By Raby Ould Idoumou
Despite terrorists’ efforts to spread a negative image of the West, people in the poorest Sahel countries hold a positive perception of the other.
This was one of the key findings of a survey published by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre on December 7th.
To reach the conclusion, the centre interviewed 45,000 people in 48 countries in the Muslim world, Europe and the United States. Respondents of Muslim origin were asked their opinion on Westerners, and those of Western origin were asked their opinion on Muslims.
Senegal, Mauritania and Mali have the most positive view of the West. Senegal topped the rankings with an index of 88, Mauritania at 84 and Mali at 82.
Tunisia ranked 6th with an index of 75, Morocco is 14th with 66, and Algeria secured the 18th place with an index of 65. Libya is among the lowest, occupying the 41st place with 66. At the very bottom of the rankings are Yemen (44), India (40), Pakistan (38) and Afghanistan (36).
The poll is expected to be annual, aiming to measure the relationship between Islam and the West, said Dalia Mogahed, director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies.
This survey is essential to measure the understanding of Muslims in the West and vice versa, Mogahed added.
The findings come at a time of increased security concerns in the Sahel-Saharan region. Western countries have declared the region a red risk zone and warned their citizens against traveling there as a result of kidnappings by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Journalist Atwal Amr Ould Mohamed commented that a survey of this kind did “justice to the poor countries that suffer from biased media campaigns neglecting the real substance of the cultures of these peaceful peoples”.
“Mauritania leading the Islamic countries in terms of positive perception of the West was no coincidence, for the Mauritanian people are characterised by a large degree of freedom and tolerance,” international correspondent Atwal Amr Ould Nagib said. “I do not think that it is because of poverty that Mauritania was classified at the top of the list, but because of the spirit of conciliation characterises Mauritanians descended from the desert.”
For his part, political analyst Mokhtar Salem said that “Mauritania always remained more attached to a positive view of the West, and Mauritanians even reconciled with France, which colonised their country and looted their wealth”.
Mahfoud Ould Aljawad, a media official in the youth organisation in the Tawassoul party, said that Islam prohibits hatred of the other and urges respect, appreciation and sympathy.
“The Mauritanian people are a people that do not harbour hatred and hatred of the other as a result of their nature and peaceful Bedouin make-up,” he concluded.