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It's time for some solid reporting on why so many in Muslim countries hate America

ASK THIS | October 29, 2004

How much is driven by whipped-up emotion, how much by U.S. policies...and how should reporters go about improving our understanding of terrorists and their backers?

By Adam Gamble

Q. Why do they hate us? Or do they? What does the "Islamic world" really feel toward America, and why?

Much has been made since September 11, 2001, of the question "Why do they hate us?" So much so, that it may well sound like a cliché now. But the question still strikes to the core of the war on terror.

The Bush administration asserts that Islamic terrorists are motivated by an ideology of hate." Senator Kerry and other Democrats seem to tacitly, if not wholeheartedly, accept and support this belief.

Is it really that simple? Are Islamic terrorists, and those who support them, driven simply by an illogical hatred of America’s freedoms?

In his recent book, Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer of the CIA, the former head of the CIA's Osama Bin Laden Unit, has argued that Al Qaeda’s success in rallying followers lies not in an ideology of hatred, but that it is the result of the group’s pointed and popular criticisms of specific U.S. policies. But as world-wide public opinion has continued to shift in many ways against the United States (even within the populations of our closest allies), many American eyes remain shut to important international public policy questions that ought to be on the front burner of public discourse.

The below-listed questions should be asked for a myriad of reasons: not only so that America can better know our enemies and our friends, but so that the country can better live up to the ideal of "know thy self." These questions should be asked to Muslims and experts on the Islamic world, both domestic and foreign, including Muslim citizens of America’s closest allies, such as those in Great Britain and Europe. They should of course be asked of Islamic leaders of all sorts, but especially to everyday Islamic men and women, individuals whom journalists can use to put a human face on their stories.

Perhaps most importantly, these questions should be asked regularly over time. If one of the keys to victory in the war on terror really is the "winning of hearts and minds," then someone (and who better than journalists?) ought to be closely tracking and publicizing the states of those hearts and minds: keeping score, as it were.

For "Experts" on the Islamic World:
Q. Are you aware of any concrete data or other resources regarding feelings in the Islamic world toward America and Americans?

Q. What are your thoughts about the question asked so frequently in the U.S. after 9/11: "Why do they hate us?"

For Other Muslims:
Q. How do you feel about America, and why?

Q. Do you make a distinction between Americans and American public policy?

Q. Do you know Muslims who hate America or American public policy? How do you feel about those individuals?

Q. Do you know Muslims who love America? How do you feel about them?

Q. Which U.S. actions or policies do you or those you know feel most strongly about? Why?

Q. If you could speak to all of America, and share your feelings about the place, what would you say?

Q. What are your feelings about Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda? Why?

Q. How do you feel about the way the United States is fighting its war on terror?

Articles based on such questions are no doubt likely to appeal to a wide swath of the American public, whether the answers are used as part of a "profile" of domestic or foreign Muslims (even of local U.S. Muslim communities), as part of a more detailed piece of analysis of the war on terror, as a jumping off point for articles on various foreign policy issues (from war coverage, to energy policy, to coverage of Israel), or simply as commentary on America’s world standing.

Although journalists will find a plethora of resources on the subject of Islamic public opinion from a wide variety of organizations, the top ones for polling and other data on this subject include the following:

Arab American Institute
The AAI recently commissioned an informative six-nation 2004 survey by Zogby International entitled "How Arabs View America, How Arabs Learn About America." Among other things, the survey concludes that, "Overall favorable ratings toward the US have declined in the past two years." But that "attitudes toward American values, people, and products remain mostly favorable, but have also declined in the past two years."

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
There is a wide variety of relevant studies and polls available through the Pew Research Center.

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