Global poll finds most think America brought terror attacks on itself

Click to follow

Did America somehow ask for the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington?

Did America somehow ask for the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington?

Not surprisingly, nearly all leading Americans think not. But most people of influence in the rest of the world, and nearly 80 per cent in the Middle East and Islamic world, believe that, to a certain extent, the US was asking for it.

This is the most striking finding of a poll exploring global attitudes to the United States and the events of 11 September, which brings out an important subtext of the tragedy and its aftermath – the difference between how Americans think they are seen, and the way the rest of the world sees them.

The survey by the Pew Research Centre, the Princeton Survey Research Associates and the International Herald Tribune newspaper, was conducted among 275 people of influence in politics, media, business and culture.

Forty of them were in the United States, while 235 were in 23 other countries, and they were asked to reflect the views of their compatriots.

In America, only 18 per cent considered that "US policies and actions in the world" were seen as a main cause of the attacks. Elsewhere, that rose to 58 per cent, and to 81 per cent in the Middle East and the area around Afghanistan.

While 70 per cent of the Americans questioned believed that the United States was seen to be considering its partners' interests, an almost identical proportion elsewhere said that Washington was seen as acting unilaterally.

All the Americans felt that no one would regard the US as having overreacted to the terrorist attacks. By contrast, 40 per cent of those interviewed elsewhere reckoned the war was seen as an overreaction, a figure rising to 60 per cent in the Islamic world. Only minorities, even in Europe, thought their people would support the anti-terrorist offensive being extended to countries such as Iraq and Somalia.

But the most interesting themes that emerged were a barely disguised resentment at America's massive power in the world, and a gulf between Americans' views of how the world sees them and the world's actual feelings.

From its closest allies, in Europe, to the Middle East, Russia and Asia, a uniform 70 per cent said people considered it good that after 11 September Americans had realised what it was to be vulnerable.

Most striking, though, is the gulf in perceptions. In countless speeches, including by President Bush, American spokesmen have portrayed the war as a battle between good and evil, with the terrorists bent on destroying America's way of life. Its position as a beacon of freedom and democracy, Americans believe, is the reason the rest of the world most admires their country.

But this is not so. The biggest appeal of America lies in its technological prowess, large majorities of those interviewed in the rest of the world said. A majority of Americans said people believed the US was admired because "it does a lot of good around the world".