Survey Details 'Deep' Divide Between Muslims, Westerners

By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 23, 2006

A "deep attitudinal divide" exists between Western and Muslim publics, with Muslims in the Middle East, Asia and Africa more critical of Westerners than vice versa, according to a survey released today. But attitudes are not monolithic, the study found, and a "middle ground" is particularly apparent among European Muslims.

Muslims and non-Muslims interviewed in 13 countries converge on few issues, but they agree that relations between Muslims and Westerners are bad, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization.

"The most salient findings include the extent to which Muslims have an aggrieved view of the West, and Westerners are skeptical and wary of Muslim values," said Andrew Kohut, the center's president.

People polled in six predominantly Muslim countries -- Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria -- blame Westerners for the strain in ties and mostly see Americans and Europeans as selfish, arrogant, immoral and greedy, with opinions of the West and its people worsening over the last year, the survey found. In turn, majorities among non-Muslims polled in most Western countries see Muslims as fanatical and lacking in tolerance.

But non-Muslim Westerners interviewed were more divided in their attitudes toward Muslims than vice versa, poll results show. About 60 percent of non-Muslims questioned in France, Britain and Russia, as well as more than half of Americans interviewed, maintain favorable opinions of Muslims overall. On the other hand, 36 percent of non-Muslims surveyed in Germany and 29 percent in Spain view Muslims favorably.

About 27 percent of Pakistanis and 16 percent of Turks see Christians favorably; about 6 percent and 15 percent, respectively, have favorable views of Jews.

The survey was conducted as part of the Pew Center's Global Attitudes Project ( ) from March 31 to May 14. More than 14,000 people in 13 countries were interviewed by phone or in person. The study has a margin of error of between 2 and 6 percent, depending on the country.

Overall, Kohut said, Westerners are less optimistic than Muslims in Europe or Muslim-majority countries about the viability of democracy in Muslim-majority countries and think more Muslims support suicide bombings and other violence against civilians than is actually the case.

Indeed, for the second year running, the survey shows increasing opposition among Muslim populations to violence targeting civilians in the name of Islam. About 71 percent of polled Muslim Indonesians said such violence is never justified, compared with 66 percent last year; in Pakistan, the figure was 69 percent, up from 46 percent; Jordan has had the steepest rise in the proportion of people opposed to extremist violence, up from 11 percent last year to 46 percent. Osama bin Laden's standing has also continued to decline since polling last year, most significantly in Jordan, followed by Pakistan.

But "a sizeable number of adherents," particularly among sampled Nigerian Muslims, still believe that violence against civilians is justifiable in defense of Islam, the survey found.

The poll attributes the trend against violence to Muslim countries' own experiences with terrorism, including a triple suicide bombing in Amman, Jordan, last November that killed 60 people. Moreover, with the exception of Turkey (at 39 percent), well over half of Westerners and Muslims interviewed expressed concern over the global rise of Islamic extremism.

There is, however, no obvious correlation between diminishing support for terrorism and more positive perceptions of the West. Muslims in four of five Muslim-majority countries believe Westerners are not "respectful of women." Muslims also blame Western policies for their countries' lack of economic prosperity. Meanwhile, people in Western countries blame Muslim countries for what they perceive to be government corruption, lack of education and Islamic fundamentalism.

But "nothing highlights the divide between Muslims and the West more clearly," the survey found, than clashing views over the controversy about cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. First published last September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and reprinted in several European publications, they provoked riots and protests throughout the Muslim world. Depending on the country, from over half to two-thirds of Westerners surveyed blamed the controversy on Muslim intolerance, while well over two-thirds of Muslims questioned blamed Western disrespect.

Moreover, in what Kohut called a "gee-whiz" finding, solid majorities of Muslims living in Muslim countries and in Britain said they did not believe that Arabs carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the United States.

"It's one of the finds that makes you realize that deep emotional feelings get in the way of facts," Kohut said.

European Muslims, polled separately for the first time, represent a "bright spot," the survey says. Muslims in Spain, Germany and France, which was the scene of riots in predominantly North African and Muslim suburbs last fall, are more inclined than Muslims elsewhere, including Britain, to view non-Muslim Westerners as tolerant, generous and respectful of women. They also see less of a clash of civilizations than non-Muslims and, like Muslims polled in Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, are far more inclined to see being a devout Muslim and "living in a modern society" as compatible.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company