Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other

Voices from Countries

Voices from Egypt

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“There is a combination of reasons for lack of prosperity in certain areas. You cannot exclude the external factor. The Arab-Israeli conflict played a role in hindering economic development, but you cannot blame only the outside factor. There are other domestic factors, like deterioration of education, bad economic policy planning. It is a combination of factors. There has been foreign exploitation but we should not exaggerate that. Many countries were dependent on the role of the central government in the economy but discovered recently that it does not help the economy. We should blame the wrong economic orientation. Now many countries are giving the private sector more space. But the main reasons for lack of prosperity are lack of qualified human resources and deterioration of the education system.” – Muhammad Kamal, a senior leader in the ruling National Democratic Party

“In the Arab and Islamic worlds and on the Western side, we have not done enough to try to approach each other to explain our position to one another. We have not tried to have a coherent dialogue. This is a mistake that we both share. One of the examples of the lack of proper dialogue was the recent question of caricature of the prophet. The West looked at this issue from the perspective of freedom of expression and was not ready to listen to the view in relation to how this was insulting to us. Many people in the Islamic and Arab worlds also asked for dialogue, but some reacted in a violent way which was counterproductive.” – Hesham Youssef, chief of staff of the secretary general’s office, Arab League

“Muslims are responsible for their lack of prosperity. Muslims do not follow the teachings of their religion. If they work hard, cooperate and pay their charity there will be no poor government. But rich people are selfish. Governments are corrupt and they do not do any good planning to benefit from their countries’ wealth…. Western foreign policy is also to blame. We see them coming here occupying our countries, taking the oil. Muslim countries are rich in natural resources, enjoy the best weather. That is why Western governments want to control us and take over our wealth. Look what they did in Iraq, Afghanistan, and what they are doing now in Sudan. They just want an excuse to interfere in Sudan and stay there and never leave.” – Abeer Ali Muhmmad, 38, fitness trainer, Giza

“I believe the American foreign policy is responsible for the greedy image. They support dictatorships because they want their oil. But on the other hand I do not believe Western people are intolerant. We see them engaged in humanitarian causes. While many Westerners took to the street to protest wars or mistreatment of minorities, people in Egypt or other Muslim places do not do anything.” – Mohsen Hamed Hassan, 43, physician, Cairo

*Interviews were conducted by Abeer Allam.

Voices from France

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“It’s true that relations are bad, but to go from there to saying who’s wrong? I think everyone bears some responsibility. On the Muslim side, it’s too much religion, religion, religion, and they don’t want to open up to others. Personally, I think Muslims are a bit aggressive and they neither accept nor respect the religion of others. As though everything has to go their way. In the end, the others don’t respect them either. No one is making an effort.” – Jeannine Pilé, 33, housewife and mother

“There are a lot of people who don’t like each other, Europeans and Muslims, because of religion, but that’s not always why. There are a lot of Muslims who are much more open, who don’t pray regularly — that’s what I see in France. What happens in other countries I don’t know. From what I see it’s half and half in France. There are some who are super-cool, who are not practicing, who are very open to France, and others who are less. I would say half and half.” – Wahid Chekhar, 34, actor

“When you see your Muslim friends on a daily basis you don’t think that relations with Muslims are bad. But if all you do is watch television, most of what you see are extreme examples of Islam. Islam is not the religion of terror. But people are afraid of terrorism and too often religion is mixed up in the debate.” – Pierre-Etienne Issoulie, 22, architect, Paris

“The blame lies neither with your average Muslim or your average Westerner, but with extremists. Look at the conflict in Israel and Palestine. In this conflict extremists are making decisions on both sides. French people, like other Westerners, sometimes make the mistake of thinking of Islam and Muslims as something linked to extremism and terrorism. At the same time you have disadvantaged French Muslims, who identify with Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. All this has created a lack of comprehension and communication between Muslims and the West.” – Dalil Boubakeur, president of France’s Muslim Council and head of the Paris Mosque

“The cultural, social and political reference point for Muslims is traditionally the village, religion, and the community, not the individual, as in the West. For Muslims, individuality is often seen as individualism which, if it’s misunderstood, can be perceived as a form of selfishness. If many French people see Muslims as intolerant it is because the images they get from the Muslim world are unfortunately often associated with fanaticism, group violence and discrimination against women.” – Azouz Begag, minister for equal opportunity, French government

*Interviews were conducted by Katrin Bennhold and Avis Bohlen.

Voices from Germany

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“It is difficult to speak about who is guilty. The Western world lacks an understanding of the Muslim world. You can’t blame the Muslim world. The regimes are authoritarian. The state structures are very strong. Relations are also poor for another reason. Attempts at integrating Muslims in Germany have been inadequate. There is insufficient support for integration. In some ways, some Muslims remain susceptible to propaganda and fundamentalism. Another reason is what happened in Spain and the UK. The terrorists were home grown. It is very worrying.” – Andreas von Radetzky, 50, taxi driver, houseman and teacher, Berlin

“Being a Muslim and a Westerner are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The problem is: we need more middle-class Muslims in the West. Successful middle-class Muslims should be winning the respect of other Westerners, but instead their accomplishments compete in shaping public opinion against violence, honor killings and forced marriages, which is how Islam is often portrayed in Western countries. The negative, inaccurate stereotypes of Islam overwhelm the positive opinions other Westerners should be forming about their everyday Muslim neighbors, like the other parents at the kindergarten, the local banker, policeman or shopkeeper.” – Cem Ozdemir, 40, member of European Parliament for Germany’s Green party

[the Muslims]

“Modern European societies put a high emphasis on the individual and its liberties. This contrasts sharply with the much more community-oriented value system of many Muslims. This cleavage is a result of substantial differences with regard to the degree of secularization of the different groups in West European societies. In general, a functioning religious belief system (of any of the three religious offsprings of the Near East) tends to prefer community orientation to individualism. The same holds true the other way round: in a strongly individualistic society the upholding of community-oriented values and habits unavoidably provokes the reproach of intolerance.” – Heinz Kramer, 61, head of the Islamic Studies department at the German Institute for Security Studies, Berlin

*Interviews were conducted by Judy Dempsey.

Voices from Great Britain

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“It’s hard to pin the blame on anyone. The problem with the Muslims in Britain, certainly the South Asian community, is they came from very low social backgrounds, from villages in Pakistan. The gap between civilizations was so great that they could not meaningfully integrate. The second generation born and gone to school here, and they suffer from a quite serious inferiority complex. Here are these young men, full of energy and aspirations, but it takes a while to integrate into the upper echelons of any society. I think there are a lot of frustrations among a group which feels it has not been able to get where it could have or should have.” – Ali Abbas, 31, an economist who migrated from Pakistan

“Relations are bad, for two reasons, one political, one spiritual. The political one is all about oil. The East has the oil and the West hasn’t. They want it. Our countries are very weak. Iraq has made a big difference to opinion, particularly in Britain. They want to bring the oil price down. It’s all about greed. As for the spiritual aspects, I respect Christianity and Judaism absolutely but they are heading towards secularism. There is not enough respect for the spiritual side of life. People in this country describe themselves as Christian, but then you ask them, when was the last time you went to church?” – Hojjat Ramzy, 52, is an Iranian-born Muslim chaplain for Sunni Muslim in Oxford

“My perception is that when you get down and talk to people there isn’t a great clash of civilizations. Particularly from a women’s point of view. I have just come back from Saudi Arabia and I was struck by the fact that women have so much in common in what they want to change…. In my early twenties I simply blamed the West for dividing countries against each other, but in my thirties and forties I have seen more about the reality of government and I now feel that these countries haven’t done themselves many favors.” – Baroness Pola Uddin, 46, born in what is now Bangladesh and the first Muslim woman member of the House of Lords

“After the bombings on 7 July last year I was surprised by how fantastic Londoners were, and how many people were able to look beyond what had happened. Of course it’s not a perfect society, but I was expecting the backlash to be a lot worse…Where we are at the moment? We have two sides that don’t understand each other particularly well. And I think both are equally responsible. I think the Muslims need to be introspective and look at their community from within and put their house in order. We do have a serious issue in terms of the miseducation of youth about Islamic practices, what’s acceptable and what is not. We have to look at the importation of foreign imams. For me a lot of the misunderstanding comes from social and economic problems, for example up north it’s a totally different situation from London. ” – Shahedah Vawda, 33, a health scientist originally from South Africa

*Interviews were conducted by John Morrison.

Voices from India

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*


“America and other countries are trying to make this picture of Islam. Nowadays, we keep hearing the news. Always there is some news about Islamic terrorism. The media is in the hands of Israel and America, and they have planned to prove that Islam is terrorism. In India, there are regular blasts in Kashmir, so the Indians feel insecure. And they feel that if we support Islam, then maybe we will get overrun, so it’s better to oppose Islam and support America.” – Mohammad Arif, 40, owner of a small printing business and a Muslim

“The major cause of all these problems is the political community in India. The second problem is the lack of literacy in the Muslim community. If you have a community that is not well-educated in general, if they’re not getting jobs, what do they do? They have to live. They have to take care of the family. So they come out and fight. That’s why people see them like this.” – Manish Goenka, 31, heads the marketing division for a company that produces speech-recognition software in Mumbai

“The whole relationship between communities is undergoing a transformation. Muslims are feeling part of a larger Muslim whole rather than a distinct Indianness. The relationship between communities in India is not under threat. But it is under pressure, because of these various developments. Democracy was doing a good job in India. It was the free play and strengthening of the democratic structure which has made people feel more comfortable and settled. And that is under pressure” – Wajahat Habibullah, 60, a retired senior bureaucrat. He is a Muslim and a well-known authority on Kashmir

*Interviews were conducted by Anand Giridharadas.

Voices from Indonesia

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“World politicians and the media are mostly to blame for the bad relationship between the West and Muslim countries. But especially Western politicians from superpower countries because they often issue double-standard regulations that hurt Muslims — i.e. the Gulf War, the Iraq invasion, Israel and Palestine, etc. And the Western media often aggravates these conflicts with disproportionate and biased news coverage.” – Rahmawati Husein, 40, professor, Yogyakarta

“The main cause of this poor relationship is because the West connects Islam to terrorism. But my feeling is that the relationship is beginning to change in Indonesia. This might be in part because the U.S. foreign policy toward Indonesia recently has been to look at Indonesia, being a large Muslim country, as a friend and strategic partner instead of an enemy and a threat. It is changing now because there is a lot of cooperation between many U.S. agencies with Muslim organizations, like my organization, in Indonesia. We have been working together. We are now engaged in a partnership.” – Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammidiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, Jakarta

“What I have learned since I was a kid was that there have always been wars between Muslims and Christians or Catholics. They are labeled as religious wars. But the truth is that these wars were fought, and are fought, for political and economic interests. The religion is not the problem, it’s the people behind the religion. In my opinion, both Muslims and Westerners contributed equally to worsen the misunderstanding between the two groups. Unfortunately, religion has always been politicized for political and economical interests…In my opinion, if Muslims nations want to be more prosperous, they have to stop using violence as a solution and start building business. Islam needs to change in order to achieve glory.” – Imam Karyadi Aryant, 25, fashion designer, Yogyakarta

“In the Quran, Allah said to Muhammad, “I won’t change somebody’s fate unless they’re trying” — meaning, if Muslims want to be more prosperous, they must be willing to learn from the past, be open to criticism, be willing to learn new things and also help each other. There should be a stronger Muslim international organization that promotes bonds between Muslim countries, which would function like the United Nations. I know that capitalism adds to the deterioration of developing countries, but I’m ashamed to always use that as an excuse.” – Atiyatul Izzah, 21, university student, Yogyakarta.

*Interviews were conducted by Peter Gelling.

Voices from Jordan

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“There is no prosperity because the United States has seized all our products, all our oil, and all our wealth. All of it goes to the United States and the West. It is not about the internal politics. Look at Saddam, you see what happened to him — did he come out with anything? No, it is the politics of the strong, the way the West deals with us.” – Hassan Omar Abdel Rahman, 70, unemployed, former pharmacist

“Generation after generation, we have seen the presence of Israel and the absolute Western endorsement of Israel, with absolutely no support for us. Even if they do give us some aid, it is at the cost of our dignity, our existence. It is conditional. This of course generates a certain feeling for the people here that even if they do give us something, which they can afford to do since they have wealth, still, it is the strong dominating the weak. And this makes people here feel a certain injustice. When the weak lose hope that the strong may support them, it creates a kind of bitterness and hatred for the stronger party.” – Nadia Abou Darwish, 50, housewife and former high school teacher

“I blame the people in the West definitely. The media portrays Islam as terrorism. So definitely the people who watch these things and don’t mingle with Arabs, they will come to think that Arabs are terrorists. So the media definitely plays a role. When something blows up in Israel, all over the world, they show them saying, ‘Look what the Arabs did to us.’” – Reem Sandarussi, 26, advertising account manager

“Yes, Muslims are against the west. But why? I believe the reason is this — it is a sort of reflection of Muslim dissatisfaction with the western foreign policies, especially on two issues: the Palestinian issue and now Iraq. These are the apparent issues, which people talk about day and night. And which the news focuses on day and night. And they come to the eyes and ears of the audience, of the Muslims who have been surveyed, daily in the bloodiest way — its killing, women screaming and yelling, and soldiers frowning. So what they hate is American foreign policy and they see the Europeans as sort of succumbing to the Americans.” – Adnan Abu Odeh, 73, former political adviser to King Hussein

“This is primarily the responsibility of the ruling regimes. Corruption has proliferated in some of these countries…There is an absence of national oversight and in some countries there is stealing and embezzlement in every meaning of the word. This is why we find these tragic economic conditions and this corruption that is gnawing at the bones of most of the Muslim countries.” – Saleh Al Kallab, 59, newspaper columnist and former Jordanian minister of information

*Interviews were conducted by Mona El-Naggar.

Voices from Nigeria

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“Yes, it’s true that the relationship between Muslims and Westerners is that of mutual mistrust. If you follow the issues, you begin to see that the Westerners are always plotting one discriminatory policy or the other against Muslims. This was the situation even before September 11, but it only became more pronounced after September 11. I am a Muslim, I will defend my faith and practice my faith no matter what, but I also recognize the fact that the next has the right to practice and defend his faith. So, you see, I’m not a fundamentalist even though I love my religion. But when they call all Muslims terrorists and call us fundamentalists or fanatics and then begin to oppress us in the name of fighting terrorism, then you see people reacting in desperate ways including violence. So, these violent people are actually a creation of the West. After all, we all know that America necessitated the creation of al-Qaeda and similar groups.” – Murtala Mohammed, 28, university student, Political Science, University of Jos

“It is true that relations between Muslims around the world and the West have not been particularly warm in recent times. And the reason is simple: Sept 11 pitched the West against the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda became a synonym for Islam and America’s so-called war on terror effectively — and some will say conveniently – became a war on Islam. Muslims are generally labeled ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘terrorist’ and this provides them an excuse to persecute Muslims. I can tell you that if I travel to say, London, for instance, because my name is Saleh, they will take time and be thorough in clearing me through the immigrations because as far as they are concerned, I could be concealing a bomb somewhere. That is how bad it is.” – Saleh Bayeri, 43, a politician/Muslim community leader in Jos, Plateau State, central Nigeria

“We have learned in Nigeria that if a country is poor, it’s because of the political and economic systems it chooses. You cannot sincerely blame the West for every problem in the Muslim countries. If they adopt democracy…and if they adopt the right economic policies, they will overcome poverty.” – Lumumba Dah Adeh, 44, special assistant to President Obasanjo on legislative matters

“It’s so easy and convenient to simply say Muslims think Westerners are fanatical and vice versa, but it’s more complex than that. I am a Muslim and I don’t consider Westerners or Christians for that matter as fanatical. The elite simply take advantage of the poverty and ignorance of their people and manipulate them for their own gains. Otherwise, these people are busy trying to survive and hardly have time to spare for forming perceptions about foreigners.” – Abdul Oroh, 46, deputy chair, Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights

*Interviews were conducted by Senan Murray.

Voices from Pakistan

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

” I think we have always been keen to take credit for building bridges between Islam and the West. That’s probably why we feel it’s important to have good relations because we feel that is the only bargaining chip we have to gain international significance — as a moderate Islamic state that enjoys good relations with the U.S. and Western Europe.” – Muhammad Adnan, 37, government employee, Islamabad

“I don’t think the relations are good at all. Look, on the state level, I don’t think we stand anywhere, but on a person-to-person interaction it’s much better. First of all, we need to take into account that even if relations are good, they are good on our side, not from the Western side. They perceive Muslims as terrorists. Secondly, the West has an expansionist policy and they want to get hold of this portion of the world. And it’s the rule of nature that you befriend people who are similar to you. They can’t treat Muslims equally and will never be friends with us.” – Sadia Omar, 34, housewife, Rawalpindi

“The majority of Pakistanis feel that the causes of their bad relations with the West are: the West’s support to Israel; and Western nations’ indifference to the Kashmiri’s sufferings at the hands of Indian security forces. Pakistanis generally have a more moderate and positive attitude toward the West given the orientation of the country toward the West since its inception. More than 70 percent of Pakistan’s trade is with the West.” – Fazal-ur-Rahman, 46, director of the East Asia Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

“Most of the Muslim countries are gripped by dictatorships or they are kingdoms. Societies have not functioned properly, are dysfunctional. I think lack of progress in science is a key factor too. Muslims lag far behind in science and technology and this hinders their capability to flourish. We have the raw materials, we have the labor but we do not have the technology. Then, there is corruption, nepotism. Also, there is a feeling that West is exploiting our resources and we are incapacitated to counter Western domination.” – Muhammad Nasir, 24, student of international relations, Islamabad

“Most Muslim nations severely lag behind in anything even remotely close to education. Add to that the fact that most governments have done nothing rather than bleed the country dry through corruption as a right of passage, not much is going to happen to increase any sort of prosperity, be it economic or otherwise.” – Reem Khan, 25, writer/magazine editor, Lahore

*Interviews were conducted by Salman Masood.

Voices from Russia

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“When a pedestrian and car crash, who to blame? Even if pedestrian did something wrong, the driver always wrong because he is stronger. When weak and strong collide, the strong one is wrong. We should have built a system where there is no conflict. The strong West is to blame. To be concrete, the thing is that the West built such a system of relations that leads people to work the same, let’s say, in the Arab world and West, but consumption in Western world is many times higher. This egotistical national policy worked as normal colonial policy 100 years ago, but in the modern global world it doesn’t work.” – Sergei Markov, 48, director of the Institute of Political Studies and deputy chairman of the Public Chamber Commission on International Cooperation and Public Diplomacy

“As always in such situations probably both sides have grievances against the other, painful historical memory. If one speaks of conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union, I think these are echoes of Stalin’s policies. It’s hard to speak of the whole world, of U.S. policies. Here, I think Chechnya is the result of horrible Stalin deportation of people. Hatred from their side because of this. There wasn’t a bad attitude to them before the first and second Chechen war.” – Karina Cherniak, 57, Orthodox Church youth worker, Moscow

“Many Muslim countries are located in good geographical conditions. They have either oil, or natural resources. Those rulers who are in these countries, they simply don’t work for the good of the people. The people get impoverished because of this. They don’t spiritually develop the people. If they did, they would understand that people could be just and loyal everywhere. The authorities there don’t distribute resources, don’t encourage spiritual growth. Those who are in power, who are close to resources, they encircle themselves in wealth. There are children, very poor people, no attention is paid to them.” – Tamara Kantayeva, 49, Chechen refugee in Moscow, school teacher

“I think the situation is to blame. Determining who is more or less to blame is a favorite pastime in the West and in the Muslim East and each blames the other. I think the situation is to blame. Both sides were not ready for this. There’s no doubt that radicalism will grow. Reform in the Muslim world on a nationalist basis has failed. The nationalist basis has failed and been replaced by Islam. In the process of globalization, the Muslim world has lost to the West. What is happening is compensation. We can’t repeat your path, so we’ll build our own. We don’t like that you crush Muslims in Iraq, Iran and Palestine. This is a symmetrical answer. What we’re observing is an inferiority complex. We can’t catch up with you, so we’ll punish you.” – Aleksei Malashenko, 55, scholar-in-residence, Carnegie Moscow Center, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

*Interviews were conducted by Sophia Kishkovsky.

Voices from Spain

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“Westerners can seem very individualist to Muslims. Spain is actually one of the countries where family and friends matter most compared to other places in Europe. But the idea is still that you have to succeed on your own. Muslims are always looking out for others. They are always offering you something. They offer you food even if they’re hungry, they offer you their bed even if they have only one. The idea is that what you give to others you get back in return many times over.” – Amira Ruíz, 24, student in international business from Barcelona who converted from Catholicism to Islam a year ago

“Spain has the same GNP as all the Arab countries combined. Most of them reached independence two generations ago, so it is difficult to blame the Western world, or imperialism, for the economic stagnation. Their sociological system, their laws, their education are to blame. It is a pity because if you know them you realize that from the human point of view their potential is enormous.” – Inocencio Arias, Spain’s consul general in Los Angeles and its former ambassador to the United Nations

“The Muslim world hasn’t been able to organize its societies in a modern way. Our governments lack a clear separation of powers in the modern sense, for example. Assistance from the West would be more effective if it did not come with so many strings attached. They often ask us to change our culture to get more assistance. They want us to adopt democracy, to give religion less prominence. But Muslim countries are not willing to give up their culture.” – Ahmed el Abdellaoui, 40, a translator who lives in Madrid but is originally from Morocco

“The Muslim community here is very isolated, so they don’t understand the rest of Spain, and Spaniards don’t understand them. Perceptions are based mostly on stereotypes.” – Zaida Díaz, 33, an accountant from Madrid

“Some people in Spain want to forget that we were a Muslim country for nearly 800 years. But you cannot deny your roots, and we all have Islamic roots.” – Manuela Aparicio, 58, a publishing executive in Madrid

*Interviews were conducted by Renwick McLean.

Voices from Turkey

Reporting by the International Herald Tribune*

“Westerners do not like us and we do not like them either. We cannot catch up with their lifestyle because our moral values are different. We belong to different worlds, different traditions. We have all seen what they have done in Iraq; they simply do not have conscience.” – Hasan Karaer, 42, head waiter at a local restaurant in Istanbul

“It is enough to look at the economic imbalances to see why people think badly about Westerners. United States, France, England, Germany and many other countries have become what they are by exploiting either the natural resources or manpower of other countries. Therefore, Westerners, in this ongoing system based on exploitation, will always remain selfish and greedy.” – Ozlem Ozer, 30, assistant architect, Istanbul

“Muslim Eastern countries consider materialism as a bad thing but for a better future they have to respect individualism more. So, there is confusion there. In their eyes, individualism is not good in itself but not all communitarian values are good either. Communitarian lifestyles are oppressive on people…The Eastern people have to be more critical of themselves. This can also be partly a way of expressing jealousy for the economic welfare in the West. Westerners may be labeled as greedy and selfish because they are richer.” – Volkan Aytar, 35, program officer, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation

“The level of socio-economic and human development is much lower when it comes to Muslim countries. And in the human development comparison between man and woman, there is also a large gender gap. Another reason why Muslim countries are not doing as well as their Western counterparts is that in many Muslim countries the social and political relations evolve around family and kinship, which makes it difficult to develop trust and cooperate with other global and domestic businesses. Because the level of trust and the level of social capital are low, it prevents proper, stable production and professional business. They tend to form business relations with family companies and this creates problems…. Such companies cannot expand and form international global and business connections.” – Prof. Nilufer Narli, sociologist, Vice President of Bahcesehir University in Istanbul


*Interviews were conducted by Sebnem Arsu.

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