Non-Arab Muslims & The Arab World
During June 2012, we interviewed almost 5,000 adults from five Muslim countries (Senegal, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Turkey) in an effort to understand their attitudes toward Arab civilization and culture, Arab people, and several Arab countries.
THE BOTTOM LINE
1) Most Muslims report holding positive views about Arabs. But these attitudes are not shaped by direct experience and often appear to be tied to history, in particular, to the origins of Islam.
2) The two modern factors that have made a positive impact on attitudes are the current revolts that have characterized the “Arab Spring” (in particular, in Egypt), and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the significant economic developments in the oil-producing countries.
3) Arab countries uniformly receive high favorable ratings, except from respondents in Iran, who give very high negative ratings to Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the UAE. It is also worth noting that while three-fourths of Iranians report holding positive views to Arabs, in general, it must be a matter of concern that when they were asked to name the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Arabs, more than one-half of Iranians have something negative to say. And when respondents in all five countries were asked to name foreign cities they would most like to visit, while Mecca ranked first in Senegal, Malaysia, and Turkey, and second in Pakistan (right after Dubai), among Iranians, the holy city of Mecca came in near last place, favored by only 10% of respondents.
4) Attitudes are mixed with regard to the assessment given by non-Arab Muslims to relations between their countries and Arab countries. Majorities in Malaysia, Senegal, and Pakistan believe that ties between their countries and the Arab World are positive, Turks are split in their views, and most Iranians claim that relations with the Arab World are not good.
Majorities in all five non-Arab countries want better relations with Arabs, but there are differences worth noting. While most in Senegal, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Turkey want stronger ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Algeria; Iranians largely seek improved ties with countries with whom they have an affinity (Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon).
5) Across the board, Muslims in all five countries believe that Arabs are good, religious people, and that Arabs have made a significant contribution to Islam. But Senegalese, Malaysians, and Turks are less convinced that “Arabs are hard-working” or that “Arabs are people just like me.”
6) Most Muslims from the countries surveyed have a healthy dose of national pride, believing that their culture is superior to Arab culture—this is especially the case in Turkey and Senegal. Most also believe that their culture is more generous than Arab culture—except in Pakistan, where attitudes are split. And while most in Senegal, Malaysia, and Turkey believe that Arabs are more violent, Iranians and Pakistanis are divided in their views, accepting that their cultures are at least as violent as Arab cul- ture or more so.
7) Majorities in every country other than Iran support the goal of “achieving peace and understanding with the West.” Two-thirds of Iranians, on the otherhand, believe the important goal is “continuing to struggle against the West to secure Muslim rights.”
At least two-thirds of Iranians, Pakistanis, and Malaysians believe that all Muslim countries should be equal. More than three-quarters in Senegal and Turkey believe that one Muslim country should lead the Muslim world. And among the 86% of Turkish respondents who hold that view, there is a consen- sus that Turkey is the Muslim country best suited to lead.
8) Most non-Arab Muslims have little direct experience with the Arab World, with the exception of the Senegalese (many of whom report having visited African-Arab countries) and Iranians (who report having visited Arab countries with whom they have an affinity and the UAE).
Notably, Turks are the group who have the least experience in the Arab countries and, despite their proximity to the Arab World, the least personal exposure to Arabs. In fact, the numbers of Turks who said they had visited the Arab World or who knew any Arabs were so low that we conducted an additional sample of 300 to probe more deeply in this area. Our initial findings were validated.
9)Direct experience with the Arab World or with Arabs, as people, significantly improves overall positive attitudes toward Arabs and Arab countries. For example, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Malaysians who have traveled to the UAE have much more positive attitudes toward that country, than those who have not. They also have more favorable attitudes toward Arabs in general.