Courtesy UPI)