July 21st, 2011
03:59 PM ET
By Joe Sterling, CNN
Westerners and Muslims continue to harbor negative attitudes toward each other, but there's a glimmer of change in Western attitudes, a new survey found.
The idea that relations are bad has become "somewhat less common" over the past five years in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, according to the survey, called "Muslim-Western Tensions Persist," produced by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project.
Still, "Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other," says the center's report on the survey released Thursday.
Many Westerners view Muslims "as fanatical and violent" and few regard Muslims as "tolerant or respectful of women," the report says. Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as "selfish, immoral and greedy - as well as violent and fanatical."
"However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the U.S. and Europe compared with five years ago," the report says. "A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006.
"In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavorable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims," the report says.
"For the most part, Muslims and Westerners finger point about the causes of problems in their relations, and about which side holds the high ground on key issues. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West. However, while Americans and Europeans tend to blame Muslims for bad relations, significant numbers believe Westerners are responsible."
The survey, conducted March 21 to May 15 in a dozen countries and the Palestinian territories, updates a number of trend questions from a 2006 Pew Global Attitudes poll exploring how Muslim and Western publics view each other.
There are concerns in both cultures about "Islamic extremism."
"Majorities in the U.S., Israel, and across Europe are concerned about Islamic extremism in their countries. Meanwhile, most Muslims in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey also express this view," the survey found.
Many Muslims blame Western policies for a "lack of prosperity" in their countries but also blame corrupt governments there, the report says.
"Perhaps reflecting the Arab Spring, in several Muslim and Western nations, people are more likely than they were five years ago to say the lack of prosperity stems from a lack of democracy, it says.
There is a "note of agreement" between Muslims and Westerners that Muslim countries should be "more prosperous."
"Muslim publics have an aggrieved view of the West - they blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity," the report says. "Across the Muslim publics surveyed, a median of 53% say U.S. and Western policies are one of the top two reasons why Muslim nations are not wealthier. In contrast, few Americans or Western Europeans think the economic challenges facing Muslim countries are a result of Western policies."
The report also highlights other illuminating points:
- Muslims remain skeptical toward the belief that Arabs conducted the 9/11 attacks. There is no Muslim public in which even 30% accept what is regarded in the United States and other Western nations as an undisputed fact.
– Muslims "identify" with their religion rather than their nationality. Christians in Europe identify with their nationality, but "American Christians are split."
- "Ratings for Jews are uniformly low" in predominantly Muslim nations, but "solid majorities" in the Western nations "have a favorable opinion" of Jewish people. "Less than 10% of Muslims in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia express a favorable view of Jews."
- Among Israel's minority Muslim community, "48% express a positive opinion of Jews, while 49% offer a negative opinion. In contrast, only 9% of Israeli Jews have a positive view of Muslims. Christians receive somewhat higher ratings among Israeli Muslims (67% favorable) than among Israeli Jews (51%)."
- A majority of people in four of the six mostly Christian nations surveyed say they have a positive opinion of Muslims. They are the United States, Britain, France and Russia. "The exceptions are Germany (45% favorable) and Spain (37%), although views toward Muslims have improved in both countries since 2006."
- "In Lebanon, which has a large Christian population, nearly all Muslims (96%) express a positive view of Christians. Narrow majorities of Jordanian (57%) and Indonesian (52%) Muslims also give Christians a favorable rating, while in Egypt - which has recently experienced violence between elements of its Muslim and Christian communities - views are divided (48% favorable; 47% unfavorable). Meanwhile, very few Muslims in Pakistan (16%) or Turkey (6%) have a positive opinion of Christians."
- While Muslim assessments of relationships tend to be "at least as negative as they were five years ago," Indonesia is an exception. Fewer Indonesians say Muslim-Western relations are negative.
- Lebanese Muslims are "consistently the least likely to assign negative characteristics to Westerns."
- In Jordan, concerns have dropped significantly over Islamic extremism in the past five years.
- There is a "widespread perception" that Muslims living in the West don't want to assimilate. People without college degrees are "more likely" than those who have them "to believe that Muslims want to remain distinct from the broader society."
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