Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2005

A New Beginning: Strategies for a More Fruitful Dialogue with the Muslim World

Craig Charney, Nicole Yakatan

May 2005

Council on Foreign Relations


Focus group research in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia has shown that it is possible to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. Although many Muslims are angry at what they perceive America does, the right efforts to communicate can produce significant shifts in attitudes. Such efforts would involve listening more, speaking in a humbler tone, and focusing on bilateral aid and partnership, while tolerating disagreement on controversial policy issues. Fortunately, a window of opportunity has opened with the Iraqi elections, renewed hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace, tsunami relief, and developments in Lebanon and Egypt, as well as the start of a new administration in Washington. This moment, marked by an easing of tensions and the arrival of new actors on both sides, offers the possibility of a new beginning in America's dialogue with the Muslim world.

This research took place at a time of cautious optimism in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia, reflecting new leaders and reforms they have launched. Even the December 2004 tsunami has not dampened hope in Indonesia; relief efforts have promoted national unity there instead. People in all three countries, however, are dissatisfied with their growth rates; joblessness, inequality, and, in Indonesia, foreign debt worry them. They see the keys to economic success as being education, a strong work ethic, less government intervention, and adherence to the rule of law, and they largely recognize the need to open up to world markets. None wants to go back to an idyllic Islamic past or to exclude girls or women from schools or jobs.