As Ramadan and 9/11 near, global news is grim

The news is grim as more than a billion Muslims around the world pepare for the month-long fast of Ramadan—and anxiously brace for the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. The bad news comes in an extensive new report on attitudes concerning Muslims around the world by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Pew’s own summary of the news is: “Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical and violent, while few say Muslims are tolerant or respectful of women. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy—as well as violent and fanatical.”

However, Associated Press takes an up-beat approach to this news, opening with: “Attitudes about Muslim-Western relations have become slightly more positive in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Russia compared with five years ago, though negative views between Muslim countries and the West persist on both sides, a Pew Research Center survey found.”

Could this be the same report? Yes, it is. The Pew report is long and there are, indeed, a few up-beat findings sprinkled through the troubling news. AP apparently chose to lead with one of the few positive notes. The problem is that news reports around the world are adding to the misperceptions that Pew demonstrates. Most Americans—to the extent they are even aware of the Pew report—are seeing AP versions of the story. However, throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds—news reports on the data are somber.


Read headlines in the clippings, at right, to catch the tone in news media serving Muslim countries.
Here is a further sampling from individual newspapers covering the story:

Hürriyet in Turkey: The most widely read English-language newspaper in Turkey headlines its story “Muslims and Westerners don’t like each other much.” The newspaper especially highlighted the stark misperceptions from each “side.” Among residents of Muslim countries, a majority sees Westerners as “immoral, greedy, violent and selfish,” Hürriyet reports. In the West, a majority sees Muslims as “fanatical and violent”—and intolerant with bad attitudes toward women as well. And that’s not all, Hürriyet reminds readers: Pew also found most Muslims point to the West as a source of “fanaticism and arrogance.”

The Arab News in Saudi Arabia: The conclusions from Pew’s research are “unremittingly grim,” Arab News tells readers. “More Muslims than ever now say relations are bad, particularly Pakistanis. Only in Indonesia and Turkey has the number declined. Inevitably, of those who say relations are bad, the Europeans and Americans blame the Muslims—and the Muslims the West. Depressingly, the report shows that Muslims view Westerners as selfish, violent, greedy, immoral, arrogant and fanatical; that Americans and Europeans view Muslims as fanatical and violent but also honest; that vast numbers of Westerners consider that Islam is a violent religion. Conversely, Turks think Christianity is the world’s most violent religion.”

The Nation in Pakistan: This influential English-language newspaper in Pakistan, widely read by leaders especially in the Punjab, Islamabad and Karachi, directly addressed that up-beat item in the Associate Press’ opening paragraph. Here’s how The Nation explains it: “The survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the US and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006. In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavourable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims. For the most part, Muslims and Westerners finger point about the causes of problems in their relations, and about which side holds the high ground on key issues. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West.”

There are many more news stories, in publications spanning predominantly Muslim nations. This sampling, above, indicates the overall tone of the news Muslims are reading.

Killings in Norway Add Fuel to Tragic Misunderstandings

TODAY, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I also published a commentary in Huffington Post about the impact of the Norwegian mass murderer on global relations. That Huffington Post story includes some material in this ReadTheSpirit news story about Pew, but adds reflections on the latest news from Norway.

John Esposito: American Expert on Islam Circles the Globe

Associated Press interviewed America’s most famous expert on Islam, Dr. John Esposito of Georgetown University, and quoted him in the AP news story about the Pew report. So, Esposito also is showing up in stories throughout the Muslim world, thanks to AP. Esposito’s comments in the AP story include:

Negative views among Muslims reflect a nose-dive of their expectations after President Barack Obama pledged to improve U.S.-Muslim relations during a speech in Cairo in 2009, said John Esposito, founder of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington.

“People don’t see a difference on a number of critical points between the Obama and Bush administrations,” Esposito said. He cited the continued detentions at Guantanamo Bay, prosecution of detainees in military courts, the administration’s position on Israel and its hesitance to back demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt this year.

Care to read more about Islam and Ramadan?

Care to read more from Dr. John Esposito? Here is ReadTheSpirit’s most recent interview with him.

Care to read more about Ramadan? We recommend The Beauty of Ramadan.

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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