WASHINGTON—Muslims and Westerners remain sharply at odds in the way they view each other, according to a 13-country poll released Thursday.
Among the findings: Majorities of Muslims in several countries don't think Arabs were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Majorities of Westerners in countries surveyed don't think Muslims respect women. Each group sees the other as violent and fanatical.
On the bright side, support for Osama bin Laden is declining among Muslims, and most Muslims believe that democracy can work in Islamic countries.
The views of more than 14,000 Muslims and non-Muslims are detailed in the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project report. The results could shed light on foreign policy decisions and better methods for diplomacy.
"The extremes have had the microphones," former Secretary of State and project co-chair Madeleine Albright said. "The views of the extremist, in terms of describing the other, seem to have prevalence. . . . We have a tendency to see Islam as monolithic. We equate everyone, and we see everybody as a terrorist."
Of the countries surveyed in the West, favorable opinions of Muslims are highest in France and Great Britain, at 65 and 63 percent respectively. Fifty-four percent of Americans surveyed had positive views of Muslims, and a slight majority, 55 versus 32 percent, thought that relations between Muslims and Westerners were generally good.
Similarly, Muslims living in European countries had significantly favorable views of Christians, with 91 percent of French Muslims and 82 percent of Spanish Muslims expressing positive opinions.
Anti-Jewish views continue to be overwhelming in the Muslim world, with 98 percent in Jordan and 97 percent in Egypt giving unfavorable ratings.
With the exception of France, most Muslims surveyed in four Western and six Muslim countries said they didn't believe that Arabs carried out the 9-11 attacks, a finding that project director Andrew Kohut could chalk up only to emotions.
"Strong emotions about things can get in the way of rationality," he said. "People refuse to believe things are seemingly incontrovertibly true."
The war in Iraq has made an impact on the views of non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
"Iraq is a disaster for American foreign policy," Albright said, citing Indonesia as an example of a country whose positive views of America have plunged dramatically since the war. "(The problem) is deeper than Iraq; Iraq exacerbated it."
Project co-chair John Danforth, a former U.S. senator who also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for religious leaders to find ways to bridge the gap between Muslims and Westerners.
"If religion is the problem, religion should address the problem," said Danforth, who's also an ordained Episcopal priest.
The survey found that Muslims and Westerners shared harsh opinions of each other. Most Muslim respondents in Muslim countries said Westerners were greedy, immoral, selfish and arrogant. Westerners rated Muslims as fanatical, violent and arrogant.
But Muslims were far more uncomfortable with Westerners than Westerners were with them, Kohut said.
Nigeria, a country with high Muslim and Christian populations and a key oil exporter to the West, had a few surprising results. Though support for bin Laden has plummeted in many Islamic countries—in Pakistan, it was down to 38 percent from 51 percent last May)—Nigeria's confidence in the al Qaida leader has grown in the last three years, from 44 percent in May 2003 to 61 percent this year.
Support for suicide bombing also declined this year among Muslims, though it still has a sizable portion of supporters. Among Nigeria's Muslim population, for example, 46 percent of respondents thought that suicide bombings could be justified in the defense of Islam. The majority of Muslim populations in France, Spain, Britain and Germany thought suicide bombing was never justified.
One thing both groups can agree on? That relations are generally bad and change is necessary.
"We have not sufficiently focused on the relationship between religions in the world," Danforth said. "It's not a one-shot meeting, but persistent dialogue."
To view the full report online, go to www.pewglobal.org
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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