'Against Us': 7 Years Later U.S. Image Still Toxic

If you want to understand the crisis of confidence the next U.S. president will face in the Muslim World, drop into any home from the bustling cities to the quiet villages and you'll hear that "extraordinary rendition," Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Iraq War (even post-surge) as widely accepted proof of America's continuing, calculated assault on Islam.

Still, I've seen some of the most disturbing evidence of America's toxic image among Muslims not in Damascus, Baghdad or Tehran but at home in Notting Hill in West London.

Beginning in July 2005, I learned that my neighbors are terrorists. After attempting to blow themselves up on the London subway, three young British Muslims were captured in an apartment just down the street from me (and around the corner from the Travel Book Shop where Hugh Grant's character worked in the movie "Notting Hill").

Two years later, after several men, all doctors, tried to detonate car bombs outside two London nightclubs, I learned some of them had addresses near mine as well. The liquid bomb plotters -- the ones responsible for the tiny bottles we have to take on airplanes to this day -- were from Waltham Forest, a dozen subway stops away.

What inspires young British-born Muslims to kill their fellow citizens today is the same perverse but deep-seated anger that drove the 19 hijackers seven years ago: a belief in a grand Western conspiracy against Islam, led by America and bent on punishing Muslims. The trouble is that today that conviction is stronger and more widespread. We still call it "extremism" but the thinking is very much mainstream.

'Strong Dislike to Hatred'

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, positive views of America among Muslims -- views that were already anemic -- have grown thinner.

Between 2002 and 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that America's favorability rating declined in 26 of 33 countries surveyed. Eight of the nine countries in which less than 30 percent of people rated the United States positively were predominantly Muslim: Turkey, Pakistan, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia. In more than 30 years as a pollster, Pew's Andrew Kohut said he has found no frame of reference for the decline.

"We don't have any experience with this. We never got the breadth of discontent with America as we have now," he said. "In other countries, it's disappointment, resentment, envy. Among Muslims, it ranges from strong dislike to hatred."

Today, that resentment extends to a remarkable variety of people -- many of whom we'd expect to be our allies.

In Egypt, it's Gameela Ismail, the wife of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour. The Bush administration encouraged her husband to challenge President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections -- Egypt's first in decades -- but has barely protested since Mubarak sent him to jail soon after. For three years, she's rallied for his release, with no help, she said, from American officials.

"After the situation with Ayman, the impression with everyone here is that they're playing," she said. "They're both playing. And they have their own calculations, very old calculations, and it's not going to change."

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