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Poll: Muslims, West eye each other through bias

Opinions improving on terrorism, Osama bin Laden, democracy



Muslims and the West haven't always seen eye to eye, but a study released Thursday suggests the situation is more severe than mere disagreement and that the two groups generally harbor cynicism and adverse opinions of each other.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project conducted the study among 14,000 people in Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Spain, Germany, Russia, France, Great Britain and the United States, with "special oversamples" taken in the four European Union nations.

The interviews for "The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other" were conducted from March 31 to May 14.

"The state of relations is not very good," said Richard Wike, senior project director. "Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical, violent and as lacking tolerance. "Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy -- as well as violent and fanatical."

The study showed that Westerners are "broadly skeptical of Muslim values" and that they often believe, especially in Germany and Spain, that there is a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in modern society.

Muslims, on the other hand, are more embittered toward Westerners, and predominantly Muslim nations "are much more likely than Americans or Western Europeans to blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity," the project reported.

However, said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research for the People and the Press, Muslims don't blame the West alone for their lack of prosperity. They point to other factors, including corruption and lack of education.

"It's a mixed picture," she said. "I think there are findings that point to very deep hostility."

Majorities in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia don't believe groups of Arabs perpetrated the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Muslims more optimistic about democracy

There are positives signs, Wike said.

Advocating terrorism, for instance, seems to be on the decline. In Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia there are "substantial declines" in the number of people who say suicide bombings and other violence are justified "to defend Islam against its enemies," according to the study.

That thinking was most Only 29 percent of Jordanians view suicide attacks as often or sometimes justified, down almost 50 percent from a poll taken in May 2005. The decline is "likely in response to the devastating terrorist attack in Amman last year," the study states. Suicide bombers killed nearly 60 people in November 2005 at three hotels in the Jordanian capital.

And while Muslim sentiments toward Jewish people remains overwhelmingly negative, Muslims in Western countries have a "more moderate view of Jews -- still more negative than positive, but not as sweeping as attitudes toward Jews are in Muslim world," according to the study.

In France, 71 percent of Muslims have a positive view of Jewish people, making it "the only Muslim population or sub-population surveyed whose opinion of Jews is more favorable than not," according to the study. Muslims in Europe also have a more positive attitude toward Christians.

Jordanian and Pakistani attitudes toward al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden have slipped in recent years, though the shift isn't quite as dramatic in Pakistan, the study states.

Also, Muslims are embracing an increasing respect for the importance of democracy. However the study states that "Westerners are less optimistic about the prospects for democracy in the Muslim world than are Muslims themselves."

Mohamed Nimer, research director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the survey "valuable."

"From a social science perspective, it is hard to judge the accuracy of the data, but I would say the information is indicative of trends that definitely are there," he said.

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