US Election 2016

US election 2016: What does 'Islam' think of America?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the CNN, Salem Media Group, The Washington Times Republican Presidential Primary Debate on the campus of the University of Miami on March 10, 2016 in Coral Gables, Florida. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States

"Islam hates us," Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said in a CNN interview on Friday.

Mr Trump later stood by his claim in a televised debate in Miami, saying: "There is tremendous hatred, and I will stick with exactly what I said."

It led to an outcry, with Senator Marco Rubio launching an impassioned defence of Muslims.

There are clearly some radical Muslims who despise the US and other Western countries - including those who carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

But what of Donald Trump's claim that Muslims in general hate the country?

No major polling agency has yet asked whether respondents "hate" America. However, several have measured broad sentiment among the world's 1.6 billion Muslims.

The Pew Research Centre, which surveys global attitudes, said anti-Americanism was strong around the word around the time of the US invasion of Iraq.

However, currently there is little evidence of profound anti-American sentiment except for in a handful of countries, it says.

Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew, says sentiment towards the US varies widely between Muslim-majority countries.

"We tend to see more negative sentiment among Muslims in the Middle East, such as those from Egypt and Jordan," he says.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Obama's two terms in office have seen a general improvement in perceptions of the US among Muslims, Pew Research Centre says

"But Muslims outside the Middle East generally have a more positive outlook," he adds.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, 62% of people hold a favourable opinion of the US, Pew's latest data suggests.

That figure rises to 80% in Senegal, a country which is over 90% Muslim. Mr Stokes points out that this is a stronger approval rate than Germany.

"Attitudes have also been changing over time. We've seen a gradual rise in positive sentiment since President Barack Obama came to power," Mr Stokes says.

"Even in the Palestinian Territories, where sentiment is 70% unfavourable, that's an improvement on 82% in Barack Obama's first year."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pakistanis tend to have negative opinions of the US, but experts argue this has more to do with politics than religion

The BBC World Service commissioned its own poll of global attitudes in 24 countries in 2014.

Among other things, it asked respondents if they thought the US "had a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world".

Pakistanis generally held the worst view of the US, with 61% saying the US had a negative influence.

But both China and Germany were not far behind, scoring 59% and 57% respectively.

Turkey, almost 98% Muslim, was split between 36% positive, 36% negative and 28% neutral.

Doctrine or diplomacy?

Dalia Mogahed, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?, say religion is not the key driver of anti-American sentiment in Muslim-majority countries.

"It's nothing to do with religion and everything to do with policy," she says.

In Pakistan, for example, anti-US sentiment spiked by 7% in 2011, the Pew data shows - that was the year in which the US launched a raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, which many Pakistanis saw as an infringement of their national sovereignty.

"Also, compare Muslim sentiment towards America with sentiment towards Canada. Our neighbour to the north shares our dominant culture and religion but not our foreign policy. And global Muslim opinion towards Canada is generally very positive," Ms Mogahed says.

In the end then, it comes down to an old statistician's staple: Correlation does not imply causation.

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