Western-Muslim Tensions Getting a Little Better, Study Says

After Herman Cain’s recent declaration that American communities should be able to ban mosques, it would be easy to understand why relations between Muslim and Western countries might be strained.  A new study from the Pew Center has some mildly hopeful news: although tensions between Muslim and Western publics are still palpable, they’ve gotten slightly better in the past five years.  While both populations still hold negative stereotypes of each other, Westerners (i.e. US residents and Western Europeans) are less likely to say that they had bad relations with Muslim countries than in 2006.  Muslims, however, aren’t as optimistic.

Ironically, each population characterized the other as “fanatical and violent.”  Muslims in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia were likely to say that Westerners were “selfish, immoral and greedy,” while Westerners criticized the residents of Muslim countries for refusing to tolerate or respect women.

Even though Westerners think that relations are getting better, while Muslims say that their impressions of Westerners are as bad as they were five years ago, there may be more of a consensus on whose fault it is.  Muslims overwhelmingly blamed the West for tensions, and while many Westerners did blame Muslim countries, a sizable percentage were also willing to point the finger at themselves.

In a change that perhaps reflects the general mood surrounding the Arab Spring, “Muslims and Westerners believe corrupt governments and inadequate education in Muslim nations are at least partly responsible for the lack of prosperity.”  And both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism.

What the report highlights is the extent to which assumptions about relations between Muslim and Western countries shape the stereotypes that the two populations assign to each other.  It’s important, also, to break down these monolithic categories into area-specific groups.  For example, Indonesian Muslims are more likely to associate positive traits with Westerners, while Pakistani Muslims (for obvious reasons) have increasingly negative feelings about Western relations.

Identity is also a slippery category.  While Muslims overwhelmingly identify with their religion, rather than their country of origin, European Christians are equally likely to say that their national identity is more important than their religious identity.  There is a palpable divide in the United States, although 7 in 10 evangelical Christians identify first with their religion.  Unsurprisingly, there was a strong consensus among Westerners that Muslims living in the West did not want to assimilate into Western culture.  People without college degrees were more likely to “believe that Muslims want to remain distinct from the broader society.”

While the report does not provide answers to mending the rift between Western and European countries, it does break down some of the complexities in fascinating ways.

Related Stories:

Rep. Peter King Schedules Third Muslim Hearing

Herman Cain: Americans Should Have the Right to Ban Mosques

Belgium Bans Burqas Starting Next Week

Photo from Alkan de Beaumont Chaglar via flickr.

13 comments

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B.4 years ago

Noted with great hope.

Helena Plum Bowyer
Helena B.5 years ago

Maybe it would be helpful not to generalise about whole populations/ religions and try to see each other as individuals.

R. Joseph R.

I fully agree with Terry S.

Giovanna M.
Giovanna M.5 years ago

For anyone who has lived in a Muslim country, this is another piece of news that provides no new information whatsoever.

Although I don't have any wish to confront anyone, I should say I have witnessed as much intolerance, fanaticism and stupidity in Western and Muslim countries.
I think it's fair we ask them to adapt to our standards when they come here, still we're the first (even as tourists) not to adapt to them and go screaming for our "rights" to dress, act etc.. as we want because we consider their values "absurd". Maybe we should be slightly less hypocrites and try to see things from their point of view when there, instead of thinking how "weird/primitive/whatever/ they are.

There are good and reasonable people everywhere, of all religions. There are evil people everywhere too, and many who manipulate ideals to get what they want. 100 years ago it would have been shameful for us not to consider religion as one of our pillars. Now it is not. MAybe we should remember that Islam is a younger religion than ours and that if it took us time to evolve they might need the same. We're not that different.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

Of course it's better! It can't get any worse than the war footing we have now. Shame about religions though, they really mess things up. 
Terry S. Why should the US and the UK be Christian? Why not pagan or animist. Christianity isn't a white religion like the British. Nor is it a Sioux or Arapaho or Seminole religion, it is a middle eastern religion and really has no place in the 'west'. Anyway the war between the East and the West is not really about religion. It's about oppression and domination. No one seems to ask the question. "Why was the twin towers attacked?" it wasn't just random. There were and are reasons. And just like how the UK created Pakistani resentment by 30+ years of 'Paki bashing' (common english sport of attacking South Asians) Americans are now 'beaner bashing' Mexicans. (expect Mexican terrorists in the future)

Pradip Chavda
Pradip Chavda5 years ago

I totally agree with Billie C. People should adhere to rules and regulation of their adopted country RELIGION NOT WITHSTANDING.
UK allowed free hand to the religious extrmists and the results are for them to see. France took a stern step and the protest died.
As for India we have all sorts of extremists in garb of various religions and Islam tops it. But what about Pakistan??? There muslims kill their own people who follow the same faith and now even China is facing some tensions from chinese muslims.
What is the world coming to??? The most ironic part is that even highly educated followers of Islam take to extremism??? Why??? Any answers???

Terry Salter
Terry Salter5 years ago

Interesting to note that Muslims are saying that there is no difference in the feelings between Muslims and Western Countries in the last five years. This just about sums up the problem. The West can bend over backwards to try and improve relations, but the Muslims still stick to their aggressive attitudes.

It should be made illegal to practice any Religion in United States and United Kingdom except Christianity, and if other cultures dont like it then sod off!

Billie C.
Billie C.5 years ago

i don't care if they like us or not just stop killing people. they can do as they please in their own country don't bring it over here. if you are in this country then live by the rules of this country and don't try to force your rules down our throats. those that want to live the total muslim way should live in a total muslim country.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.5 years ago

This is because those who wanted and needed a war for their own political and financial agendas, got it.

Making enemies of another people to forward your own agenda is the oldest tactic in the world. Make someone "other" and slap a label on them; they then cease to be individuals. It was used all our conflicts - Japs, Chinks, Gooks etc.,etc. You see? They are not people - they are the enemy. On one side of the world this group of people are being told the same lies about the people on the other side of the world. It has worked for centuries...it's still working - just witness how many have fallen for the game once again.

Robert Tedders
Robert T.5 years ago

@Mrs. S.: Agreed!!