At New America: In Pakistan, American image remains poor, concern of extremist takeover slipping

Report by Will Storey

Today, The Pew Research Center has published a report on the opinions of the Pakistani people regarding, among other topics, America, the Taliban, India and the issue of extremism.  The results indicate India is by and large the biggest threat to Pakistan, and that the American war on terror is anti-Muslim.  Pew President Andrew Kohut spoke at the New America Foundation to discuss the results.

“There is not a Muslim public in the world that supports the U.S. war on terror,” said Kohut to a room of a few dozen students, reporters, and government officials.  He explained that because the effort seems to be targeting only Muslims regardless of political ideology, it is “not legitimate” in the eyes of Pakistani people.  That sentiment contributes to the mere 17% of people who have a favorable view of the U.S., and the 8% that have confidence in President Obama.

This news comes just as U.S. officials are revamping their efforts to work with Pakistan to oust the Taliban from the region.

When asked about the greatest threat facing Pakistan, 53% named India.  The Taliban came in second with 23%.  Kohut commented that because of the strong ties between India and the U.S., the countries are viewed as virtually one and the same.  As concern over the Kashmir region of India grows, extremists such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda tend to fall by the wayside in the eyes of Pakistanis.  In a similar poll conducted last year, 69% of participants said they were “very/somewhat worried” about extremists taking control of Pakistan, compared to 51% this year.  30% stated they are “not too/not at all worried”.

In regards to the Pakistani government itself, the military, specifically General Kayani, had a much higher approval rating (61%) than President Asif Ali Zadari (20%).  Nawaz Sharif, Zardari’s political rival, boasted a 71% approval rating, one of the highest in the country.  The majority of Pakistani people expressed support for harsh criminal punishments, including stoning of adulterers (82%) and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim faith (76%).  Kohut commented that these figures contrast sharply with the people’s desire to modernize, a discrepancy that he could not explain.

Pew researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Pakistani Muslims representing mostly urban areas.  The report is a part of the Global Attitude Project , which has spanned 57 countries in order to get a clear picture of issues affecting local citizens around the world.

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This Week in D.C. July 26-30

Special thanks to Drew Herrick from RFE for contributing to list

For Monday

Rediscovering Preventive Diplomacy for Peace in the World’s Hotspots, Brookings Institution, 2:00PM to 3:30 PM

USIP will hold an event on verifying the START treaty with Rose Gottemoeller from 2:00-4:00

New America will hold a talk on Human Rights and Settlements in the Occupied Territories at their offices on 19th and K st 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

The Potomac Institute will hold a talk at 3:00 on intelligence management and oversight (most likely in response to last week’s Washington Post investigative story on “Private America”)

For Tuesday

A hearing on Considering Afghanistan’s Reconciliation Options will be held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 09:30 AM

A hearing on Achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 9:30 AM –

A panel discussion on “Enforcing US and EU Sanctions Against Tehran” will be held in Rayburn 2252, sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM

At MEI, there will be a discussion on “US Military Approaches to Occupation in Iraq” from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Internet Activists and Authoritarian Regimes; Who’s Winning? will be held at the Foreign Policy Initiative for cocktails and a panel from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM

For Wednesday

Counterterrorism in the Obama Administration will be hosted at the Heritage Foundation from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Brookings will hold a live webchat on the Middle East Peace Process: A Live Web Chat with Martin Indy from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM

New America will hold a talk on “Digital District: Local News and Online Media Access in Washington, from 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies will show a screening of “Voices of Palestine at The Jerusalem Fund, 2425 Virginia Avenue NW at 6:30

For Thursday

The Kashmiri-American Council will hold a discussion on India-Pakistan relations at 8 AM

The Wilson Center will hold a discussion at 8:30 AM on “African Growth and Opportunity Act Civil Society Forum 2010 “A Decade of Progress in Bridging the U.S.-Africa Trade Gap””

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Improving the Federal Gov’s Foreign Language Capabilities from 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM

The hearing, “Examining the Implementation of Iran Sanctions
will be held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee featuring Amb. Stuart Eizenstat and Mark Dubowitz  from the FDD event on Tuesday. 10:00 AM

Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism will be held at the  Heritage Foundation, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

CATO will hold an event on “Strategic Counterterrorism: The Signals We Send” from 12:00 PM –

MEI will hold a special presentation of “Photography through the Eyes of Saudi Arabian Woman” at 12:00 PM

New America will hold a talk on Public Opinion in Pakistan from 12:15 PM – 1:45 PM

CSIS will hold a talk on global public health at 4:00

For Friday

The Wilson Center will continue its Africa event from Thursday at 8:30 AM

The Kashmiri-American Council will continue its event on India-Pakistan at 9:00 AM

At the State Department: New America’s Steve Clemons and Special Rep. to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith Discuss the Notion of “Muslim Community”

The State Department’s “Conversations with America” is, according to the Washington Note, designed to provide “an opportunity for [State Department officials] to discuss a range of issues, important issues with people within the United States and around the world.”

In a conversation at the State Department, Steve Clemons from the New America Foundation and the Washington Note sat down with the Special Representative fo Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, for a dialogue on engagement with the Muslim community.

First and foremost, both Farah and Steve urged people to go beyond the notion of the “Muslim Community” (although her title doesn’t do so…) and see Muslims as a diverse group of people with different desires, cultural backgrounds and ideologies.

“I am extremely optimistic about what’s possible and the energy and passion of young people,” he said of the youth in engaging the Muslim community. While most see it as monolithic, the State Department has made it its goal to go beyond the cookie cutter image.

Farah noted that a vast majority of Muslims live outside of the Middle East and in Western countries, so the notion of the “Muslim World” vs. the “West” is an error in and of itself. She said Muslims are represented in most, if not all, forms of the federal government in the U.S.

One issue that has created this divide with the “Muslim World” so to speak is the issue of Israel and Palestine. Because some groups in the Middle East have strong feelings against Israel for one reason or another, they also associate those feelings with the United States although the U.S. doesn’t always agree or support Israel’s actions.

“People have high expectations of the President,” Steve said of Obama’s treatment of the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Farah said this question comes up ALL the time: “It’s not just a Muslim question–it’s a human question. They’re watching carefully to see how negotiations are going. I think there’s no doubt that this is a priority to the President—there’s an envoy to the Middle East. But you cannot push fast something that’s taking time to develop.”

While the White House can create special envoys to address different Middle Eastern relationships, she said it’s also the responsibility of other organizations (Education, Health, Economic, etc) to build those bridges too. Clemons cited Tomorrow’s Youth Organization and the Cherie Blair Foundation as two examples.

Farah said the media should also do its part in representing Muslim groups that aren’t radical or show animosity towards the West.

“There are 1.4 billion Muslims, and a vast majority of them are not represented in mainstream media,” she said. She discussed a number of examples of Muslim groups working towards change in their communities, including a youth radio station that aims to push back against violent extremism.

Since 9/11, it’s true that certain Muslim communities felt isolated or targeted because of their beliefs, and those feelings reemerged when a Mosque was going to be built near Ground Zero in New York City. Clemons said because this tension still exists in some pockets of the country, it’s important for the U.S. to have an action program for Muslim communities in the U.S.

“I am more free as a Muslim here to talk about my faith in America than anywhere else,” Farah noted.

Farah noted an initiative that would fit into the communications, government and nongovernmental efforts to rethink engagement with Muslims in America. She said the State Department is developing a timeline of engagement with Muslims that details different initiatives and speeches promoting Muslim equality by past presidents and officials.

Farah noted that despite the common perception that Muslims have not condemned acts of violence against the U.S., many groups have spoken widely against religious extremism.

“Muslims are trying very hard to push away from those narratives,” she said.