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Americans 'negative' about Muslims
Poll indicates half have unfavourable views of Islamic world as Obama tries to reach out.
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2009 05:47 GMT

The poll comes as the US president tries to reach out to the Muslim world [GALLO/GETTY]

As Barack Obama, the US president, seeks to mend the image of the US in the Muslim world, a new survey indicates almost half of Americans have a negative opinion about Muslim countries.

The 46 per cent of respondents who held an unfavourable view of Islamic nations was up five per cent from 2002, while just 20 per cent said they held a positive opinion.

In depth
"It's pretty difficult to think much about folks that are seriously trying to kill us or kill anybody who doesn't believe the way they do; so, I am not very happy with those folks," Chuck Hauptman, a Billings, Montana resident, told Al Jazeera recently.

Greg Smith, a researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion in Washington, says most Americans' views of Muslims are heavily influenced by what they see on television and read in newspapers.

"The number one answer people give us when we ask them what's most important in shaping their views on Islam is the media," Smith says.

"It's people who have a negative view of Muslims and Islam in particular who are most likely to say their opinion is shaped largely by what they see in the media."

Linked with violence

US views on the Muslim world

US opinion of the Muslim world:

Favourable: 20%
Unfavourable: 46%

Believe that Islam encourages violence:

Agree:
45%
Disagree: 39%

Source: CNN/Opinion Research, Pew Forum on Religion

About 60 per cent of Americans feel that the Muslim world considers itself at war with the US, and there is a widespread impression that Islam encourages violence - 45 per cent of respondents in a 2007 poll associated the religion with violent attacks. 

"A lot of people, because of 9/11 and the terrorist era we seem to be in, have generalised all Middle Eastern people as devils," comments Marty Connolly of the Billings research institute.

On the other side, surveys of Muslim countries show only about 25 per cent of people approve of US leadership.

Smith says negative views are most common among Americans who are older, do not have college degrees, and who have never met a Muslim.

"People who say they personally know a Muslim are much more likely to express favourable views of Muslims," he says.

Entrenched attitudes

While Obama has made dialogue with Muslim countries a priority for his foreign policy, polls indicate many Americans do not particularly care what Muslims think of the US, or they feel that Muslim opinions do not matter.

A recent trip to the US state of Montana appeared to confirm some of these entrenched attitudes towards Muslims.

"I don't care about co-existence," Montana resident Carroll Broch told Al Jazeera.

"I don't want to co-exist with them. They either accept us or they don't accept us."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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