America and the Middle East
Dalia Mogahed is a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a nonpartisan research center dedicated to providing data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world. With John L. Esposito, Ph.D., she is coauthor of the book Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Her analysis has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy magazine, the Harvard International Review, the Middle East Policy journal, and many other academic and popular journals. She travels the globe engaging diverse groups on what Muslims around the world really think.
Mogahed leads the analysis of Gallup's unprecedented survey representing the opinions of more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide, including Muslims in the West. She also directs the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, through which Gallup, in collaboration with the Coexist Foundation, is disseminating the findings of the Gallup World Poll to key opinion leaders in the Muslim World and the West. She is a member of Women in International Security, serves on the leadership group of the Project on U.S. Engagement with the Global Muslim Community, and is a member of the Crisis in the Middle East Task Force of the Brookings Institution.
Dalia Mogahed: I guess I would go back to the idea that my world is the world of perception.
I guess I’ll answer it this way: How are America’s actions perceived? And then therefore: How are they affecting the issues?
Many of America’s actions are definitely perceived very negatively. And in some cases, like the abuses of Abu Ghraib, and the reported abuses in Guantanamo are directly feeding into the perception that America is at war with Islam. The war in Iraq, likewise, is also being perceived very negatively by Muslims at large.
So there is a lot that America can do to counteract some of these perceptions. In some cases, there will be no way to counteract the perceptions, and there will have to be discussions about whether or not policy needs to change on the ground.
One of the most important first steps toward that peace is just simply understanding the point of view of Muslims. Where are they coming from, and how are they perceiving America’s actions? Right now, I feel that there is too much talking and maybe not enough listening of the point of view of Muslims. And more of an emphasis needs to be put on understanding rather than trying to get Muslims to understand America’s perspective. That is counterproductive. Unless Muslims feel validated by being understood, it’ll be very difficult for them to be convinced of anything America has to say.
I have no reason to believe that no matter what there will be problems in the Middle East, simply because the Middle East was a place of relative peace for hundreds of years. So I don’t think there is anything about the region that genetically makes it prone to violence or conflict.
But I do think that certain geopolitical realities make conflict more likely in the Middle East for several reasons; but all of these things; it is possible to work past them and to make the Middle East a place of stability and peace.
Recorded on: July 3, 2007.
Mogahed on mutually negative perceptions.