Poll: Internet-savvy Muslims more likely to enjoy Western culture


People browse the web during the opening of an Internet cafe in the Medina area of Dakar. (AFP)

A new poll from the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life project found that Internet-savvy Muslims are more likely to enjoy Western culture than their analog peers -- an unsurprising finding, given the demographics of most Internet users, but an important one nonetheless.

According to the survey, youth, Internet use and higher education are the three top predictors for feelings of friendliness toward the West. Strong religious observance, on the other hand, correlates with dislike for Western culture.

Pew Center on (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life)

There are some interesting anomalies: In Pakistan, for instance, only one in five people say they like Western music and movies, despite the fact that English is one of the country's official languages and foreign programming is widely available on cable channels. (The country is, as I wrote Thursday, even planning its own version of the American hit "Glee," and foreign soap operas are wildly popular there -- but also highly politicized, which could explain the low turn-out.)

In many of the other countries Pew surveyed, huge gulfs of 30 percentage points or more separate Internet users and non-users who like Western culture -- which seems extraordinary, since even non-Internet users would have access to American music and films in places like Russia and Turkey. That suggests that a proclivity for Western culture doesn't just spring from exposure, but also from some of the other factors Pew points out -- like age and education.

It's also worth noting, however, that the mere use of the Internet may have a kind of "Westernizing" influence, regardless of what the user sees or does online. According to one school of thought, advanced by academics like Utah State's Abdulkafi Albirini, the Internet's conventions and values are essentially Western ones: reading from left to right, for instance, or pursuing personal interests.

There's really no way to know if that effect influenced the results of this Pew survey, of course. But the viewpoint is worth noting and considering, especially as more people -- and in particular, as more people in poor, non-Western countries -- get online.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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