'Muslim opinion of US improving'

Published March 6, 2005

WASHINGTON, March 5: Muslim opinion of America is improving gradually despite the war in Iraq and troubles in some Muslim nations, says an opinion poll released this weekend by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation, a respectable conservative think-tank, reported the poll indicated "the first substantial shift of public opinion in the Muslim world" and said the findings revealed that pronounced Muslim distaste of the United States was waning.

Based on a survey conducted from Feb 1 to 6 of 1,200 adults in Indonesia, the poll found that 40 per cent favoured US-led efforts against global terrorism - up from 23pc in 2003. Another 36pc said they opposed those efforts; the figure stood at 72pc two years ago.

Confidence in Osama bin Laden had dropped. When asked if they thought Osama could "do the right thing regarding world affairs," 23pc agreed. In 2003, that figure was 58pc.

"The support base that empowers global terrorists has significantly eroded. This is a major blow to Al Qaeda and other terrorists," the poll said.

Discussing the cause of the 'dramatic' change, the Foundation said that American response to tsunami had inspired good feelings. The poll found that 65pc had a more favourable view towards the United States in the aftermath of tsunami, with 75pc saying Americans had done enough to help victims and 64pc deeming that assistance 'important'.

Polling was done face to face in both urban and rural areas of Indonesia. "This is just plain good news, and represents a huge sea change. Favourable feelings for the US have increased dramatically, indicating we may be on the verge of turning the corner in this region," said Ken Ballen, president of the Washington-based Terror Free Tomorrow, which had sponsored the poll.

The new poll represents a departure from recent opinion surveys of the United States, which often cast America in the role of an oil-seeking bully with questionable culture.

A 2003 British Broadcasting Corp poll of Indonesians had found that 69pc had described Americans as 'arrogant,' while 48pc said 'antagonistic'. Another 60pc said the US was 'more dangerous' than Al Qaeda.

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