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That's why they love the United States

Five years after 11. September is astonishing how little dislike the US is outside Europe.


[Attitudes] "The reputation of the United States is deteriorating." This is how NTB's title and summary came out this summer, a message that went around media-Norway.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda's terrorist attack 11. In September, there are several incidents that challenge the global role of the United States: New Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, civil war-like development in Iraq, brutal assaults committed in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

But at the same time, the clear speech shows that the United States' global reputation is not as bad as NTB and Norwegian media in general are. If you go behind the tabloid headlines and analyze what the earth's population really thinks about the United States and the world, one can find the background for a new worldview.

The NTB report above refers to a new survey made by the international institute Pew Research, which has interviewed 17.000 people in 15 countries. But the study actually shows that even in the era of the terror war, the United States is highly respected in Asia and Africa, which has the majority of the earth's population: On top comes Japan, which has 63 percent population with positive US outlook, followed by Nigeria with 52 percent, India with 56 percent and China with 47 percent US friendly.

These countries alone have 2,7 billion people. India – the world's largest democracy, hit by terrorism several times – has citizens with a somewhat non-European view of life: more than half now have confidence in President George W. Bush, something that surpasses the Americans themselves. And two out of three Indians say they support the "US

led the war on terror ”, the same as it was four years ago, and now at the top of the world context. In Pakistan, the US attitude has gradually improved since 11. September 2001.

Africa for the United States

In contrast to the major Asian countries, the view of the role of the United States in the less populous Europe has fared less. In Europe, people have been predominantly far more negative than positive over the past five years. Even the British are now more skeptical of Americans than Asians in general, while French and Germans are among the world's most US-skeptical. 19 percent of Spaniards say they support the war on terror, against 38 percent of Indonesians and 30 percent of Pakistanis.

These little-talked-about US attitudes outside Europe allow you to add new dimensions to the often black-and-white discussions of "United States against the world." The said Pew survey is given further nuances if we also compare it with the global survey BBC World Service published earlier this year, a study not mentioned in other Norwegian media.

The BBC asked 39.000 people in 33 countries about their views on the world: Not surprisingly, Japan came out as the world's most popular country. At the same time, it turned out that France had the most dramatic decline in global popularity, which may be linked to the treatment of minorities during the riots last fall.

And also in this survey, Asians turn out to be the most US positive: Filipinos at the top followed by Nigerians and Afghans (see table). And the inhabitants of all eight selected African countries, from Muslim Senegal in the northeast to South Africa in the south, are predominantly positive to the United States.

Interestingly, 38 percent of Saudi Arabia's residents believe that the United States has a positive impact on the world, just as many are negative. In Iran and Iraq, the attitude of American foreign policy is quite similar to that of France and Germany.

On the other hand, the Pew study reveals that the people of the Arab countries of Egypt and Jordan are far more US-skeptical, the latter more negative than even Spaniards. On the other hand, Arab support for Europe's Bush opponents is great: Half of all Egyptians and Jordanians have great faith in France's President Jacques Chirac, which can be explained by his strong opposition to the Iraq invasion.

Chirac has now become far more popular in Arab countries than he is in his European neighboring countries, while Tony Blair is on a level of popularity with Bush also in the Middle East. The five-year terror war has led the Arabs who are against the United States in turn to rely on the most critical US figures in Europe.

The riddle of the US relationship

How to explain today's positive US attitude outside the Euro-Arab world?

If we compare with other questions asked in Pew's global survey, the countries' media coverage can provide their share of the answer. In the most US-skeptical countries in Europe, the knowledge of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo is enormous: In Germany, as many as 98 know about these abuses, more than those who have heard about global warming and Iran's nuclear program. But in countries such as Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Indonesia, almost a fifth have heard of the mistreatment of American soldiers.

Eighty-five percent of Pakistanis have received extensive US aid for Pakistan's earthquake victims, but only two-thirds of Germans have received media coverage of this. While US emergency aid is by far the most well-known international political event for most Pakistanis, it is the least well-known for Germans. This example is a sign of how rarely most Germans and Europeans read about global trends and surveys. In this way, media users lose background in order to be able to compare the USA with the EU and the UN – which are also struggling with their popularity.

A trend seems to be emerging: The more euro-centric a country's media is, the more negative the US view the population is also exposed to, which in turn increases US skepticism.

At the same time, another striking trend among the countries of Africa and Asia shows high US satisfaction: they are far less than Europeans dominated by Hollywood and American popular culture. While India has its own Bollywood, Nigeria's Nollywood, and Indonesia and the Philippines a strong, self-produced popular culture, Western European countries rely entirely on film and music imports from the United States to meet the needs of their modern media users. This also increases the sense of cultural inferiority and American culture -

imperialism, which facilitates negative attitudes towards the country as such.

Contradictory politics

A phenomenon that distinguishes European and Arab countries from the rest of the world is that their respective governments in practice support US foreign policy and warfare – despite popular opposition and rhetoric to the contrary. This contradiction can create a political frustration, often rightly so, which more easily leads to the mind being turned outwards, towards the great power.

At the same time, countries like India have close historical ties to the United States, which supported the country's struggle for freedom from the British Empire in 1947. Combined with the many success stories of African and Asian immigrants in the United States, this may explain some of the American popularity. US Muslim immigrants now serve better, and have more education, than Christian Americans. Perhaps it is no coincidence that none of the 19 hijackers five years ago were from the United States, but which Mohammed Atta had rather studied and been radicalized in Germany.

Both Al Qaeda's terrorists and the global polls may be showing us exactly this: It is not only real politics that counts in today's world but so many attitudes. Which in turn creates actions. Fortunately, so far, most people look more favorably at the state of the world than one would fear.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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