Thursday, July 26, 2007

Some questions regarding the Latest Pew Global Poll. I have been reading and thinking about this Pew global poll for the last two days. I shared with a handful of friends/colleagues to see their opinion too. We all seem to be skeptical--I am talking about the Middle East section. Don't get me wrong. I think it is not necessarily intentional, but there are serious problems. When Americans take their polls and surveys overseas, problems arise (in translation and in methodology). My best example is from one massive study by University of Michigan's Ronald Inglehart who has done more global surveys than anybody. But in his massive book, Human Values, which contains the results of global surveys, people were asked how they feel about having Muslims as their neighbors. According to the study, more than 90% of people in Turkey said that they would not like to have Muslims as neighbors. That leads you to believe that some misunderstanding, or mistranslation happened along the way. Many questions (like ones about suicide bombings) don't translate and the methodology needs to have section for the language of each region or country. I want to know how questions were translated. It says that in the section on Lebanon questions were asked in Arabic, (and in French and Arabic in Morocco). Who did that? Some of the polls are subcontracted, and some polling firms in Lebanon (from either side) can obtain the results that you want. If I compare the survey with all surveys in Lebanon, it just does not make sense, especially about attitudes to Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, Hizbullah, etc. Of course, there is no unanimity on those issues, but the results just don't make sense. On Palestine, Ali for example observed to me: "As for the finding that only 60% of Palestinians see Israel as the greatest threat. I think that is just bizarre. I have no idea what that is measuring." And what really aroused my suspicion are attitudes to Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah. And when ask about attitudes to Saudi Arabia: how do they phrase the question? The words "favorable" and "unfavorable" don't translate easily into Arabic. Do people think of Aljazirah (as in historic Arabia) or do they think of the government? I just came back from Pakistan (can I tell you about my experience with lizards there?) and I can categorically tell you that I don't believe that a mere 9% of people in Pakistan support suicide bombings. I told you that I felt strong negative vibe in the audience when I spoke in a relatively moderate Muslim audience (at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad) against suicide bombings. It was clear to me at least there is a sense of a near unanimous support for them. Also compare the results with the result of a 2002 poll by Pew in Pakistan. I also find it hard to believe that there is more support for suicide bombings in Jordan and Nigeria than in Lebanon. Take the issue of attitude to Bin Laden. Some 38% of people in Pakistan express confidence in Bin Laden, and yet only 9% find suicide bombings (the specialty of Al-Qa`idah) to be justifiable? Does not make sense there. I also believe having read the methodology that the fact that the poll was conducted in face-to-face interviews mars and distorts the results. People in those countries are less--far less--to express themselves freely when they are talking to a group of strangers asking them questions that clearly sound Western-originated. Even phones are tapped in those countries, so you have to look at those results with a bag of salt and peppers. And when you look at the question on perception of US military threat, the picture becomes clearer. In that section, you find the attitudes in the region are rather close in condemnation or fear of threat. Here, people may feel more feel to express themselves as opposed to questions on Bin Laden where the wrong answer can get you in jail or in Guantanamo. The question on Hamid Karzai is telling: because again there are no penalties if people express negative views as opposed to the wrong answer on Saudi King. And according to survey, there are more favorable ratings for Hizbullah in Ethiopia than in Lebanon: even if you factor in the changing opinions in Lebanon and the rise of Sunn-Shi`ite conflict, Lebanese public opinion draw a different picture. And then you look at the appendix of polls to be released later, and you discover that "the very favorable" ratings of Hizbullah are higher in Kuwait than in Lebanon. Also notice Q55 on page 145: 74% of Lebanese consider Israel the biggest threat, while 43% consider Syria the biggest threat, and some 38% consider US the biggest threat. OK, I need to go now.
PS The successor to Hurra TV, Al-Arabiya TV, has this headline: "King `Abdullah is the most popular at the Arab and Islamic levels according to an American study."