Voice

Do Muslims Around the World Really Hate the United States?

There’s a lot of anger out there toward America, but in some predominantly Muslim countries the trend lines are improving.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10:  Patty Anton, an American who is a practicing Muslim, attends a rally in support of religious freedom on September 10, 2010 in New York, New York. Over a thousand people attended the rally on the eve of September 11 to support American Muslims and to call for the building of the Park 51 Mosque in lower Manhattan.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Patty Anton, an American who is a practicing Muslim, attends a rally in support of religious freedom on September 10, 2010 in New York, New York. Over a thousand people attended the rally on the eve of September 11 to support American Muslims and to call for the building of the Park 51 Mosque in lower Manhattan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As the Republican candidates for president take the debate stage in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, the race has oddly enough turned into a referendum on the roughly 3 million Muslims in the United States — and on the 1.6 billion outside its borders.

Evidence that the couple behind the San Bernardino killings were Islamic extremists, with or without ties to organized groups, has turned the views of America held by Muslims outside the United States into a contentious topic of public debate. Donald Trump has proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States, in part because of their alleged anti-American sentiments. A majority of Americans oppose such a move, according to both the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey and the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. But in the Washington Post/ABC News survey, a majority of GOP voters support the idea. So, as the campaign season intensifies, more is likely to be heard about Muslim views of America in the weeks ahead.

Since 2002, the Pew Research Center has conducted surveys in a number of nations with large Muslim populations. Each year, publics have been asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of the United States. In our most recent polls, intense anti-American sentiment can be found in Egypt (53 percent held a very unfavorable view of America in 2014) and Jordan (51 percent very unfavorable in 2015).

But such sentiment has actually ebbed among Muslims in the Palestinian territories and Pakistan. And in both Indonesia and Nigeria, countries with some of the largest Muslim populations in the world, strong majorities voice a favorable view of the United States. In fact, their pro-American sentiment is stronger than that in Germany.

It is true that anti-Americanism is particularly strong in Muslim-majority nations polled in the Middle East. As the 2015 Pew Research Center survey highlights, more than eight in 10 (83 percent) Jordanians voice an unfavorable view of the United States. This is down slightly from immediately after the U.S. invasion of Iraq but largely unchanged throughout most of the Obama administration.

Seven in 10 (70 percent) people in the Palestinian territories also hold an unfavorable view of Uncle Sam. But this negative sentiment is down from 98 percent in May 2003 and 82 percent in the first year of President Barack Obama’s tenure.

In Lebanon, where roughly six in 10 people are Muslim, 74 percent of Muslims say they see America in an unfavorable light. However, there are sharp differences between the country’s Shiite and Sunni communities: Fully 95 percent of Shiite Muslims voice anti-American sentiments, while only 52 percent of Sunnis agree.

And in Turkey, 58 percent express unfavorable views toward the United States. But such negative opinion is down from 83 percent in May 2003 and 77 percent in 2008.

In Egypt, in the Pew Research Center’s 2014 survey, 85 percent of respondents expressed anti-American sentiments. And, contrary to softening attitudes in some other Muslim-majority societies in the region, anti-Americanism in Egypt has been on the rise. In 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, 70 percent of Egyptians had an unfavorable view of the United States.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world, 62 percent of the public say they have an unfavorable view of America. But such negative views are down from a high of 73 percent in 2011.

And in Malaysia, where nearly two-thirds of the population is Muslim, 56 percent of Muslims have an unfavorable view of the United States.

Nevertheless, anti-American sentiment is far from ubiquitous in predominantly Muslim countries.

Indonesia is the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world. This year, 62 percent of Indonesians say they have a very or somewhat favorable view of America. Just 26 percent hold an unfavorable opinion. And pro-American sentiment in the Southeast Asian nation is on the rise, while anti-American views are declining. A decade ago, in 2005, just 38 percent of Indonesians said they viewed the United States favorably, while 57 percent saw Uncle Sam unfavorably.

Similarly, in Nigeria, though not a Muslim-majority nation (roughly half the population is Muslim), but with the fifth-largest Muslim population in the world, 70 percent of Muslims surveyed had a favorable view of America. And, in 2014, in Bangladesh, with the fourth-largest Muslim population in the world, 76 percent of people had a positive opinion of the United States.

Attitudes toward the United States are the product of multiple factors. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent chaos were deeply unpopular in many predominantly Muslim countries and harmed the U.S. image both in the region and as far afield as Indonesia and Pakistan. But Muslim stereotypes of people in the West also help explain some of this anti-Americanism. Six in 10 or more Muslims across seven largely Muslim countries considered Westerners to be selfish, violent, greedy, and immoral, according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2011. Only about three in 10 saw Westerners as honest, tolerant, and generous.

As the U.S. political debate about Muslims unfolds over the coming weeks and months, it is useful to remember that Pew Research Center surveys find that anti-Americanism among Muslims varies with events and geography. Negative views of the United States have proved especially intense and enduring in the Middle East. Yet very large Muslim populations in Indonesia and Nigeria see America in a positive light.

But a word of caution to Trump and the GOP field: Muslims outside the United States are divided in their view of America, just as Americans are divided in their views of Muslims.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

About the Author

Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.

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