Middle East


Poll: Muslims Believe Key U.S. Goal is to Undermine Islam

An Iraqi Shiite attending Friday prayers at the al-Kholani mosque in central Baghdad. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP-Getty Images)

An in-depth poll of four major Muslim countries has ascertained that in each of them large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy. The poll surveys were conducted in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia from Dec. 2006 to Feb. 2007 by WorldPublicOpinion.org, with support from the START Consortium at the University of Maryland.

As reported by Pakistan's Daily Times (April 24), those polled were not ambiguous about perceived U.S. goals:

Large majorities (an average of 79 percent) across all four countries believe the United States seeks to "weaken and divide the Islamic world," ranging from 73 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan to 92 percent in Egypt. Equally large numbers perceive that the U.S. is trying to maintain "control over the oil resources of the Middle East" (average 79 percent).

Interestingly, the poll also found that only 3 percent of Pakistanis think Al Qaeda conducted the 9/11 attacks.

The question of whether the 'war on terror' is actually a war against Islam has been a hotly debated topic in the international press, particularly in Muslim countries.

Indonesia's Jakarta Post (July 11 edition) carried an opinion piece by Post writer Ahmad Junaidi, which touched on the virulent mistrust that many Muslim leaders have for U.S. motives:

Every time a terrorist attack occurs or police arrest a jihadist, moderate Muslim leaders urge the public not to associate Islam with violence. But radical ulema accuse the U.S. and Israel of being behind the attacks, in an attempt to undermine Islam.

Many Muslim leaders, including kyai, insist Islam does not teach brutality, but rather love and mercy. They blame poverty and social injustice for causing the violence.

According to a recent report in Iran's Fars News Agency (July 9), the country's highest-ranking judicial official believes that Islam itself is being attacked by the West:

"The way Americans treat Iraqi people under the pretext of campaign against terrorism is very much unfair, and this is while the roots of terrorist and extremist movements cannot be traced in Muslim countries and the world of Islam. Rather, those countries which pretend to be fighting against terrorism are the origin of terrorist activities themselves," Hashemi Shahroudi, Head of Iran's Judiciary, said in a meeting with senior judiciary officials in Tehran.

He further said that enemies intend to block the correct practice of Islam, and continued, "The United States opposes the real Islam and it believes that what is going on in Iraq today is against its goals, because they intend to promote American-type of Islam while the Islam dominating Iraq today is an Islam which does not accept compromise."

Malaysia's New Straits Times (July 8) featured a commentary by writer Amy Chew on the general mood among Muslims in Indonesia on this subject:

The battle for the hearts and minds is most difficult when large numbers of Muslims remain skeptical that terrorists exist in the country, despite the bombings carried out by JI, including the 2002 Bali blasts, which killed 202 people.

For the skeptics, the bombings are viewed as a global conspiracy by the West to undermine Muslims in the country.

"Do you really believe those people who were arrested are terrorists who carried out the Bali bombings and other attacks?" an Indonesian businessman said recently. "I don't think so."

Conversely, some Muslim's downplayed the 'global conspiracy' theory:

According to Abdurrahman, a member of Muhamadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim group, radical preachers propagate the notion of a global conspiracy by America and Israel against Muslims in fringe mosques every Friday.

"If you were to listen to sermons by those who are bearded, they will say that the global conspiracy is conducted by America, Jews, Christians, and it is this global conspiracy which makes it difficult for Muslims to unite," he said. "The preachers propagate the conspiracy theory in mosques which do not belong to the mainstream moderate Islam. … And people believe in this conspiracy theory."

In a report filed last year, China's Xinhua News Agency (March 24, 2006) noted that the long-standing dispute between the United States and Iran about the latter country's nuclear program elicited a similar response:

A top Iranian cleric on Friday denounced the U.S. accusation over Iran's nuclear program as a lie to undermine the world of Islam, saying that the Iranians will never "keep silent," the official IRNA news agency reported.

"This lie has now become clear and obvious, and the Iranian nation will not keep silent ... and people from different walks of life in Iran are unanimously stressing country's access to the nuclear technology," Substitute Friday Prayers Leader of Tehran, Mohammad Emami Kashani, was quoted as saying in a sermon.

The WorldPublicOpinion.org poll also found that large majorities in all countries supported the goal of getting the United States to "remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries," ranging from 64 percent in Indonesia to 92 percent in Egypt.

Of note, large majorities approved of many of al Qaeda's principal goals. Large majorities in all countries supported such aims as: "stand up to Americans and affirm the dignity of the Islamic people," and "pressure the United States to not favor Israel."

The poll revealed that a substantial number or respondents favored attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf. Approximately half supported such attacks in each location, while three in ten were opposed.

Large majorities agreed with goals that involved expanding the role of Islam in their society. About three out of four, on average, concurred with seeking to "require Islamic countries to impose a strict application of sharia," and to "keep Western values out of Islamic countries."

However, this does not appear to mean that citizens in these Muslim countries want to isolate themselves. Majorities (an average of 75 percent) said they felt that the world should become more connected through greater economic trade and faster communication.