Islamic World’s Attitudes on US Strongly Negative

US Public Diplomacy: A long row to hoe in the Islamic World a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, has recently published an public opinion poll on attitudes toward the US, terrorist organization, and a generalized ‘clash of civilizations’. [The link is to a 28-page PDF document. The questionnaire is also available as a 20-page PDF] The polling was conducted in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and Pakistan between December 2006 and February 2007.

The results are pretty depressing. Majorities have negative views of the US government. Gross majorities believe it is US policy to undermine and divide the Islamic world and to spread Christianity. Majorities have a negative view of Western culture and believe that groups like Al-Qaeda are right in trying to fight its spread.

Majorities believe that the US is actively working to help Israel extend its territory and large numbers believe that the US is not really interested in a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli problem.

Surprisingly large numbers believe that the true identities of the 9/11 attackers remain unknown with many believing, still, that either the US or Israel is behind the attacks. In none of the four countries is Al-Qaeda identified as being responsible by more than 35% of the polled population.

Majorities share the Al-Qaeda belief that Muslim countries should be ruled by strict Sharia law and that Islamic countries should be unified in a single Islamic state or Caliphate.

There are a few bright notes, though. Majorities in all countries believe that democracy is an appropriate form of government for their own country. Majorities also believe that globalization is good for them, though they object strongly to Western cultural values flooding their own societies.

Majorities in all countries are strongly opposed to attacks on civilian targets in America, Europe, or in Muslim countries. Al-Qaeda’s support among the polled populations is weak; Usama Bin Laden’s support level is even weaker, with maximum support (40%) coming from Egypt.

It’s hard to find much to cheer about here. What’s very clear is that the US has an enormous task ahead if it is to improve is image in the Islamic world. There are, though, some indications that this is possible.

The paradoxical attitudes about American freedoms (good) and American culture (bad) suggest that there is room for discussion here. It doesn’t make it any easier that large segments of American society don’t have clear ideas about what needs to be done in the Islamic world, or even about the Islamic world. It certainly doesn’t help, either, when there is no consensus in the US on the role of America in the world or on American values. With disturbingly large numbers of Americans believing that there’s something ‘fishy’ about 9/11, it’s hard to argue that foreign audiences are simply off the wall.

Attitudes don’t change as the result of a press release or a speech. They change only as the result of sustained behavior and a free flow of information, providing context when possible. This is not going to be an easy task, particularly when groups like the ‘net roots’, anarchical organizations, and purely crazy people muddy the public discourse. I do fear that ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ has become a global pandemic, but things will not change substantively following the next election.

The US needs to be fully engaged in explaining itself calmly and clearly, admitting when its policies apply differentially. The government can do more to repudiate those who demonize Islam. People—including Islamic audiences—realize that the world is not a tidy place, that one solution doesn’t fit all problems. Consistency, while desirable, is not always achievable, but this is not a new insight. We do need to explain why and how our policies are formed and applied, and what our goals are exactly. The messages explaining these have to be tailored to the audiences, but cannot be different or contradictory, one to the next.

A large part of the problem of attitudes is that foreign audiences, even in highly educated places like Europe, do not have a clear conception of how the US government works, the role of policy advocates and opponents, the role of Congress or the media. One cannot blame the local education systems. After all, what do the average American know about the political system of any other country. We can encourage the development of ‘American Studies’ programs in foreign universities, but we cannot make them happen nor can we ensure that students leave those programs with the ‘right’ ideas.

We cannot and should not seek to control what images and ideas about America are conveyed through our media. We can, though, make use of USG media to try to provide the context of our culture. While Paris Hilton may exemplify the worst we have to offer, her jailing can exemplify the best by demonstrating that rule of law does actually work.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Democracy, Law and the Courts, Middle East, National Security, Popular Culture, Public Opinion Polls, Religion, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
John Burgess
About John Burgess
John Burgess retired after 25 years as a US Foreign Service Officer, serving predominantly in the Middle East. He contributed 35 pieces to OTB between February 2006 and April 2014. He was the proprietor of the influential Crossroads Arabia until his death in February 2016.


  1. floyd says:

    What a surprise! Look at the media. We don’t seem to think much of ourselves lately either!

  2. Bithead says:


    And if we did think much of ourselves we wouldn’t much CARE what a bunch of holdovers form the 14th century thought of us.

    If we didn’t think much of ourselves, the people who don’t understand how our government works, wide, and would likely be trying to emulate more than they are now. But the fact is, that we haven’t been selling ourselves to other nations in the world, because we no longer believe in it. Such is the state of things, after nearly 60 years of Democrat domination.

    I’m sorry, but I’m running out of patience with leftist attempts to get people so fundamentally opposite from us in terms of worldview, to like us. I dare say, the Nazis didn’t much care for us, either. And I think the comparison apropos.

    If we thought more of ourselves, the issue would be whether not we like them. And, properly so.

    As it is, we’re so worried about whether not bay like us, that we’ve stopped being ourselves. It’s not only we in America that lose, when we do that, but the rest of the world as well. In my view it is not they who should be sitting in judgment of us, but rather, we of them.

    I recognize that’s not going to make us any more popular; in the short term it probably won’t. But what will?

    Let’s play ‘what if’….Let’s say, just for giggles, that we were to pull out of Iraq tomorrow, for example. Or, let’s say we would never have gone in there. Would they dislike us at any less? I doubt it. There’s only one way that we can get them to like us, and that is capitulation. That is something America must never do.

    And this not only applies to Islamic fundamentalism, and the results of that, but socialist fundamentalism, such as the current situation in Venezuela for example, and the results of that.

  3. NoZe says:

    I fear we won’t begin to see any change in these attitudes until there’s a new administration in the White House. Bush’s image is cemented in place and there’s not enough time left in his tenure for a major sea change.

    Republican or Democrat, I think the next administration will have an important opportunity to start again with a new deck…although certainly s/he will inherit a difficult set of problems from their predecessor!

  4. Bithead says:

    And what would the advantages be of making ourselves popular among a group of people willing to stone to death a 17 year old girl for falling in love with the ‘wrong boy’, since we have have to cast a tolerant eye on such events?

  5. Triumph says:

    They change only as the result of sustained behavior

    This is the key element. Getting out of Iraq, supporting democracy–instead of the longstanding US embrace of totalitarian regimes in the region, and having a neutral and productive stance on the Palestinian question would go a long way to changing perceptions.

    The problem is not “a lack of understanding.” People in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and Pakistan understand all too well the consequences of US power since–for decades–the US has been an active participant in totalitarian rule and oppression in each of those countries.

  6. G.A. Phillips says:

    The key element Triumph, is understanding our enemy, they hate and want to kill us because their God tells them it is the only way to gain his favor, and blaming this country does no good at all, turning our backs on Israel, this that you would have us do is simple disbelief in the facts of what the history of war and isolation have taught us and What our war with Islam is teaching us.

  7. John Burgess says:

    I think most of the comments above miss the most important point of this survey: Not all Muslims think alike. The huge differences in attitude demonstrated between largely illiterate Pakistan and far more urbane Indonesia should underscore that point.

    These audiences can only judge on the basis of what they perceive. What they perceive is conditioned, to a degree, by their backgrounds. To a larger extent, it is conditioned on what they experience.

    The US certainly has made mistakes, now, ten years ago, fifty years ago, two hundred years ago. Since history is not amenable to going back and editing it, we all have to live with the consequences of the facts of history. Sitting around and apportioning blame may feel good, but it doesn’t actually accomplish much. There is, of course, always the chance that we can learn from the past so as to not repeat the mistakes.

    One mistake of long duration is the US propensity of saying one thing and doing another. This goes back pretty far in our history, but was greatly exacerbated–for what was considered good cause–during the Cold War. In choosing between two evils, you’re stuck with the evils you have, not the evils you’d like to have.

    But having made a choice, we are stuck with the consequences; the cloud of all possible solutions collapses into a singularity of what we have chosen–or what was chosen for us by our elected representatives, if you insist.

    We cannot ignore the Islamic world because we think it backward or ignorant or feudal. One-sixth of the world’s population follows one or more variations of that religion. We have to learn to deal with them, to speak with them in languages and concepts they understand and respect. Sometimes, rarely, that language needs to be force. Most of the time, though, it means actually taking the effort to figure out what’s annoying them, not jumping to our soothing conclusions about what’s ‘wrong’ with them.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    John, I wonder if it’s possible under present circumstances for us to improve our image. First, we really are guilty (if that’s the right word for it) of supporting oppressive regimes in the Muslim world and “occupying Muslim lands” i.e. having American troops stationed there. That we had precious few alternatives won’t convince anybody of anything.

    Second, we are imperfect and we are an open society. We will always provide fodder for those who are disposed to hate us. Third, the media, at least in the Middle East, are largely state-controlled and the U. S. is a convenient lightning rod to deflect criticism of the regime. Finally, whatever its virtues Islam rewards clerics who are able to attract a following and railing against the U. S., especially given the foregoing, is a good way to attract a following. Consequently, there are incentives both for government and religion to cast us as “the Enemy”.

  9. randall says:

    If we want the Islamic world to have a better opinion of the U.S. the answer is simple. As a nation we need to place a ban on the freedom of expression, music, motion pictures, magazines, etc. The freedom to practice or not practice religion should be outlawed,except Islam, Islamic worship should be mandatory. Next we need to remove women from the voter registration rolls, they should be removed from the workplace, have their drivers licenses revoked, covered from head to toe and put in the kitchen. What a great place the U.S. would be! To tell you the truth, I don’t give a rats ass what the Islamic world thinks of the U.S. and I don’t think most of the western world cares either regardless of what the media tells us. Americans need to quit feeling guilty about being free and prosperous. The free nations of this world need to join together and deal with this problem. If some in the Islamic world are in a hurry to get to heaven lets help them get there before they try to take us with them.

  10. floyd says:

    Bithead;Excellent Post!! I suspect that a very high majority of the American people would agree with what you said, but the pseudointellectuals in this country have managed to intimidate many of them into political correctness.

  11. William d'Inger says:

    Why doesn’t the media ever ask what we think of the Islamic world?

  12. John Burgess says:

    Dave: Having an open society, as you note, has its serious downside, if the object is to make friends. The Wahoos (some of whom seem to be commenting above) will always be able to poke sleeping animals with their pointy sticks.

    I’m not sure that Muslim governments actually get much mileage out of the ‘US whipping boy’ scheme anymore. With the easy and universal access to satellite media, no one can get away with grossly different messages for foreign and domestic audiences. And as media becomes freer in these countries, both their governments and we get caught up in the problem of ‘You can have a free press so long as you don’t disagree with me.’

    If the media are doing an accurate job reporting, they’re doing an accurate job of reporting the anger. The problem is that they are doing an accurate job, even though it’s not a fully professional job. But we’re taxed with that same problem, only in different ways.

    As I’ve noted at other times and in other places, audiences outside of the US, and particularly audiences outside the West, get a media diet of things that simply could not be shown in the US media. It isn’t that these images are false, for the most part (and I do note exceptions), but that they are not telling the complete story.

    Images of a two-year-old with half of her head taken off by an errant missile strike are pretty strong. The problem is that it’s only one kind of two-year-old whose image is shown. It’s never the Israeli kid or the American kid. And it’s not that these pictures are being editorially deleted, it’s that these pictures simply don’t get taken.

    For a variety of reasons the West just does not want to see these images. When’s the last time you saw a picture of an Israel killed in a suicide bombing, or body parts? Can you cite three photos of the bodies of any of the 3K people killed in 9/11? (I can find only two: ‘Falling Man’ and Fr. Mychal.)

    A steady diet of dead Muslim women and children will absolutely lead people to the conclusion that the US is killing Muslim women and children. That statement is not balanced or erased by a press release or an all-text newspaper story.

    Blogs or newspaper or TV items that suggest ‘nuking Mecca’ or ‘convert them all to Christianity’, serious or not, are absolutely going to be picked up by Islamic media and be taken seriously by Muslims. We certainly take statements about ‘Kill the Jews’ or ‘Bring on the Caliphate’ seriously.

    It’s not a matter of political correctness. It’s not a matter of accepting the values of another group. It’s that we do not permit ourselves for our own moral reasoning, to use the same kinds of psychological weapons that our enemies (the Islamist extremist, not the Muslim) is quite ready to use. Since our weapons of choice do not actually solve the problems, but only make it worse, we need to find alternatives to the use of force, preferably something that cannot be cast as killing women and children.

  13. John Burgess says:

    William: Try here or here, or especially here.

    That these results are deemed to be largely due to basic ignorance about Islam may or may not heartening.

  14. Bithead says:

    I think most of the comments above miss the most important point of this survey: Not all Muslims think alike.

    No, that’s true, they do not all think alike. No argument.

    However, what you seem to be missing is that the numbers of people from within Islam, who are willing to live in peace with the remainder of the world,… and who from our viewpoint, are actually willing to stand up and say so, is so small as to make the entire issue you raise totally irrelevant.

    It is with that silence that radical Islamic chains its “critical mass” as was discussed in a few places the other day.

  15. John Burgess says:

    Bithead: I’d suggest you’re not seeing what Muslim are saying because it only rarely gets reported in the US media. If you can’t find the media report, you’re assuming what’s not being reported doesn’t exist. As they say, ‘Evidence of absence is not the same as absence of evidence.’

    Take a look at my blog Crossroads Arabia to see what being said–out loud and in public–in only one country, Saudi Arabia.

  16. William d'Inger says:

    Thank you for the references, John. They make interesting reading, but they don’t solve my beef with the press. You see, the They Hate Us article will (almost certainly) show up in my local newspaper, but your referenced articles (most likely) won’t. Ditto, TV coverage. It’s a one-way street conforming to the press’ weltanschauung.

  17. Mark says:


    There’s only one way that we can get them to like us, and that is capitulation.

    I think this is a divisive framing from the point of view of right/left relations in the US. Here’s the way I would say it:

    We want the various extremist/terrorist organizations to stop trying to kill us. These groups need the support of the general population for recruits, funding, etc. If we can get the general population to like the US more, we might be able to reduce the power of the extremist groups.

    Bithead: agree? disagree?

  18. William d'Inger says:

    We want the various extremist/terrorist organizations to stop trying to kill us. These groups need the support of the general population for recruits, funding, etc. If we can get the general population to like the US more, we might be able to reduce the power of the extremist groups.

    Yes, but that idea is a tad pollyannaish. I’d probably have a better chance of a conjugal visit with Paris Hilton in jail.

  19. bains says:

    With disturbingly large numbers of Americans believing that there’s something ‘fishy’ about 9/11, it’s hard to argue that foreign audiences are simply off the wall.

    I suggest that part of the problem is that this is backwards. Non-Americans read and hear the hyperbolic statements of BDS sufferers, good old fashion self-flagellating American haters, and Dem hating righties and find support for their prejudices. While our rhetoric does not cause outsiders reactions, it supports it.

  20. mannning says:

    Burgess strikes me as an apologist for Islam, and their kind of Brotherhood of Man (a Caliphate). He is also far, far too concerned about others attitudes towards the US. The minute we start acting out the idea that we want to be thought of well by everyone is the minute we go downhill in an ice tunnel at 90 mph. We must be ourselves, and proceed our own way, and not try to accommodate Islamic ideas of what we should be. Our culture is what it is, and if Islam doesn’t like it, they must try to cut it off in their own nations. We will not change, except and unless it becomes much more appalling under Liberal policies. They, the Muslims, must adapt, not us.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    John suffers under the handicap of actually knowing what the heck he is talking about.

  22. John Burgess says:

    William: A couple of points. Yes, this story will get coverage while ‘good’ stories won’t. That’s a problem with the US media, not a problem with the Muslims. They are doing what is asked, but no one is particularly interested in listening or acknowledging the fact. Instead, we get “missing numbers willing to stand up and say so.” They are standing up; they are saying so. Go to their media and you can see it.

    I don’t think it pollyannaish to work on the undecided, those who are wavering, those who are open to argument. That, in my experience, is the true majority. Yes, you have to talk to the zealots, too, and you can’t ignore the ones who are already friends. This is where consistency in policy and message is most critical. It’s also the hardest thing to do because to do it honestly ends up pissing off a lot of Americans who’d rather believe the country was conceived without sin. Luther’s ‘Warts and all’ is absolutely necessary, but often runs counter to Congressional interest and the necessity of Congressionally approved budgets.

    Bains: To some extent you’re right. People do find confirmation in their own attitudes when others support those attitudes. That’s what we get with Constitutional government, however. I’m not about to take away free speech just because it complicates the job. It means we have to work smarter and work harder.

    Manning: I think you’re projecting a bit there. I’ve spent the better part of my life in Islamic countries, including all Arab countries excepting Mauritania. The idea of living in a caliphate holds zero appeal to me, thanks all the same.

    I think there is no one Islam, though there are plenty of Muslims who think there should be. Islam is nearly as diverse as Christianity. You have Islamic countries that don’t have a problem with things like drinking. You have Islamic countries that legally prohibit polygamy. You have fairly liberal (at times libertine) countries like Lebanon and semi-theocratic states like Saudi Arabia as well as police states like Syria and the former Iraq and predominantly secular states like Turkey.

    The majority of these countries are still developing countries. That brings with it the same political and developmental problems other, non-Muslim developing countries have. Things like dysfunctional traditions, like corruption, like patron/client political relationships. Even things like Female Genital Mutilation is a cultural practice followed by animists, Christians, as well as Muslims in some parts of the world.

    There’s plenty I don’t like about certain manifestations of Islam. The funny things is that most Muslims don’t like those things, either. But they do like other things I’m not crazy about. As an American, I tend toward putting the individual above the group. That’s not the case, though, for most traditionalist societies. I also don’t buy into the socialism, an import from Europe, that colors many Arab reformist platforms.

    I think religion is a matter of conscience, not of law. Funnily enough, so do the Shi’a who are killed by Al-Qaeda or Deobandi zealots in Afghanistan and Pakistan or Iraq. So do the Sufi who have been oppressed/suppressed in many Islamic countries.

    I think that by making all Muslims your enemy, you completely overlook those who could be, who would be your allies. Maybe there will still be some difference in opinion. I can live with that, so long as those opinions aren’t calling for my conversion or death. I don’t think ‘one size fits all’ in most things in life. But don’t get to thinking I’m ignorant of the differences between critical differences and marginal ones.

  23. John Burgess says:

    Manning: I should add that in my last job, for 25 years, I was paid to be concerned about foreign attitudes toward the US. In part through your and my tax dollars, so thanks!

    Public Diplomacy is a two-pronged venture. One prong seeks to influence foreign opinion about the US. The other seeks to inform the US of foreign opinion and how that may affect policy decisions. I know for a fact that sometimes you have to sell a policy that is simply a stinker for a particular audience. That’s life and that’s what supporting a policy that I may not even have liked personally meant. It was most certainly my job to let people in the White House, State, and the Pentagon know when something they wanted to do was going to meet opposition. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing it never does is change attitudes overnight. Some projects take as long as 30 or more years to reach fruition. With Congress changing every two years, the Senate every six, and the White House every four or eight, continuity and consistency can be a real bear.

    In doing this, I’ve had guns put to my head literally; my wife and son have been caught in crossfires; I’ve lost nearly two dozen friends and colleagues to terrorist attacks. I do know that one has to use that big stick at times. But I also know that a stick isn’t always the right tool and it doesn’t always achieve the desired effect. Sometimes, talking is far more effective.

    Dave: Thanks.

  24. Bithead says:

    I’d suggest you’re not seeing what Muslim are saying because it only rarely gets reported in the US media.

    OK, I’ll bite… perhaps you’d care to list some of the sources outside the US where the picture is different? I mean, it’s not like I’ve not been looking…. and I mean outside Saudi Arabia, whose leadership has long since decided there rile next depend on the largess of these United States.

    I think this is a divisive framing from the point of view of right/left relations in the US. Here’s the way I would say it:

    We want the various extremist/terrorist organizations to stop trying to kill us. These groups need the support of the general population for recruits, funding, etc. If we can get the general population to like the US more, we might be able to reduce the power of the extremist groups.

    Bithead: agree? disagree?

    Here’s a concept for you: Critical mass.

    Understand me clearly; this is not a situation where getting a majority to “like” us is going to help matters much. Indeed; it’ll be taken as a sign of weakness, and responded to as such.

  25. Bithead says:

    By the way, Mark, I should also comment that the truth is usually not conciliatory. It is usually defensive. There is a right and wrong.

  26. Mark says:

    From Bithead’s link:

    The Islamic Terrorists need the Democrats at or beyond critical mass to achieve their OWN critical mass.

    I could as easily say “The Islamic Terrorists need Bush and the neocons in power to achieve their critical mass. Bush is playing right into their hands, witness the recent statement by

  27. Bithead says:

    Doubtful, Mark.
    After all, if you look closely at recent history you’ll note that such thugs were doing pretty well under the Clinton misadministration.

  28. mannning says:

    JB–You undoubtedly know far more than I about the Islamic world from first hand contact. You also have the even-handedness of a professional diplomat. What I have learned is from Internet sources about Islam, from the Koran, and from other posted sources about jihad, as well as reading Lewis, Spencer,and a few other writers.

    So tell me that the view as seen through Islamic writings of all kinds is flat wrong. Tell me if it simply isn’t true what the Koran says about Christians and Jews. Tell me that infidels are not in danger from Muslims; that they wish to live peacefully with us side by side. Tell me that the conflict in Israel and Palestine, which has been going on since the inception of Israel, is not about Jew versus Muslim. Tell me that we lost two embassies, 250 or so Marines, 17 dead on the Cole, all for other than Muslim terrorism. And speak from the nearly 3,000 dead in NYC, that Muslims had no part of that massive atrocity. The tell me that Muslims do not mean it when their Koran says they may lie, cheat, steal, or even kill the infidel? Finally, to end this rant, tell me that Islam does not want a new Caliphate.

    You are quite correct when you say that by lumping all Muslims into one basket, we may be overlooking friends that can help us to some extent. For an ordinary citizen, it is rather hard to tell friend from foe–same as for our troops in Iraq. The question is, who are these potential or actual Islamic friends, and what power do they exercise over their countrymen and fellow Muslims, especially the clericals?

    We seem to be facing the classic “loose federation of warring tribes” with little or no script for the action, except for the Koran (etc),and the feeling that we are the ultimate enemy in an arena where treachery and corruption were invented. Are we to believe that the word of a Muslim to an infidel can be trusted? Please tell me!

    Your comments about trying to sell US policy to foreign governments, and vice versa, I suppose, are appreciated. Having been in NATO halls for some ten years, I know what the back channels can do. Having been in Kuwait for business, I know what negotiating with them meant. Having been in Nigeria, I know what the rift there did to many Christians. These brief personal episodes did not help me to feel much sympathy for Islam.

  29. John Burgess says:

    Manning: I think your error lies in the sources you’re relying upon. Those in particular believe that if it appears in the Quran, then it must be compulsory practice. That’s just not the case.

    Muslims (at least the thinking ones) acknowledge that the Quran is sometimes a confusing document. There are words used there that are unique to the document and no one knows exactly what they mean. The Quran’s vocabulary has been traced to at least 11 different languages in use at the time of its compilation, but its exegesis has all been done in what was considered to be contemporary ‘classical’ Arabic. Analysis is further confounded because of the way the Quran is organized, not in chronological order, but in order of the length of the verses or surat. While academics (Western and Islamic) are pretty sure of the correct chronological order, there remains the problem of ‘abrogation’, where one verse supersedes one received earlier.

    What this means is that although particular words or statements can be found on the pages of the Quran–a tack taken by Robert Spencer, for example–the mere presence cannot be taken as proof that the sentiments expressed are in fact operative.

    The Quran, for example, talks about the Jinn, beings somewhere between angels and man. But only the fundamentalists or the villagers really has much use for that concept these days. Those with education tend to see the whole Jinn phenomenon as better explained through psychology.

    Where there’s a verse that calls for warfare against the Jews, there is also the question (which thinking Muslims do ask) about whether the verse is applicable to a specific historical contingency (i.e. the fights against particular Jewish tribes in Medina) or whether it expresses a general rule. Most interpret the verses received when Mohammed was living in Mecca (i.e., the earlier verses) as being the general rules and those delivered in Medina to be the contingent verses.

    Of course one can (and many do) debate these points. But the fact that these are the substance of the debates strongly suggests that simply pointing to a line in the book and saying, “See! It says this!!” is not a substitute for analysis. It’s simply making a political statement.

    I think you–and your sources–err also in assuming that the Quran is the sole guide to the way Muslims analyze the world around them. They do not. Most are far more interested in the things that we all deal with: putting food on the table; getting the kids educated and married; hoping for a raise, a good house, grandchildren. Most don’t have the leisure to sit down and work out whether what they’re doing every minute of the day is exactly according to the Sunna. Add to this the fact that except in Saudi Arabia, Islam has adopted and adapted to local practices and customs which may or may not be more liberal.

    While you won’t find a legal bar and grill in Saudi Arabia or Iran, you will in Bahrain or the UAE, in Turkey or Indonesia.

    I think one of the errors your sources make (as do many fundamentalist Muslims) is to try and cast every bit of behavior as religiously motivated when, in my view, the majority of it is cultural. I think it critical to understand the differences if one is to truly come to terms with the problems.

  30. mannning says:

    Thank you, John, for your insights. From your statements, I can hope that there are indeed moderate Muslims who abhor the tactics of the radical elements of Islam.

    One of my concerns has been the TV documentary that traced the radicalization of a young middle class and moderate Palestinian, I believe, in a matter of days, resulting in his becoming a suicide bomber. The effort to convert him was supposedly done by several higher level Muslims, who managed somehow to convince the youth that his fate was to blow himself up for Allah. His family was horrified, but accepting in the end, which gave me the distinct impression that such conversion or radicalization can be achieved relatively easily. He then blew himself up in a public place.

    Apply this idea of radicalization to the mass of Muslims in the US, a few at a time, and you have a potent force for an Israel-like bombing war sooner or later.

    Read also the many reports from the FBI, and other groups about the radical imams in US mosques, and the hair-raising speeches they give to their worshipers. While I recognize that the use of “all Muslims are a threat” is not necessarily correct, there is quite a lot of smoke here, which will keep me very suspicious and permanently on guard.

    I had direct experience with the Muslim guest workers in Holland, who were very anxious to integrate and be accepted until it became obvious that few would achieve any real acceptance at all. They became a sullen bunch after a few years.

    The later events in Holland have borne out the concerns of that time, which was in the 1975-1985 period, when the guest workers numbered about 200,000 in a population of 16 million. In the larger Dutch cities today, the Muslim population approaches 30%-to-40%. The Dutch government is having to act more forcefully to curb the activities of the Muslim population, much to their chagrin.

    I would also point out the great difficulties the UK is currently having in preserving their institutions against Muslim incursions. In Canada too, there has been pressure for Sharia. I do not see these events as encouraging for the US in the near future either. The Muslims are insisting on Sharia wherever they can find the pressure points. I do not welcome this trend at all.

  31. mannning says:

    A report I have read puts the radical Muslim population at between 30% and 70%, an admittedly wide dispersion, but of concern anyway. The US population of 6 million Muslims, might just be at the lower end here, or about 1.8 million radicals– men, women and children.

    I am very happy thinking that 4.2 million US Muslims are not a threat to us, but…

  32. John Burgess says:

    Manning: Radicalization comes in many forms. Most, I believe, can be explained by psychological inability to deal with a changed and changing world. Some of it is, assuredly, political. Some of it is due to an intellectual weakness, the product of bad educations and fundamentalist/xenophobic backgrounds, that simply cannot find a useful way to deal with the world.

    This kind of violent response to change is absolutely not exclusive to Muslims. I strongly suggest you find a copy of The Ghost Dance by Weston La Barre. While out of print and a bit out of date in its use of Freudian analysis in part, this book gives a comprehensive look at how societies react and over-react to changes, particularly those imposed from outside. What’s going on is not new, even for the Islamic world.

    New means of communication and the ‘shrinking’ of the globe makes these over-reactions more acute and more dangerous. I don’t doubt that for a moment. But it doesn’t make them unmanageable in the long run. The radical imams are a problem. Traditionalists who fear that their children will be corrupted by living in a Western country to which the family has immigrated are a problem. They don’t let their kids adapt to or adopt Western culture. Instead, they fill their heads with tripe about the glories of the homeland and tales of golden ages that never actually existed. By sending their kids back to wherever to get married or to get educated, then guarantee that the kids will not fit in any society.

    These are real problems that need real solutions. But simply tossing them on the trash heap as ‘unredeemable’ isn’t one of the solutions. Some, no doubt, are gone for good. Most can still be persuaded, I believe, with proper effort and funding for the right programs by their Western host countries. Yes, they are the ones who have to adapt, but they need a bit of a break, too, to compensate for the crap of their upbringings.

    I don’t know what report you’ve read with those numbers. No report I’ve ever read has put the numbers anywhere near that. Most, in fact, put the total of real extremist Muslims on the order of 100K, globally. You could get the numbers you cite by stretching the definition to include those who express any support for any of the goals of the radicals, I guess, like ‘US out of the Gulf’ or ‘No cultural imperialism’. But you’re not going to get them to strap on a bomb and go strolling.

    Even if you say there are 10 million radicals, that’s still 0.625% of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion. That’s a pretty small percentage by which to condemn the majority.

    That minuscule percentage can still be lethally dangerous, of course. They do need to be monitored and taken out of play. But we really need to be careful that we’re not needlessly alienating those who just might be able to help us.

  33. mannning says:

    I held the opinion for several years that it was the Muslims themselves that should rise up to the occasion and slap down their radical brothers.

    But then I observed that in the Israeli-Palestine situation, it wasn’t happening; in the Israeli-Lebanon situation it wasn’t happening; in Iraq it wasn’t happening, in Afghanistan it wasn’t happening, nor was it in the Philippines, Thailand, Kosovo, or in the Western Muslim population.

    Few, if any, Muslims stand up and denounce their radical brothers, at least not loud enough and often enough to be heard and counted. Fewer still take strong action to stop the reigns of terror. If moderates are in such overwhelming numbers, why are they allowing these “few” radicals to exist at all? Why are they allowing radicals to roam the world and be supported by oil money? Why are they funding Islamic schools worldwide, even in the US, that teach the warrior principles of Islam?

    I sense that your ideas are that we face more of a police action than a major conflict, and a rather small one at that. I do hope you are right, but I believe that we will be faced with slapping the terrorists down ourselves, without much help from moderate Muslims.

    I will look for the reference you cited. The point being, I suppose, that historically there have been conflicts within every nation and between many nations sparked by waves of new ideas and new threats, religions, persecutions, and dreams of conquest. Nothing new in this. Crusades! Jewish history. The hate factor. China…

    Does this teach us that peace comes from pacifism?
    That the Mongol hordes were turned back by buying them off?

    To me, the first lesson from history is that for a nation to survive it must be cohesive, strong, vigilant and proactive against threats.
    This is especially true for insidious, destabilizing threats from within an open society.

    I believe that the American public would be horrified if they could read the full classified reports of the HSA/FBI on current internal threats to the nation, with a special focus on Islamofacists. I believe they would be even more horrified to learn just how little we can actually do about these threats until they become actualized, and how few assets we have to keep close track of such groups in the first place.