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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Polls: Mid East views U.S. negatively

Anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, according to a Brookings scholar in the latest installment of the U’s Middle East Lecture Series.

Shibley Telhami, who directed and conducted public opinion surveys in six major Middle Eastern countries, addressed a crowd of U students and members of the community Monday in the U’s Dumke Auditorium.

He said the negative feelings toward Americans extend beyond countries like Iraq to those with Western ideals.

“[Public opinion] has gotten even worse over the past four years-it has gone from bad to worse,” Telhami said. “Those who have a favorable opinion of the United States of America are in the single digit, and that includes countries that are friendly to the U.S.”

While at the American consulate overlooking Istanbul, Turkey, Telhami could not help but feel as though he stood atop a crusader castle, and it haunted him.

“This is not an image we want, this is not an image we need. We must tackle this issue because I do not believe the clash of civilizations is inevitable, but I do believe we’re now forced to look at that end if both sides do not act now,” Telhami said.

He added that though these Arab and Muslim countries may harbor more intense hatred for the U.S., the nations are not unique in their resentment for America.

“You could go to almost every region in the world, whether it’s western Europe, or Africa, or Latin America or parts of the world that have very few Muslims,” he said. “You find the most resentment attitudes toward the United States of America, perhaps since World War II.”

This opinion, while commonplace now, has not always existed. During the early stages of World War I, the world saw America as independent of European colonialism and a force for good in a world of imperialism.

A surprising result from Telhami’s polls showed that people in the Middle East now actually rank the leader of one of these former imperial European countries number one on their list of favorite current world leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac-the same man who prohibited the wearing of the traditional Muslim veil in French schools-was at the head of the list of favorite living world leaders according to those in the Arab street, while President Bush fell second only to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the list of the most hated.

Telhami attributed the worsening of public opinion regarding the United States to a new phenomenon: the collapse in trust and confidence in the United States.

Fleeting confidence

“The collapse of confidence is what I see as the most critical change in the region,” Telhami said.

In his inaugural speech, Bush addressed the theme of spreading freedom and liberty around the world, an idea that Telhami said resonates with all people. However, he said there is a “complete gap” between what we say and how our words are received in the Middle East.

“When you don’t trust the messenger, you don’t trust the message,” Telhami said. “The vast majority of people in the region do not believe that the advocacy of democracy is an objective of American foreign policy. The most important objectives for American foreign policy in their perspective were oil, Israel and weakening the Muslim world.”

In addition, Telhami said the majority of the Middle East believes that the region is less democratic and Iraqis are worse off now than before the war.

“Some of what they see is, in fact, relatively accurate,” Telhami said.

Ninety percent of people in the Middle East directly opposed the war while their governments supported it due to a dependency on support from the United States.

In order to counteract a threatening public opinion, these regimes often unleashed security services, tightened control, minimized public discourse and limited the freedom of the people in order to enforce national security, according to Telhami.

“Is democracy really a priority to us?” Telhami asked. “It is still not a priority because we always have a national security priority that trumps democracy.”

He added that the U.S. government wants a democracy in Iraq, but would settle for a stable nation that is pro-American.

“Our choices are always clearly between strategic priorities and democracy,” Telhami said. “We pick strategic priorities and the public in the Middle East always pays the price of that trade off, and they see it. For that reason, they don’t believe in the advocacy of democracy as an end.”

The case of Iraq has shown people in the Middle East that, while the authoritarian leader is gone, there is now an absence of safety and security.

“Most people want liberty…but most people fear anarchy even more than they crave liberty,” Telhami said. “Iraq has become a scare-tool for authoritarian leaders saying, ‘would you rather have what the Iraqis have or the stability that I provide you?'”

In the end, America has not been clear about their position regarding democracy in their list of priorities.

Telhami added that it is foreign policy, rather than a difference in values, that leads to negativity in public opinion.

He cited the Arab-Israeli issue as the prime example and called it a “prism of pain” through which much of the Arab world views America, much in the same way the U.S. uses 9/11 as the “prism of pain” through which they see Arabs and Muslims.

“There will always be differences between the United States and people in that region,” Telhami said. “But if there is no basis for dialogue and bargaining, we’re in trouble.”

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