Why the Muslim world hasn’t warmed toward
America over the past four years
by Richard Wike, Associate Director, Pew Global Attitudes Project
Special to Foreign Policy
Anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, an issue that was front and center throughout much of the George W. Bush era, is squarely back in the news following the protests that swept across more than 20 countries in reaction to a controversial anti-Islam film. The all-too-familiar images of angry demonstrators burning the Stars and Stripes are a dramatic reminder that, while the image of the United States has improved throughout many parts of the world during Barack Obama’s presidency, negative views of America remain stubbornly persistent in key Muslim countries. Much of this animosity is due to continuing concerns about U.S. power and widespread opposition to major elements of American foreign policy. But it’s not just about the United States — rather, anti-Americanism needs to be seen within a broader context of distrust between Muslims and the West.
Following his election, Obama made it a priority to change America’s dismal image in the Muslim world, most prominently in his June 2009 Cairo speech. And he has had some successes; in fact, Muslim publics still generally give him more positive ratings than Bush received. For instance, in a spring 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, only 24 percent of Turks express confidence in Obama; still, that’s a whole lot better than the 2 percent who felt this way about Bush during his final year in office. Also, due in part to having lived there for a few years as a child, Obama has consistently received high marks in Indonesia, and his popularity has helped turn around America’s image in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
But overall, the picture remains grim. In Egypt, for example, despite all the tumult of the revolution, America’s image remains roughly where it was four years ago — then 22 percent expressed a favorable opinion of the United States; in the 2012 poll, it was 19 percent. Among Pakistanis and Jordanians, America’s already poor ratings have declined further since 2008 — in both countries, 19 percent held a positive view of the U.S. four years ago, compared with just 12 percent in 2012.
Read the full commentary at Foreign Policy