Accessibility links

US Faces Challenges As It Tries to Engage Muslim World


With a new presidential administration in office, there is renewed discussion in Washington on improving the U.S outreach to the Muslim world. A new public opinion survey in Arab and Muslim countries by the group World Public Opinion shows how difficult and complex that effort will be.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, mistrust has characterized the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world, according to a new survey by World Public Opinion. It says the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the detention of terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay have contributed to Muslim perceptions that they have been the targets in the U.S. war on terror.

While seven in 10 people surveyed in Muslim countries said they disapprove of attacks on American civlians, large majorities support the al-Qaida goal of ridding the Muslim world of U.S. military bases and troops.

Steven Kull, the director of World Public Opinion, describes the dilemma Washington faces trying to fight terrorism with expanded military presence in Islamic countries.

"Our military presence provoked a certain response that created a certain sympathy for terrorist groups and probably facilitated for them the recruitment process," he says. "So I think American policy-makers are in a kind of conundrum, where they have to consider the consequences of military presence."

Taking a more active role to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, accepting the outcome of elections even if Islamists win, and treating Muslims and their faith with respect are all steps Kull says Washington should take if it wants to better engage the Muslim world.

A similar theme was struck at a recent Senate committee hearing chaired by Democratic Senator John Kerry. He emphasized President Obama's commitment to a relationship with the Muslim world based on mutual respect.

"If we truly want to empower Muslim moderates, we must also stop tolerating the casual Islamo-phobia that has seeped into our political discourse since 9/11," he said.

Experts such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also weighed in with recommendations for engaging Muslim communities around the world.

"Vigorous use of diplomacy to resolve conflicts, support for improved governance in Muslim majority states, efforts to enlarge economic opportunity and steps based on dialogue to enhance mutual understanding," she advised.

She also highlighted the importance of talking and listening to the Muslim people around the world through exchange programs, language and cultural education, and better media communication, including having U.S. officials appear on the Al Jazeera television network.

Muslim-American community experts also are weighing in with their own recommendations. Gallup Center for Muslim Studies Executive Director Dalia Mogahed recommended three steps cited in surveys to better engage the Muslim people.

"Resolution of conflicts, political and economic reform and mutual respect," she said. "Whether we are talking to someone in Casablanca or Kuala Lumpur, the most frequent response was for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not inferior."

She argues that many believe Muslims are being denied what they most admire about America - the rule of law, self determination and human rights. This happens, she says, when Washington is seen as supporting unelected Arab autocrats, occupies Muslim nations, and is perceived as passive in response to Israeli actions against Palestinians.

A settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experts agree, would help boost U.S. prestige in the Muslim world. Senator Kerry goes further, saying that without an American demonstration of commitment to act as an honest broker in resolving the conflict, it will be impossible to undertake any effort to reach out to Muslims anywhere.

XS
SM
MD
LG