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America and the World
Published on Thursday, October 7, 2004 by
America and the World
by Parvez Ahmed

While much of the country is focused on the polls for the Presidential race, another kind of poll is perhaps equally deserving of our attention. The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) recently released a poll about American attitudes towards 'international issues' and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released the results of its survey on American attitudes towards 'Islam and Muslims.' Taken together the results are at once insightful even as they are seemingly contradictory.

In the CCFR poll eighty-seven percent of the public favors working through the UN to combat terrorism; eighty-two percent favor using the International Criminal Court, which President Bush has consistently eschewed.

Half of those surveyed oppose the use of racial profiling in airport security checks; sixty-six percent oppose torture as a way of extracting information from suspected international terrorists; sixty-four percent favor a more even handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; sixty-six percent of Americans favor working with the UN, even when it adopts policies that the U.S. does not like; fifty-nine percent want to do away with all vetoes in the Security Council and seventy-four percent want a standing peacekeeping force commanded by the U.N.

Contrary to popular perceptions most Americans favor working with international agencies, under the aegis of international law and with foreign nations, even when it means sometimes subordinating American desires. Multilateralism seems more like a mainstream American attitude not an unpatriotic diversion.

Despite such overwhelming evidence, columnist Thomas Friedman recently pointed out that, 'each time the Bush team had to choose between doing the right thing in the war on terrorism or siding with its political base and ideology, it chose its base and ideology.'

Instead of firing an evangelical U.S. general who smeared Islam, the administration sided with their political base. Instead of taking the moral high ground after the Abu Ghraib fiasco, the administration responded belatedly and almost begrudgingly. Instead of welcoming bridge builders like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) to America, the administration bars their entry with out caring to explain how such men of peace got to be dangerous for America.

Such repeated misguided policies has hurt America's image abroad. Favorability ratings even among traditional European allies are at all time lows. Meanwhile stereotyping and guilt by association continues to erode civility on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, a recent CAIR survey shows, more than one-fourth of survey respondents agreed with stereotypes such as 'Muslims teach their children to hate' and 'Muslims value life less than other people.' When asked what comes to mind when they hear 'Muslim,' thirty-two percent of respondents made negative comments. Only two percent had a positive response.

Just as alarming are the results from a March 2004 Pew Poll that showed nearly fifty-percent of Turks to have unfavorable attitude towards Jews and Christians. In other parts of the Muslim world like Morocco and Pakistan the unfavorable ratings are alarmingly higher.

The CAIR poll also shows that while general knowledge of Islam is low among those surveyed but the presence of Muslim acquaintances drives more enlightened attitudes. Education and dialogue helps. Thus it is not surprising that Muslims living in America, despite the setbacks on their civil liberties, continue to have a positive outlook towards the society they live in. More American-Muslims are running for public offices, more are registering to vote, more are actively engaged in civic and inter-faith organizations.

The overall poll numbers actually present an opportunity of historic proportions - creating a very different American attitude toward the world and a different world attitude towards America. The task notes Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria needs global leaders, 'who can take this raw material and turn it into a new politics.' This transformation requires a fundamental commitment towards dialogue and diplomacy over the instinct to fire rockets and drop bombs.

Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., ( is a board member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, (CAIR). CAIR is headquartered in Washington DC and is America's largest grassroots Muslim advocacy group.


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