Though it has been nearly a decade since the attacks of September 11, the threat of terrorism emanating from the Muslim world has not subsided. U.S. troops fight against radical Islamists overseas, and on a daily basis, Americans pass through body scanners as part of the effort to defend against another attack. Naturally, many Americans wonder what is occurring in Muslim society that breeds such hostility toward the United States.
Steven Kull, a political psychologist and acknowledged authority on international public opinion, has sought to understand more deeply how Muslims see America. How widespread is hostility toward the United States in the Muslim world? And what are its roots? How much support is there for radical groups that attack Americans, and why? Kull conducted focus groups with representative samples in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, and Indonesia; conducted numerous in-depth surveys in eleven majority-Muslim nations over a period of several years; and comprehensively analyzed data from other organizations such as Gallup, World Values Survey and the Arab Barometer. He writes:
“A premise of this book is that the problem of terrorism does not simply lie in the small number of people who join terrorist organizations. Rather, the existence of terrorist organizations is a symptom of a tension in the larger society that finds a particularly virulent expression in certain individuals. The hostility toward the United States in the broader society plays a critical role in sustaining terrorist groups, even if most disapprove of those groups’ tactics. The essential ‘problem,’ then, is one of America’s relationship with the society as a whole.”
Through quotes from focus groups as well as survey data, Kull digs below the surface of Muslim anger at America to reveal the underlying narrative of America as oppressing— and at a deeper level, as having betrayed—the Muslim people. With the subtlety of a psychologist he shows how this anger is fed by an “inner clash of civilizations,” between Muslims’ desire to connect with America and all that it represents, and their fear that America will overwhelm and destroy their traditional Islamic culture.
Finally, Kull maps out the implications of these findings for U.S. foreign policy, showing how many U.S. actions antagonize the larger Muslim population and help al Qaeda by improving their capacity for recruitment. He specifies steps that can mitigate Muslim hostility and draw on some of the underlying shared values that can support more respectful and, possibly, even amicable Muslim-American relations.