Muslim Views of the West

Muslim Views of the West

More on:


Middle East and North Africa

Location: Council on Foreign Relations, New York, New York

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

STEVEN SIMON: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I don't normally sound this nasal, but I am really under the weather. So don't be alarmed by the tone of my voice. I'd like to get started. We don't have all that much time and there's a very complex topic at hand. And judging from the incredible participation this morning, it's obviously one that's on the minds of many Council members.

Just a couple of notes -- housekeeping notes -- before we begin. One is that this meeting is on the record, so when you speak you will have to forever hold your peace. National members are participating via teleconference and we will entertain at least one question from our national membership. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: A bit of tokenism?

SIMON: Well, tokenism is an important American tradition. (Laughter.)

Before we begin, I'd like to introduce our panel. The main presenter -- if I can put it that way -- Geneive Abdo. Jenny Abdo. She is now at Gallup working on the polling data that we'll be discussing this morning. But it's important to note that she's written three important books -- the one on Iran, the one on Egypt, and another on Muslims in America -- and I commend them all to you. They can be found at I think they're all in print. Are they not? Yeah. Anyway they're great books. I mention this particularly to demonstrate her authority on these issues, which I think is quite profound.

Our own Steve Cook, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow in Middle Eastern Studies. He's going to be a very important participant in this morning's discussion because he's an authority on, among other things, civil-military relations in the Middle East. And this is important because one of the things we are going to get to is --

STEVEN A. COOK: (Off mike) -- book. (Laughter.)

SIMON: There it is. It's available at better book stores everywhere.

COOK: (Off mike.) It will be out in April or May.

SIMON: The book is longer than that. (Laughter.)

COOK: But not much.

SIMON: But we'll be talking about whether or not there's a connection, what the transmission belt is between public opinion and public policy in the region and his academic experience will be very useful in judging what the real answer is to that question.

Mark Tessler is the Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science, which I guess my friend Ibrahim Karawan would say makes you extremely tenured. (Laughter.) Mark Tessler's an extremely tenured professor at the University of Michigan. He's written a number of things, including a book on the Arab-Israeli conflict that came out just a couple of years ago, really, 2004, that was a Notable Book of the Year, according to The New York Times. He is an expert on Muslim public opinion himself and will have very interesting things to say.

I'd like start of with Jenny discussing this polling data for a bit and then we'll have a panel discussion and then open the floor up to questions.

GENEIVE ABDO: Thanks, Steve. Good morning. We're fortunate that Steve has a sense of humor at 8:00 in the morning.

But we were discussing before the breakfast began the question of does polling matter. And so I'd like to begin by just giving you a brief history of this project that Gallup launched in 2005.

It's in response to some degree to a statement that Donald Rumsfeld made after 9/11. He was asked at a press conference about Muslim opinion about certain subjects, and he said, "Well, how can I possibly give you the answer? It's not as if there's a Gallup poll that I can refer to provide the answer." And so the CEO of Gallup decided to answer Secretary Rumsfeld's need and to start polling the Muslim world. So in 2001, that began the first poll that was done in nine countries. And from that survey a larger project was launched in 2005 that will go on for 10 years that will eventually poll in 40 countries, so in 40 predominantly Muslim societies.

At this point there have been surveys conducted in 22 countries. So what I'm going to tell you today is basically some of the analysis that has been developed so far from in some cases 22 countries, in other cases only 10 countries because the countries that have been surveyed so far have only been polled once. And some of the analysis is not available for all 22 countries. In some cases it's only 10, and in some cases all 22.

Given the particular topic of today's discussion, what I did basically is to go through the data and to try to choose questions that speak to the full issue of Muslim attitudes towards the West and the United States in particular. And as a general question Gallup asked just a simple question about approval ratings: Do you approve of the leadership of the United States; do you approve of the leadership of various European countries; as well as do you approve of the leadership of your own country?

And what was interesting about these particular results is that the answer sort of defied to some degree conventional wisdom that Muslims view the West in monolithic terms, because according to their responses, in fact -- and I just am going to use some examples of Egyptians, Iranians, Jordanians and Pakistanis -- there was a great difference in their high disapproval rating of the United States compared with a more approval rating of say, for example, France.

In Egypt, for example, 73 percent disapproved of the United States but only 30 percent disapproved of France. And this was pretty consistent throughout the poll that there was a great difference in how Muslims viewed the United States and Great Britain, which they gave very low favorable ratings to, and how they viewed other European countries, including the EU, which received much higher favorable ratings.

Another interesting question that was asked is, there were adjectives presented to the respondents and the question was asked: What countries do you associate, for example, with the word "aggressive"? And it was interesting because again the United States received very, very high ratings. In Morocco, for example, 84 percent associate aggressive behavior with the United States compared with only -- with a much lower percentage, only 2.8 percent associate the word "aggressive" with France. So again this gives you some idea as to how these distinctions are made.

Obviously, you know, the question is, well, why is this the case? And the answer of course, that we know now but probably didn't realize in 2003 at the start of the Iraq war, was that Muslims don't agree with U.S. policy, particularly supported by Britain in that part of the world. And basically the other reason in addition to policy considerations is that there's a feeling of humiliation among a lot of Muslims. There's a feeling that the United States and some Western countries don't respect Islam. And this was one of the answers.

In terms of the policy question, Gallup asked: What is the net effect of the invasion of Iraq? And 94 percent of Egyptians said that it had created more harm than good; 93 percent of Palestinians agree, and on down the line, including the Lebanese, who among those respondents 71 percent said that they felt that the Iraq war had done more harm than good.

In addition to these very specific questions directed at the West and the United States, I think that we can sort of conclude also from questions that Muslims were asked about their own countries and their own ideas of ideal forms of governance what their ideas are, for example, on Western-style democracy.

Gallup asked Muslims, for example: Do you favor Shari'a, Islamic principles, as a source of legislation, but not the only source; or do you view it as the primary source -- should it be the primary source if you were to create governments in your own country; or should it be no source? And overwhelmingly those surveyed in these countries said that it should have at least a form -- form some basis of any sort of government that would be created in their own countries. And in the case of Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, in fact, a majority said that it should be the only source, the sole source of legislation.

So I think that this is a very important finding because even though we don't know what Muslims mean by Shari'a -- because it means different things to many people and it's always somewhat of a debate and open for interpretation -- it seems clear that from this particular finding, this idea that the Islamic world is going to embrace Western-style democracy probably is not the case.

The last question that I wanted to just briefly explain is Gallup asked Muslims, for example, "Do you want better relations with the West?" And again, I think that there is some perception that in fact the Muslim world does not want to engage with the United States or with Western governments. But in fact, according to the results, with the exception of Turkey and Bangladesh the majority of respondents said that better relations with the West concern them a great deal; and in some cases -- such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and Indonesia -- those who were concerned outnumbered those who were not concerned by a ratio of two to one.

So I think again this is a very important finding because it tells us that despite policy decisions, which, as I mentioned earlier, people don't necessarily agree with, but they still believe that there's a great need to have some sort of dialogue -- engagement -- with the West.

So I think I'll leave it at that. Thank you.

SIMON: That's terrific. That's absolutely terrific.

I'm going to kick the discussion off here by asking Mark two sort of related questions. One is on the Shari'a issue that Jenny raised. I mean in this context Shari'a seems to be like a Rorschach test for many Muslims. You know, it's a blot that they look at and they project onto it whatever their hopes and fears and anxieties and what have you, but it's essentially formless.

What do you think is meant by respondents when they see a Gallup pollster who asks them about this? Are they thinking of Shari'a as personal status law? Are they thinking of it as criminal law? Are they thinking it's something that could regulate commerce? What's going on there?

MARK TESSLER: There are two questions?

SIMON: I'm going to ask you another one.

TESSLER: Oh. (Laughter.)

SIMON: And the other, which is much more straightforward, of course, is about something you've written on very recently in a book called, "In the Same Light as Slavery." You ask, well, how much does religiosity have to do with radicalism and views about the United States? You know, if you're a more religious Muslim in Egypt are you more likely to be anti-American?

TESSLER: Yeah. Let me take the first question first. In this book that Steve mentions -- Steve has a chapter in it as well. It grows out of a conference that we had at the National Defense University, and it's about what kinds of lessons might be relevant for American public diplomacy and American relations with the Arab and the Muslim world and the world more generally. And he's got a very good chapter in there and I've got some things in there that relate to what he was just saying.

Let me start by saying I think the basic message that comes through in what Jenny reported is not only a very important message, but it's confirmed in a lot of other places. I mean we have a lot -- we have not only all of these previous and now new Gallup surveys, or relatively new Gallup surveys, there are data from Pew, there are data from Zogby International. I've been working with teams in eight Arab countries. We have those databases, as well.

And they all say the same thing, that attitudes toward the West and the U.S in particular are multidimensional. That there are a lot of positive things about the U.S. that people perceive. Maybe sometimes they even give us more credit than we deserve, but I mean that's their view and it's very much and it's very much focused on what we're doing in the region, or at least what they think we are doing in the region. That comes through in all of the surveys.

Something that's consistent with that is my response to the question that Steve asked, the second question he asked, in terms of what's shaping these attitudes. To some extent we already know the answer, we've just mentioned it. But if you do a little bit more complicated kinds of analysis -- and bi-variant and some multi-variant analysis -- where you try to interrelate some of these items and some of these variables, and you ask the question, "Well, all right, so some people have this kind of view and some people have that, a lot of people have something positive to say about us except for our foreign policy, but not everybody does, what might predict?" We've been doing studies -- some of the research we've been doing focuses on attitudes towards terrorism, what people think of bin Laden or issues like that.

So what predicts to who has a more positive or a less positive attitude? The answer to that is consistent with the general message that comes through in what Jenny (sp) was reporting. It's not religiosity. People who are more religious or more attached to their culture or answer questions about culture in a more conservative way -- with respect to issues of women for example -- we're entitled to our own view of whether we like their attitudes or not -- but those are not the attitudes that predict.

If we know whether someone's more religious or less religious, we're not going to be able to predict with any accuracy how they respond to questions about terrorism or questions about the U.S. Those questions are influenced primarily by other kinds of attributes and experiences, and they're basically in the domain of politics.

Interesting, though I won't spend a lot of time talking on this -- maybe we'll come back to it a little bit later -- but people's perceptions of their own government are a very important explanatory variable as to whether people are unhappy with the economic and political circumstances that prevail in their country. And that shapes to a significant extent how they feel about the U.S. and terrorism as opposed to some sort of a clash-of-civilizations argument. So personal religiosity doesn't, in the language of social science, account for variance. It doesn't turn out to be a very important determinant of these attitudes. These attitudes were shaped by other things.

In terms of the second question, I think you have it exactly right in terms of a template or a framework. You know, we -- and I'm sure this is the case in the Gallup surveys as well -- we ask a lot of different questions about the way in which Islam should interact with the political process. The question about Shari'a is just one. To some extent you can get slightly different answers depending on which question you decide to focus on.

And one of the issues to struggle with is how to pick which is the most representative item or whether to construct an index that incorporates all these items. We ask questions, for example, like, "Would you agree or disagree that the country would be better off if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office?" Or, "Do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for men of religious -- for religious leaders to play a role in shaping the decisions of the government?" So there are a lot of different questions.

What comes through as the common denominator is pretty much what Steve was saying, that this is a framework that -- and I also want to say that if you ask questions about democracy -- and there's room for discussion about that because you can't necessarily just say, "Do you like democracy?" You maybe need to ask it in a more sophisticated way. But in general people want democracy, as they understand it, which is kind of a minimalist definition. They want governments that are accountable to them or they want a political system that gives them some ability to force the government to be responsive, or to sanction the government if it is not responsive.

That's something that people generally feel they don't have, and they want that. And to the extent that that's an element of democracy, maybe a kind of minimalist definition, it's something they want. But it isn't necessarily Western democracy or secular democracy. That's actually an issue on which people are divided, and that's one of the very interesting divides.

I wouldn't say that people overwhelmingly reject a secular kind of democracy, a democracy in which religion is not part of the political process. Some want religion out of politics not because they necessarily have a secular conception, but because they think it's bad for religion, it will corrupt religion. If you're really committed to the religion, you want to preserve it and not put it in this domain where it's going to be compromised. But that's an issue on which people are divided.

And among those who do want religion in the political process -- which is somewhere between 40 and 60 percent, depending on the country, and it varies up and down in the countries where we've done surveys more than once --- what it is is exactly, I think, what Steve said, that somehow it's appropriate for Islam to be in the political process and it's a frame of reference. When we kind of figure up what we want to do on issues like personal status or banking or all the other things where Islam has something to say, we need to make reference to Islam.

And so on the one hand you have this notion that we want some sort of a democratic accountable government, but with an Islamic -- not face, but with an Islamic element, and our job is to figure out what that means. And then you have a number that is pretty substantial -- sometimes even a majority -- of people who really want to leave religion out, for one or several different kinds of reasons.

SIMON: You know, what's striking about your last remarks is the polling data here in the United States you've reminded me of which reflect the percentage of Americans who would like to see religious values reflected to a greater degree in public policy. And this may not be a particularly Arab or Muslim phenomenon.

I was also struck by some of the things you said about democratization. I think it's quite true that there's a yearning for democracy, or more accountable government, if democracy is how it's going to come about. And I was wondering if Steve would want to shed light on whether or not -- and you should jump in here too --

ABDO: Okay.

SIMON: -- since you've got polling data on this. But whether in your roaming the back alleys of Cairo, you've gotten a sense that people think the United States is getting in the way of democracy rather than promoting it, and especially now that the American democratization agenda has been subordinated to a kind of reformatting of American policy in the region, whether that is going to get worse or better. What do you think?

COOK: It's a great question. And actually, before I answer that question I just want to build a little bit on the comments that came previously about this question of religiosity. And while we're talking about the back alleys of Cairo, those of you who know me know that I have a penchant to disappear to Cairo for weeks at a time.

And I'm always struck by others who go to Cairo and they come back and they say to me, "My God, Steven, there's so many women in Cairo wearing hijab." And when you talk about Rorschach tests, that's a Rorschach test for Americans and Westerners who show up in Cairo or other major Arab cities. And they seem to make the analytic leap that more women wearing hijab means more fundamentalism, extremism, radicalism. And actually that's not the case. It's a much, much more complex phenomenon than hijab equals support for the Muslim Brotherhood or an Islamic state.

There are a variety of reasons why women take the veil, some having to do with support for more radical fundamentalist movements in the region, but others are rebellion against mom who was burning her bra in Cairo in 1960, or peer pressure.

Just one anecdote. When I was living in Cairo for a long period of time, my wife was working for an American-based development consultancy and her office mate was an Egyptian, but who was brought up in New Jersey and who had moved back to Cairo. She'd married an Egyptian man. And she decided she would take the veil. And my wife said, "Gee, you know, why? You don't pray five times a day, you know, you were eating during Ramadan." She said, "Well, a lot of my friends are doing it so I figured it would be a good thing to do."

So there's a lot of different reasons why people take the veil. And also you should just take a look at some of these women wearing the veil. I was in Cairo recently and I was with a driver, and we were stopped at a light -- interestingly enough, stopped at a light in Cairo. That's an amazing phenomenon. (Laughter.) And this woman --

SIMON: (Off mike) -- more common then you think. (Laughter.)

COOK: This woman comes walking past us in hijab, but my goodness. You know, the driver and I looked at each other and said, "Mashallah!" I mean this was one of the -- pardon me -- one of the sexiest women we had seen. And she knew it and she was flaunting it. So I think it's really hard to make that that analytically.

Now as far as the democratization agenda, I think it is abundantly clear -- it's profound to me how much Egyptians, well-meaning Egyptians, well-meaning Arabs who want to live in more open, democratic political (settings ?) believe that the United States has now gotten to the point where we are obstructing the democratization agenda, for a variety of reasons. One, because of the other things that we've done in the region -- the Iraq war, the perception of supporting Israel no matter what it does, calling the president's statements last summer about Islamofascism -- now we have overstepped our boundaries to the extent where it has become an insult for the United States to talk about democracy. It is the kiss of death for democratization activists to be associated with the United States.

In addition, there's a sense -- and you can argue from today until tomorrow with people in the Arab world that, you know, the United States is not interested in imposing democracy on the world, but the way in which we bureaucratically set it up and the way in which we've gone about trying to encourage democracy in the region has really -- has undermined our own efforts to support democratization to the extent that it's really actually hard to talk about democratization. You want to talk about reform issues, you want to talk about technical assistance, you want to talk about economic assistance -- I think this comes through in the Gallup poll -- education, things along those lines, but democracy is a big no-no.

And there is a very strong sense that the regimes have taken advantage of our missteps and our problems in Iraq, our problems with the Palestinian issue to really undermine and deflect any kind of pressure, external pressure and internal pressure, for democratization. And they lay the blame squarely with the Bush administration.

SIMON: Please.

ABDO: I think that this whole issue of democracy also is completely related to what we were discussing a few minutes ago about religiosity, because when people were surveyed in all of these countries there was very little difference between the subset that Gallup identified as political radicals and everybody else -- the moderates -- in terms of what role religion played in their lives.

So, overwhelmingly in both categories people said that religion plays a great role in their lives. And I think that this is why with the rise of Islamic political movements that there now is this big question about, you know, should the United States even be promoting democracy in the region, because democracy now means the election of Islamists. And of course, this isn't necessarily something that the United States has supported.

And with the election of, for example the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, who are now -- there are now 88 members in the Parliament. I met some of them this past summer when I was in Cairo -- then I was with the U.N., not with Gallup -- but their big complaint to me was that no Western government had reached out to try to have any sort of meeting with them, and that in fact I think it was only the German government that had been interested at all in engaging with them even though this was quite, you know, unprecedented in Egypt that 88 members of the Muslim Brothers were elected to Parliament.

So I think that it's very complicated. Now you have people who are very public about their expressions of religiosity. You have voters electing Islamists to power, and that is what their idea of democracy is, which, of course isn't necessarily been part of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

SIMON: (Inaudible.)

TESSLER: Absolutely. I think there's kind of a common denominator here that we want to make sure comes through, and then people can see if they agree with it. If the people are really dissatisfied with the way in which their countries and their region is being governed, the circumstances in which they find themselves, they have a sense of who's to blame for that, and that more than any other single factor, I think, is shaping their views on these kinds of things.

And to the extent that we in the States sometimes think, "Well, it's really about Islam, somehow that's what's driving it, that's what's behind all of these sentiments or these strong opinions or this anti-Americanism," it's really about dissatisfaction with the way in which things are going in their countries.

And they blame their own governments, often first and foremost. It's a bit of a generalization, but I think to the extent that we can generalize a bit since we're not going to go (into their ?) country, that's the case. They consider the U.S. to be an ally of their government in preserving the status quo and preventing the kinds of changes they want. And they're looking for alternatives, and the best and most plausible available alternative -- because they don't see other alternatives -- are Islamic movements.

I mean, we've done some questions in terms of who supports some of these movements, and there's a bit of difference, but in general it's not the people who are more religious or less religious, or the people who are more conservative on gender issues and want them to come in and crack down, it's people who are just particularly dissatisfied with the economic and political circumstances they find themselves in.

And in a way, to people who work in the region, this is not big news, but in the U.S., where people kind of -- it's got to be about religion and culture, this is an important message.

COOK: I think it's a -- just to pick up on what Mark is saying, you know, the reason why the Muslim Brotherhood has 88 members of the People's Assembly in Egypt is because they provide an emotionally, materially satisfying world view to a large majority of Egyptians who have lost faith in their government to provide for them or to help provide for them. Again, since I'm trafficking in anecdotes, my old Arabic professor from Cairo, who's a very secular guy, but there's an avian flu scare in Egypt right now and he wouldn't -- he and his family would not eat any chicken until they saw members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were elected members of Parliament eating chicken. Even if the minister of Health got on the television and was eating chicken, they cleared out completely. So I think it's important that also that we understand that it may not really have to do with religion, it has to with who is offering an alternative to the dire situation in which many Arabs and Egyptians see themselves.

In addition, on this question of, you know, who supports whom and how that reflects on the way people view the United States, ask any doorman, any bawaab in Cairo, who built the opera house? Not that they've ever been in the opera house; but who built the opera house? The Japanese. Who built the Aswan Dam? The Russians.

And I say, "What did the United States do?" They say, "askari," police or army. And so they know that's a -- never mind the fact that if you go to Islamic Cairo and you go to a just magisterial place called Bab Zuweila and you see what USAID has done to restore it. They don't know about that. So they only know that the Americans are supporting their authoritarian government and indirectly supporting the mess in which they now live.

TESSLER: Right, let alone the fact that the U.S. built the sewer system in Cairo.

SIMON: Which, of course people don't contemplate that too often, but perhaps they should.

ABDO: (Inaudible.)

SIMON: I've got two, I guess, two-minute questions maybe to wrap up the panelist part. And they're actually for the two of you. But really two-minute questions.

One is -- and this is more for you, Steve. Everybody says, quite rightly, that the governments in the region are authoritarian. You know, they're praetorian states, you've got the army; you have this crust of a civil leadership that kind of does whatever it does without reference to what people think. People don't vote. So if that's the case, why is it important to us what public opinion is, because what possible effect can it have on the decision-making of the governments on whose cooperation we rely for things that we need to get done? So that's the question for you.

The question for you -- and this is, you know, kind of a two-minute thing, but let's, well, just go through it very quickly -- is, aren't you struck when you look at your own polling data at the similarity between the views expressed by your poll respondents and the views expressed by non-Muslims and non-Arabs about the same things?

I'll just give you a couple of examples that struck me. One is you have all these respondents who say, "Well, we really don't like America because its culture is corrupt and licentious." What's the polling data in the United States about Americans who don't like American culture because they think it's corrupt and licentious? That's a very common theme among evangelical Christians.

You have very many Muslims and Arabs in your respondents saying, "Well, we resent the imposition of American culture on us." Has this been a theme of French diplomacy and policy for years? (Laughter.) The idea that America is too aggressive, doesn't this correspond to both a critique from the right and the left in the United States and Europe going back, you know, three or four generations? Anyway.

COOK: It's a great question Steve. I appreciate you asking it because I'm actually writing an article about fundamental misperceptions of the Middle East, and this is one of them. And pardon me, I'm a little nervous because we have a very tenured political science professor here, and I'm in his world relatively newly minted, but I hope I get this right.

There is a fundamental difference between authoritarian systems and totalitarian systems. Authoritarian systems -- like the ones we find in the Middle East -- don't have the resources to penetrate all aspects of society. So under those circumstances actually public opinion matters to what these people -- how they govern and what they do. And it's abundantly clear that they try to manipulate public opinion but also that they are moved by public opinion, as well.

One example: this summer's war in Lebanon. In the immediate aftermath of the 34-day war, it was clear that the United States, the Israelis, the Egyptians and the Saudis had miscalculated very, very badly. And in the streets -- and there is such a thing as an Arab street, even though, you know, it's a cliche and we don't like to talk about it. In the streets the most popular guy in the Arab world was Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

And there are posters of Nasrallah all over the place. I went to a rally in support of this guy Ayman Nur, who's this liberal democrat the United States has spoken out for. He's in prison in Egypt. And next to these large posters of Ayman are large posters of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. I mean, the juxtaposition was bizarre because here we had been advocating for liberating Ayman Nur from jail and advocating the assassination of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

And what happened as a result was that the Egyptian government needed to alter its policy in a variety of different areas because it was seen as so closely associated with the United States, particularly during this episode. So that in September, for example, Gamal Mubarak, the presumptive next president or king or whatever you want to call it of Egypt, announced that Egypt was going to develop its own nuclear technology.

They announced a more independent foreign policy from the United States because the overwhelming sense amongst Egyptians was that the close, tight-knit relationship between the United States and Egypt wasn't working for them and was offering opportunities for political entrepreneurs like the Muslim Brotherhood and others to undermine the -- to further undermine the legitimacy of the Mubarak government.

So in that sense public opinion mattered very, very much to an authoritarian system like the one we see in Egypt and authoritarian leaders like Hosni Mubarak. I think it's a total misnomer when people say, well, you know -- it's interesting to see the punditocracy talk about these things and they say, "Oh, well, these people need to demonstrate leadership," and then in the next sentence they say, "Well, they're afraid of their populations." It's either one or the other, and I think that actually it is closer to the second; they are afraid of their populations because their population public opinion actually really does matter.

SIMON: Thank you, Steve. He wanted to have a one-minute intervention. Steve took 30 seconds of that. (Laughter.)

TESSLER: Well, all right. So public opinion does matter, and this is a very good example of why. There are some additional reasons why it matters as well, and I will just list them since I've only got a minute or two.

We know from a lot of research on democratizing countries in Eastern Europe and in Latin America the way in which successful democratic transitions require attention to what ordinary men and women think. It's not a sufficient condition for democratization, but it is very definitely a necessary condition. And there's a lot more to be said on that, but it's an the additional reason why any kind long-term progress depends among other things on an enlightened and engaged citizenry who possesses democratic orientations.

Second of all, we know a lot about what determines whether terror is going to be -- terrorist organizations are going to be successful or not. Again there are multiple reasons, but one very important reason comes through very clearly in scholarly literature and the literature on counterterrorism as well, is whether there is latent sympathy for or at least tolerance of terrorist activities. To the extent that people have attitudes that make them willing to say, "I don't like this but I can understand why people do it," terrorism is more likely to flourish. Again, there's a large agenda there. But these are some additional reasons why it's important to pay attention to what ordinary people think.

SIMON: Thank you. Jenny.

ABDO: On the whole issue of am I shocked at the similarities, when I first came back to the United States after living abroad for many years, it was one year into the Bush administration, and I had just been living three years in Iran as a correspondent. And when people asked me, "Well, are you shocked to be back in the United States?" I said, "Well, no, because I was living in one theocratic state and now I came to live in another one." (Laughter.)

But having said that, I think that actually Gallup has polled Americans on this whole issue of what role religion plays in their lives, and the statistics actually indicate that religion plays less of a role today than it did, I think, in the 1950s. So we've seen a decline to some degree in religiosity in this country.

But I think even though we all know, you know -- particularly the Christian Right -- what great role religion plays in the lives of many Americans, I think it's very different than how religion is interpreted in the Islamic world. And I think we have to make sure not to create these kinds of parallels.

I mean, Islam for most Muslims is an all-encompassing form of life. It's their moral compass, and also even if you take into account what role religion plays in government. Gallup asked this question, in fact: Do you think that religious leaders should have a direct role in government? And in fact the majority said no, no direct role.

However, I think that does not mean that if you take the case of any sort of, I guess, monitoring system on what legislation is passed. I think that most Muslims certainly agree -- according to polling data and just what we know from our own research and anecdotally -- that what they believe is missing from the authoritarian states in which they live is that there is no check on legislation to make sure that it conforms with Islamic principles.

And this is something that's very important for Muslims, whereas I don't think that we're at this point yet in this country. We don't have, yet, you know, someone like Jerry Farwell being some sort of counsel to the state to make sure that laws conform with Christianity. So I think that, you know, it's a bit different and we should be careful not to make these sort of parallels.

But generally speaking on the issue of values, yes, the polling indicates that when Muslims were asked what you dislike most about Western societies, the answer was promiscuity; what do you dislike most about your own governments, one of the leading responses was corruption. So there are a lot of parallels in that respect with Americans.

SIMON: That was great.

We're going to open up for Q&A. We're going to lead off with a question from a national member. (Laughter.) I hope you're listening out there, wherever you are.

This was submitted by Joseph Bower of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University. It's actually kind of an interesting question. (Laughter.) (Inaudible remarks and laughter.) And I throw this out first to Jenny, but if I could ask our panelists during the Q&A session to keep their responses very crisp and short, we'll get in more questions.

Here's the question: Why has the mainstream Muslim press and media been so restrained in commenting on un-Islamic violence from Muslim -- between Muslims?

ABDO: I think that this is a general sort of tradition among Muslims that it's sort of taboo to present any sort of -- to make what's an internal critique public. And that's not only true on a massive scale, such as what's going on in Iraq, but even on a more mundane level. For example, there's a lot of debate among Muslims here in America over commentators such as Irshad Manji, but you will never find an Islamic organization coming out and actually making a public statement to critique her or basically voice their own views, which is that they don't feel that her opinions reflect, you know, the Koran, for example, or the Islamic tradition.

So I think that this is a huge question in terms of how people identify themselves as Muslims. There's a taboo on ever calling into question the degree to which someone is a Muslim. And so I think that it's really related to that issue more than it is related to politics.

SIMON: Mark? Steve?

TESSLER: I have a slightly different take. And this isn't my field, but I've asked this question myself to people whose field it is, including one of the people who's working with Jenny on -- (inaudible). And I mean they tell me that the assumption behind the question is really not correct, and that we maybe hear in the U.S. some of the statements by clerics or religious leaders that seem to give support to terrorism or anti-Americanism or violence even against other Muslims, but in fact there are large numbers of voices that we don't hear -- and the question is, why don't we hear them -- that are very critical and offer a very different perspective.

As I say, it's not my own work, but I know that specialists in the field will argue that. And I think rather than just accept the assumption and try to figure out why it's the case, I would turn the question around and invite others to ask it -- I don't feel I have the answer -- about whether it really is the case that there aren't strong and many Muslim voices speaking out against violence.

SIMON: Steve?

COOK: Just from the perspective of Arab media on these issues, if you consider Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya mainstream Arab language media, then they have absolutely covered internecine violence between the Palestinians, they have covered ad nauseam what's going on in Iraq, they have covered Darfur. These are not issues, this type of thing is not taboo in the mainstream Arab media by any stretch.

SIMON: Useful corrective.

Questions from the audience. Sir. Professore!

QUESTIONER: I hope I ask a question which you say is also kind of interesting (after all ?). (Laughter.)

SIMON: Would you mind identifying -- would you mind identifying yourself?

QUESTIONER: My question is this. Excuse me?

SIMON: I'm sorry.

QUESTIONER: I'm Stanley Arkin.

SIMON: Thank you very much.

QUESTIONER: Nice to see you, sir. What effect do you think that the ever-expanding migrations you have from the Near East -- Middle East, excuse me, to this country and about the world, and communications back, and the side migrations even within the Middle East, technology, the expanse of the Internet and just seeing culture and seeing what happens and seeing what happens in other parts of the world on their own -- what effect will that have long term on how Muslims view us?

SIMON: Steve? Jenny?

COOK: Well, you know, it's hard to be predictive out that far. I would suggest that we in the United States are probably much better off in that situation than our European friends, given the fact that Muslims, Arabs in this country have a much easier time integrating and being accepted in society than they are in Europe, for example. In the United States it's not illegal to go to a public school wearing hijab if you'd like, like it is in France. So I think ultimately there is -- you know, there's a lot of rending of clothing over this question of anti-Americanism, but if you dig down deep there is still a lot of good will and warmth just, you know, there are American Universities popping up all over the Middle East. You can get on an airplane and 15 hours later end up in Dubai. Or I just came back from a trip and there's a big ad at Kennedy Airport, "Fly Ittihad direct from Kennedy to Abu Dhabi."

So, you know, there's a lot of warmth and good feeling that's going on. And like I said, for those very reasons and for the reasons that Muslims and Arabs have an easier time here in the United States, I think we are in a much better shape than Europe.

ABDO: I think the key here is that we shouldn't sort of view this in absolutist terms, that Muslims either, you know, engage in wholesale rejection of Western values or embrace Western values, because I think the reality is somewhere in between. And I think that that's really the future of the Islamic world; that Muslims now have decided that they're going to choose what they will accept from the West and what they will reject. And I think that's clear even if you look at the development of Islamic banking in the Gulf and sort of the development of the new so-called moderate Islamic society. It's really a mix of both worlds.


QUESTIONER: I'm Kenneth Bialkin. It comes as no surprise to anybody that the United States is not favored in the Arab world or the Muslim world. We are nowhere, in any other kind of world, right now. Yet on the other hand, everybody wants to come here and everybody adopts our culture.

I'm interested, though, in the question that Professor Tessler suggested; namely, not so much that they hate America -- that's old news, frankly, I'm sorry to say -- but the question that most of us look at is, where is there in the Muslim world, the Arab Muslim world, the non-Arab Muslim world, some appreciation of the bestiality, of the wrongness of terrorism, of the uniformity of Islamic clerical forces who do not speak out against terror and who do not show any semblance of understanding of the revulsion that the rest of the world feels in the way Arab society is reacting to the conflict of civilizations which is just beginning?

SIMON: I think this calls for your previous answer.

TESSLER: Yeah, I think this is very similar to the question that was asked by the -- that was, I guess, sent in. And my answer would really be the same. That to the extent that I've asked that same question to specialists in the field -- and your comments kind of gave some very good examples of that -- that there isn't any shortage. So I would disagree with the premise of the question.

I think if it were true, it would be indeed very sad and deserving of criticism, but I'm not persuaded it is true. I won't say that I've got the evidence myself, so you're entitled to push back, but having asked that same question and heard others respond when asked that question, we're told very clearly that there are many voices, and you heard a few examples --

SIMON: I've looked at a lot of this literature myself, and it's a truly contested field in the theological realm among Muslims. But having said that, it truly is contested and there a robust clerical field which challenges the kind of violence that we all object to, and does so in very systematic, scripturally based terms. And they have a lot of listeners. They have a big audience.

So I think there is something of a misconception, and it's largely due to the fact that the kinds of material that you're referring to and that you've seen don't appear very often in translation, so we're not aware of them. But I think this is such an important question, we ought to talk about it.

ABDO: Even if you take -- I mean, Steve is absolutely correct that there is a very robust debate going on among theologians all across the Islamic world about these issues. And even if you look at the -- take 9/11 as an example, there were several, many statements of condemnation from Al-Azhar in Egypt, for example. This is the center of Sunni learning for the Islamic world. There was a debate, however, that was led to some degree by Sheikh Qaradawi, who is a very influential Muslim intellectual now based in Doha, about whether the 9/11 could somehow be justified in theological terms.

And this sort of became part of this whole issue of what is permitted scripturally in terms of how you identify the enemy or innocent civilians. This was the big sort of question asked among theologians: How do you identify the enemy? Who is the enemy? And are innocent civilians the enemy if they are living sort of in the United States and happen to be, you know, working in the World Trade Center? How do you define these people? How do you regard them?

But overwhelmingly, certainly 9/11 was condemned, as are, you know, attacks in London, Spain, routinely condemned. It's just also that -- and I'll say as a former journalist it is very hard to get these quotes in the newspaper. I mean, even when I worked as a journalist, that wasn't something that the editors wanted to print. What they wanted to print were the statements from the extremists. So this is part of the reason that people are under some sort of assumption that there is no so-called moderate Muslim voice.

SIMON: This is different, by the way -- I don't want to belabor this point, but maybe I will just a little bit. (Laughter.) The theological debate is also different from what ordinary people --

ABDO: Right.

SIMON: -- think about these things. There are a lot of angry people out there who, as Jenny noted earlier, feel humiliated and so on. And, you know, for them a lot of this theological stuff, it doesn't really resonate. They may not read it. They may not understand it if they do read it. But they have a very emotional response towards the events that they see in the news.

And just since we're trafficking in anecdotes, I was in Australia a couple of months ago and I was working with police in Sydney and Melbourne on a case that they were doing, which is called the Pendennis case. And it had to do with an Islamic plot to blow up a nuclear reactor in Australia. And one of the striking things was that half the people in the apartment building that the plotters lived in knew what these kids were doing. They knew it and they didn't say anything.

I mean, one of the plotters was ultimately turned in because his father-in-law was really annoyed at him. (Laughter.) So watch your intra-familial relations. But, you know, the fact that so many people knew this was going on and thought it was okay is indicative.

Anyway, next question. Something from the back of the room. You, sir. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Hi, there. Bill Danaher from General Theological Seminary.

I guess the question I have is, you've shifted your rhetoric and I'd like you to expand on that. You've moved to using a term "theology" from using a term "religion." And for me, polling data that speaks about religiosity is not very informative because there are many different cultural forces that can be only identified through looking at the political theologies.

And I might add, John Kelsay's book "Islam and War" does a really nice job looking at the alternative political theologies within Islam on the status of noncombatants. So for me what's interesting is the question of theology. Because I couldn't explain George Bush to someone without referencing, say, Baptist Dispensationalism or Methodism.

SIMON: Okay, so your question is you want to hear more on the role of theology.

QUESTIONER: Well, are the polls being geared in such a way that we can understand the nuances and the cultural forces on the people who are making these decisions? The fact that --

SIMON: I got your question. Mark, do you want to take a crack at it?

TESSLER: I think there are important things that polls can do and there are limits to what they can do. And they certainly wouldn't be the only approach or methodology that's appropriate. There are many different kinds of things. To the extent that we're focusing primarily on polls, acknowledging that that's not the whole story, yes, there's quite a bit you can do.

And what we're doing in the work that I'm engaging with with my polls is to take people who express views that allow us to label them as more religious and then kind of see what comes with it, not only who they are in terms of the demographic profiles, but what is the normative structure of the attitudes they hold on a variety of things, pertaining to religion, pertaining to societal organization and so forth. So you can draw reasonably deep. To the extent that that leaves a lot -- and you can do some things you can't do with other methodologies.

To the extent that nonetheless leaves a lot undone, you need to proceed to look at the debates about jihad among theologians, you need to do focus groups, and there's a lot more to be done. To the extent we're focusing on polls, they can tell you quite a bit and there's quite a bit they can't tell you.

SIMON: Yes. Well, why don't you comment on that. And then we've got time for one last question, because I'm told there's a tradition here at the Council to end meetings bang on time. We're just a little bit late. So you proceed, and then the last question will be from you in just a second.

ABDO: I just wanted to add one note. I think that, yes, I mean, certainly you cannot possibly address these complex subjects through polling. And I think that, again, that's the difference between quantitative research, which, you know, I was discussing, and qualitative research. So I do think there are limitations. I mean, just as we were discussing earlier, by asking Muslims their views of Shari'a, you can't possibly understand what is meant by Shari'a. But that's not really the purpose of polling, necessarily. I mean, that kind of research needs to be done in a much more qualitative way.

SIMON: Thank you. Ma'am?

QUESTIONER: Bettye Musham. In your polling, was there any factor built in to our support of Israel being a factor in their view of the United States?

SIMON: Thank you very much.

ABDO: There were questions asked about the Israeli-Palestinian question. I don't have the findings with me at the moment. But more generally, there weren't specific questions asked such as the question that I discussed earlier about whether the Iraq war caused more harm than good. That particular question wasn't asked.

Now, a separate poll was done after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and that poll certainly gives us much more indication of how, I guess, the Lebanese -- and I'll speak only about the Lebanese -- how they viewed the invasion. Because what's so interesting about that poll is not only in how the respondents rated world leaders, but who they held responsible for the invasion. And they almost equally held America and Israel responsible, with the same percentages. They also held Syria responsible. So that's how they responded when asked, you know, who is responsible for this catastrophe.

The other interesting result of this particular poll is that, completely counter to Lebanese history -- and I'm a Lebanese, so I can speak with some authority on this subject -- that you found a lot of commonalities among Christians, Sunni and Shi'a on a lot of the answers, which in Lebanon is unprecedented. I mean, don't forget that there was a vicious civil war there for many years.

So I think that, again, you can form some correlation between the answers about who's responsible for the invasion and then other questions that relate -- that seem to indicate more unification in Lebanon than we've seen historically. Now, I would assume that given recent events, that probably is no longer the case, what the polls determined at that particular moment in time. But that just gives you some idea.

SIMON: Well, thank you. I wish we had more time for this topic.

I'd like us to thank the panel in the usual way. (Applause.) And thank you all for coming and for your attentiveness.







Explore More on CFR


The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe joins CFR's James M. Lindsay to discuss Russian president Vladimir Putin's political goals.


In addition to a sharp economic downturn, Venezuela faces a humanitarian crisis. The United States can do little to prevent a downward spiral, but it should take measures to mitigate the political, economic, and humanitarian consequences of a potential mass emigration.

North Korea

The U.S. military is prepared for a number of contingencies with regard to North Korea, but the best path forward is diplomacy aimed at denuclearization.