Friday, June 24, 2005

Beacon No. 48: Strange Bedfellows


Thursday, June 23 was a good day for U.S. soft power if the latest results from the Pew Global Attitudes Project are to be believed. The survey shows that, while U.S. popularity in the Muslim world remains at levels you might expect for medieval Crusaders, there are slight but statistically significant upticks in the opinions of some of America's strategic competitors—and collaborators.

In brief, an aggressive tsunami-relief campaign has helped improve Indonesians' opinions of the U.S., Russians sympathize with U.S. problems in the Muslim world, and Indians see the U.S. as a land of entrepreneurial opportunity, as their own country increasingly is.

The meat for watchers of the Muslim world lies in these paragraphs:

Positive opinions of the U.S. in Indonesia, which had plummeted to as low as 15% in 2003, also have rebounded to 38%. The U.S. tsunami aid effort has been widely hailed there; 79% of Indonesians say they have a more favorable view of the U.S. as a result of the relief efforts. With the exception of Christian opinion in Lebanon, views of the U.S. in other predominantly Muslim nations are more negative and have changed little. In Turkey, hostility toward the U.S. and the American people has intensified. Nearly half of Turks (46%) say they have a very unfavorable view of Americans, up from just 32% a year ago.

Yet there is modest optimism among Muslims that the Middle East will become more democratic. And even in countries like Jordan and Pakistan, where people have low regard for the U.S., many who believe the region will become more democratic give some credit to U.S. policies for making this possible. Roughly half of respondents in Jordan ­ and nearly two-thirds of Indonesians ­ think the U.S. favors democracy in their countries. About half of the public in Lebanon also takes that view. But on this question and others relating to opinions of the U.S., Lebanon's Muslim majority (about 60% of the population) is far more negative than its minority Christian population.

In a box called "America's Religiosity," where citizens of other nations are asked whether Americans are "not religious enough" or "too religious," a stupefying 95 percent of Jordanians surveyed said not religious enough, while 0 percent said too religious.

Clearly there's some consciousness-raising to be done in Amman, as I can't walk around my neighborhood even in heathen, "unchurched," blue-state Los Angeles without bumping into a church, synagogue or, slightly further away, a Buddhist temple or mosque.

There's a lot more to this report, whose 68 pages I haven't yet finished. (Download the PDF here.) Two chuckles: U.S. citizens were the most likely to view themselves as greedy, while the French are more likely to think Americans are hardworking than Americans themselves.

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