Mon, 07 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Tsunami aid boosts U.S. image in RI: Poll

Reuters, Washington

American aid to tsunami victims has produced the first substantial shift in public opinion in the Muslim world since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, reflecting more support for the United States and less for Osama bin Laden, according to a poll released on Friday.

The poll of 1,200 adults in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, showed backing for bin Laden has dropped from 58 percent in 2003 to 23 percent today.

It also found that 65 percent of Indonesians view the United States more favorably after the superpower provided military logistic support and millions of dollars in private and government aid for relief after the Dec. 26 tsunami.

The poll was carried out by the Indonesian pollster Lembaga Survei Indonesia and commissioned by Terror Free Tomorrow, a U.S.-based non-profit group that seeks to defeat global terrorism by undermining the support base that empowers extremists.

"This is a stunning turnaround for the United States in the war against terrorism," said Kenneth Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow, which claims endorsements from Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, former chairs of the U.S. 9/11 Commission, and others.

"This is the first major shift in Muslim public opinion since the Sept. 11 attacks ... (and) the American response to the tsunami had a profound effect" on the poll results, he told a program at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Ballen said the poll showed for the first time ever in a Muslim nation that more people favor U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism than oppose them (40 percent to 36 percent) and that people opposing U.S. anti-terror efforts declined by half, from 72 percent in 2003 to 36 percent now.

Ballen said he would leave this weekend to conduct more extensive research in Indonesia on these issues.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the acknowledged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 aerial attacks on the United States, has eluded capture and is generally thought to be in hiding along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks dramatically revealed the depth of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, the United States has been debating ways to improve its standing.