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Is America the 'good guy'? Many now say, 'No.'

(Page 8 of 9)

"The view from the Old World seems to be that this is an American war on American enemies, not a universal struggle against evil" wrote Kenneth Pollack, director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, commenting on the poll results.

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Behind that view, which is common outside Europe too, lies a sense that Bush has not offered the world a vision of what he wants everyone to fight for, beyond asking them to fight against "evil."

In its pursuit of terrorists worldwide, America has lost sight of its larger role as a global leader, complains Wilfrido Villacorta, a professor of international relations at De La Salle University in Manila. "As the only superpower with global responsibility [America] must use its leadership to address pressing problems like poverty, the deterioration of the environment, and the promotion of free trade," he argues.

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In the Arab and Muslim world, there is one cause above all others to which people want America to commit its leadership: an end to the Palestinians' plight. But few there have any hopes for the current administration, and many see the "war on terror" as a war on Islam. Any invasion of Iraq would be bound to foster even deeper resentment. "It will have a negative impact," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told the Monitor this week.

From Morocco to Medina and beyond, the idea of America as the "good guy" is considered laughable, given Washington's sturdy support of the Arabs' traditional enemy, Israel. On the contrary, parts of Osama bin Laden's message resonate, even with people who deplore almost everything about Al Qaeda.

That's the case with Selcuk Yilmaz, who runs a cellphone shop in Istanbul's hectic Taksim Square. "Osama bin Laden says something: America will not be comfortable if the people of Palestine will not be comfortable. That's just right," he says, as Turks and tourists browse for phones and bring their vacation snapshots to his Kodak counter.

"If a Muslim is harmed, every Muslim has a problem," he adds. And current US policy, he believes, "is a war against the Muslim people."

That perception is especially dangerous, worries Mostafa al-Feqi, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's foreign-affairs committee. "The Americans should talk more to the world, should talk more to Arabs and Muslims," he urges. "We want the layman in the Muslim world to know that Americans are not against his religion."

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David Welch has felt Muslim anger at firsthand.

In 1979 he was a junior diplomat at the US Embassy in Islamabad when false rumors of American involvement in an attack on the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Islam's holiest site, inspired a Pakistani mob to invade the embassy compound and set it alight, using gasoline from the motor pool.

For six hours, Mr. Welch and a hundred of his colleagues cowered in the embassy's metal-lined security vault as the heat ignited glue beneath the floor tiles. Eventually he was rescued.

"I carried a dead marine off the top of that embassy that night," recalls Welch, now the US ambassador to Egypt. "I was told they hated us back then, too."

Today, he finds himself dealing with another outburst of anti-American feeling, albeit less immediately life-threatening. But neither the assault on the Islamabad embassy nor Sept. 11 has prompted any outward sense of repentance about America's role in the world.

It is time for America to listen, he says, but also to be heard. Fighting terrorists does mean taking "a look at the swamp in which these guys operate," he accepts. But Arabs, he insists, must "look at themselves a little bit and say 'What is it that we do that might be putting more putrid water into this swamp?' "