The Council on Foreign Relations has sponsored a new report. It seems that most college educated people in Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia have a great deal of hostility towards the United States. The headlines of the news stories about the report say “Muslim World Largely Anti-American”.
The report goes on to say pretty much what one would expect. The people surveyed rejected the US reasons for the Iraq invasion, voiced strong anti-Semitic stereotypes, and were either unaware of the aid that the United States has provided to the Muslim world or underestimated it by at least two orders of magnitude.
CoFR says that these attitudes can be changed by long term diligence. America has to listen, draw attention to the good works that we perform, and assume a “humbler tone”. They also say that we have to tolerate disagreement on key security issues.
The most astounding aspect of the report is the way that the authors view the media in the Muslim world. While they mention al-Jazeera, and they admit that the coverage the Muslim satellite network generates is uniformly hostile to the US, they ignore the role that local government-controlled media has in shaping public opinion. Just browsing the offerings at MEMRI shows that anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda is endemic throughout Islamic media, and hardly confined to a single news source. The attitudes expressed by the study’s respondents neatly follow the official line, something that is neither new nor a surprise to anyone who has paid attention.
So what should the US do to improve its image in the Muslim media? The authors say that the US should spend more money on Arabic language news channels.
To be frank, I find the recommendations included in the report to be naïve in the extreme. Islamic governments, as well as religious extremists and terrorist groups, have used the US and Israel as convenient scapegoats to explain away their own failures for decades. This is a trend that continues to this day. Urging the US government to spend more money on media blitzes in an effort to educate the masses in Islamic countries is doomed to failure.
There is one thing that was mentioned in the report that could provide some leverage. The authors admit that US aid to Islamic countries has risen to historic heights in recent years, even though the majority is unaware of this fact. It’s possible that a more realistic portrayal of the US could be the condition of continued aid.
This is extremely unlikely, though. Aid has been increased as part of the War on Terror. Most of it appears to be a bribe to keep Islamic governments from actively aiding international terrorist groups, and it’s probably not a good idea to start making demands at this stage of the game.