In one corner of the Islamic world, humanitarian efforts from
American marines and civilians dramatically improved Muslims' view
of the United States, according to a recent survey from a Washington-
based nonprofit group.
The Terror Free Tomorrow organization focused not on a Middle
Eastern country, however, but on the world's most populous Muslim
nation - Indonesia. Conducted roughly a year after the devastating
2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the poll found that Indonesians "with a
favorable opinion of the US" has nearly tripled in the past three
years - something experts attribute to American reconstruction
efforts in the hardest-hit Aceh Province.
But in order to sustain the feelings of goodwill, the US will
need to make broader foreign policy changes, say analysts and Muslim
"You don't need to hug Indonesians to death," explains Dewi
Fortuna Anwar, a former presidential adviser on foreign affairs.
"But the US does need to be more even-handed in its dealings in the
Middle East, [and] more sophisticated in its dealings with the
The poll of 1,177 Indonesians in late January found that those
"with a favorable opinion of the US" jumped from a low of 15 percent
in May 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq, to more than 44
percent in January of this year. A similar poll released by the Pew
Research Center in June last year also said tsunami aid had changed
Indonesian opinions of the US.
"The military aid [after the tsunami], humanitarian help, and
private philanthropy ... boosted the image of the US," says Djoko
Susilo, a legislator on parliament's security commission, noting
that "even rich Indonesians" don't generally give money to such
Terror Free Tomorrow commissioned the poll as a follow-up to a
January 2005 survey that found a significant increase in Indonesian
support for the US.
"I was very surprised," says the organization's president,
Kenneth Ballen. "In a year that's included Koran desecration and the
ongoing war in Iraq, you'd think support would have fallen."
Instead, the percentage of Indonesians reporting a favorable view of
the US was nearly the same a year later.
The 2006 poll, conducted by the respected Indonesian Survey
Institute (LSI) also said "support for bin Laden and terrorism has
dropped to its lowest level since 9/11." In addition, the percentage
of Indonesians with very unfavorable views of the United States fell
from 48 percent two years ago to just 13 percent in January.
Saiful Mujani, an LSI researcher who supervised the January poll,
credits intense media coverage of US humanitarian aid for the shift
in opinion. In December 2004, just weeks before the tsunami, Mr.
Mujani completed a separate survey finding that "anti-Americanism
was still strong. …