News / Asia

US Response to 9/11 Taints Muslim Image of America

Brian Padden

It has been 10 years now since Islamic terrorists attacked the United States and focused the world's attention on America's relationship with the Muslim world.

Most Muslims around the world condemned the September 11 terrorists attacks on the United States in 2001. But many consider the U.S. response to the terror attacks far worse: The ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO's military intervention in Libya. And support for regimes that use the threat of terrorism to justify suppressing dissent.

This too often overshadows America's efforts supporting freedom and democratic values, says Steven Kull, the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

“There's the bad America that doesn't always live up to those values and is seen as being unfriendly to Islam, ready to use military force irrespective of international law and not promoting democracy,” Kull said.


Esam El-Erian is a leader of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a group that was once banned for opposing the military-led rule of Hosni Mubarak.

He argues that U.S. military operations kill more people than Islamic terrorists and that using force to bring stability and impose democracy in Muslim countries is a failure.

“Defeated in Afghanistan, yes. They failed to reconstruct a nation. Defeated in Iraq, yes. They failed to build a model of democracy,” El-Erian said.

Opinion polls show that President Barak Obama's efforts to engage the Muslim world have had little impact on such attitudes.


Indonesia is a rare exception that holds a positive view of the U.S.

The fact that President Obama lived there as a boy, that the country has undergone significant democratic progress and that Indonesia also has suffered terrorist attacks may account for the more favorable rating.

Even so, a vocal minority in Indonesia opposes U.S. military policy, and U.S. ties to Israel. Last year, Israel's deadly raid on a flotilla of peace activists sparked protests in Jakarta.

“President Obama has to prevent Israel from doing this kind of thing, and not to protect or cover up for Israel,” said Indonesian University student Sahid Sundana.


In Tunisia, some criticize the U.S. for not offering enough support to pro-democracy groups, but this man detects a change in American policy.

"The Americans are starting to have an interest in Tunisia, even becoming passionate. I have the impression they will help the Tunisians and are beginning to," one Tunisian said.

Steven Kull adds that U.S. plans to draw down forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. support for Israeli-Palestinian peace, could eventually improve Muslims' view of America. But, he says, the U.S. must also work with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups.

“They are going to be part of any democratic process that emerges in the Muslim world. And the U.S. needs to take a more friendly stance toward that, not be so suspicious of those countries,” Kull said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated the U.S. is ready to take a step in that direction and engage Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, but Esam El-Erian says so far there has been no contact.

Ten years have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Muslim attitudes about America remain a causality of the war of terror.

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