Feeling Betrayed: The Roots of Muslim Anger at America

Feeling Betrayed The Roots of Muslim Anger at America

International Relations, Islamic World, Terrorism and al Qaeda

Steven Kull, Brookings Institution Press 2011 c. 275pp.


Though it has been nearly a decade since the attacks of September 11, the threat of terrorism emanating from the Muslim world has not subsided. U.S. troops fight against radical Islamists overseas, and on a daily basis, Americans pass through body scanners as part of the effort to defend against another attack. Naturally, many Americans wonder what is occurring in Muslim society that breeds such hostility toward the United States.

Steven Kull, a political psychologist and acknowledged authority on international public opinion, has sought to understand more deeply how Muslims see America. How widespread is hostility toward the United States in the Muslim world? And what are its roots? How much support is there for radical groups that attack Americans, and why?

Kull conducted focus groups with representative samples in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, and Indonesia; conducted numerous in-depth surveys in eleven majority-Muslim nations over a period of several years; and comprehensively analyzed data from other organizations such as Gallup, World Values Survey and the Arab Barometer. He writes:

“A premise of this book is that the problem of terrorism does not simply lie in the small number of people who join terrorist organizations. Rather, the existence of terrorist organizations is a symptom of a tension in the larger society that finds a particularly virulent expression in certain individuals. The hostility toward the United States in the broader society plays a critical role in sustaining terrorist groups, even if most disapprove of those groups’ tactics. The essential ‘problem,’ then, is one of America’s relationship with the society as a whole.”

Through quotes from focus groups as well as survey data, Kull digs below the surface of Muslim anger at America to reveal the underlying narrative of America as oppressing— and at a deeper level, as having betrayed—the Muslim people. With the subtlety of a psychologist he shows how this anger is fed by an “inner clash of civilizations,” between Muslims’ desire to connect with America and all that it represents, and their fear that America will overwhelm and destroy their traditional Islamic culture.

Finally, Kull maps out the implications of these findings for U.S. foreign policy, showing how many U.S. actions antagonize the larger Muslim population and help al Qaeda by improving their capacity for recruitment. He specifies steps that can mitigate Muslim hostility and draw on some of the underlying shared values that can support more respectful and, possibly, even amicable Muslim-American relations.

Advance Praise for the Book:

“Steven Kull’s Feeling Betrayed breaks new ground and is a must—read for academics and policymakers. It is an in-depth study of Muslim attitudes toward the United States. The findings culled from numerous public opinion polls and focus groups give an accurate picture of the concerns, hopes, and political and ideological inclinations of citizens in Muslim majority countries, which I have used during my work for the government and since.”
—Emile Nakhleh, former director, CIA Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, and author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World

“The democratic revolution throughout the Middle East compels the Obama administration to rethink U.S. policy to meet a profoundly changed region. Steven Kull’s excellent Feeling Betrayed provides the data needed to make informed policy. The book is written by the voices of millions of Arabs. We would be wise to heed their message.”
—Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

“I highly recommend this thoughtful and well-informed book. Steven Kull adds a unique perspective as a leading scholar of public opinion with a global view that helps place Muslim anger with America in a broader perspective.”
—Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland


Steven Kull, The Brookings Institute

Ordering Information

Paper Text, 275 pages
978-0-8157-0559-8, $27.95



Steven Kull, a political psychologist, is director of both the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and WorldPublicOpinion.org, an international project studying public opinion around the world. He also conducts international polling for BBC World Service. He is coauthor (with I. M. Destler) of Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism (Brookings).

DISCLAIMER:  A Celebration of Women has no affiliation with this publication, and is sharing this information for the express purpose of education.



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