Why do they hate us? President George Bush posed this question to the American public shortly after 9/11 terrorist attacks. And in a strong affirmation of the power of propaganda, he replied: “They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
Tellingly, the presidential rhetoric stands refuted and exposed by the latest survey of 500,000 Muslims in more than 35 Islamic states. Only about 7 per cent of Muslims condone terrorist attacks, but none of these "politically radicalized" gave religious justification for their beliefs, instead voicing fears that the West and the United States are seeking to occupy and dominate the Islamic world.
Most of them actually espouse democratic beliefs but are skeptical of their own governments and the United States' professed intention to spread democracy in the Muslim world.
Those were some of the key messages from the authors of a new book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which outlines the results from a Gallup poll. Based on the largest and most in-depth study of its kind, this book presents the first ever data-based analysis of the points of view of more than 90% of the global Muslim community.
The book is authored by John L. Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup's executive director of Muslim studies. It offers an evidence-based understanding of extremism, Islam, democracy and what approximately 1.3 billion Muslims really think about the West.
The survey of the world's Muslim community was commissioned by Gallup's chairman, Jim Clifton, shortly after US President George W Bush asked in a speech to congress ten days after 9/11: "Why do they hate us?"
Gallup posed questions on the minds of millions of people: Is Islam to blame for terrorism? Why is there so much anti-Americanism in the Muslim world? Who are the extremists? Where are the moderates?
Many of the poll's findings went against the "conventional wisdom" of US politicians, media commentators and the American public about Muslims' views of the West, the role of religion and the value of democracy, according to John L Esposito.
"What we have here is the ability to get beyond the battle of the experts" and let "the data lead the discourse," Esposito said while launching the book in Washington recently. What is needed is an overhaul of how the United States reaches out to people in the Muslim world, Esposito said, criticizing the current approach as "public diplomacy defined as public relations."
Gallup's polling found that most Americans - politicians and people - suggest improvements in education and more exchanges as a means of improving ties between the West and Islamic countries. What Americans fail to recognize, Esposito argued, is that Muslims lobbied just as hard for changes in US foreign policy - including a perceived "double standard" in promoting democracy around the world.
"One also has to face the fact that policy really does matter, It's the political grievances that are the real drivers" of radicalization,” said Esposito. In other words, it was not religious beliefs that have driven some Muslims to believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington were justified.
Interestingly, among the overwhelming majority of Muslims, their views were driven less by a hatred of the West than a perception that the West hates them. Only 17 per cent said the West "respects" Islam.
When asked how the West could improve relations with the Muslim world, the most often offered response was: respect Islam, stop treating us like we’re inferior, stop degrading Muslims in your media.
The Gallup poll findings are not surprising. President Bush’s rhetoric - Why do they hate us? - was dehumanizing the enemy which is the first unwritten rule of war. To dehumanize, the enemy is portrayed as rude, crude and uncivilized. He is the other. He is not human. He is irrational.
Since a group stripped of its humanity is not seen as having human worth, they have no human rights. Such a demonized, out-group is not deserving of the protections that other human groups are entitled under international law and conventions. Such a development helps powerful governments and military alliances, and their media outlets, to justify the bombing and killing of civilians, and the ignoring of the human rights of the demonized group. (Burchfield cited by Erin S. LaPorte, The Criminal Race)