A poll of 28,000 people carried out for the BBC World Service found that a majority of surveyants from around the globe believe the main causes of problems between the West and Islam are not based on religious but political and economic factors.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that, in a study that "is bad news for radio shock jocks and clash of civilization theorists," 52 percent of those polled said conflicting interests were the main cause of tensions, while 58 percent blamed "intolerant minorities" on both sides for causing most of the problems.
Despite the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the debacle in Iraq, and tensions between Islam and other faiths that are frequently highlighted by politicians and the media, most people remain optimistic.
While the world's problems are seen as fundamentally political and economic in nature, most of those polled in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe also blamed intolerant minorities for stirring up tensions.
The BBC reports that Doug Miller, the president of GlobeScan – the company which carried out the poll for the BBC – said the results suggested that the world was not headed towards an "inevitable and wide ranging clash of civilizations."
"Most people feel this is about political power and interests, not religion and culture," he said.
He pointed to the polarisation of communities in Nigeria [which was the one country in the survey were a majority see religion as the main cause of conflict] as a warning sign to others, but hailed the results from Lebanon, a country frequently caught up in conflicts.
Some 78% of Lebanese strongly believed West-East tensions were politically motivated, while 68% felt common ground could be found between the West and the Islamic world.
WorldPublicOpinion.org, a website of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which promotes public awareness of international affairs and took part in the BBC study, reports that while 28 percent of those surveyed said conflict was inevitable, twice that number believe that common ground can be found between the West and Islam.
The minority of people who believe that tensions between Islam and the West arise from differences of religion and culture are much more likely to believe that violent conflict is inevitable compared to those who think the problem derives from issues of political power or intolerant minorities.
A belief that violent conflict is inevitable is somewhat more common among Muslims (35 percent) than Christians (27 percent) or others (27 percent). But overall, 52 percent of the 5,000 Muslims surveyed say it is possible to find common ground, including majorities in Lebanon (68 percent) and Egypt (54 percent) as well as pluralities in Turkey (49 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (47 percent). Even in religiously divided Nigeria, a large majority of Muslims (63 percent) believe it is possible to find common ground, while Christians are divided on the question. Only in Indonesia do a slim majority (51 percent) of Muslims take the view that violent conflict is inevitable.
The Inter Press Service reports that educational differences played a role in determining people's opinions. While those who said they had no formal education tended to be less supportive of the idea that common ground could be found (46 percent), two thirds of those with education believe that it was possible.
Countries with the largest majorities believing that Islam and the West can find common ground included Italy, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and France (69%). A majority of Americans (64 percent) also believe that common ground can be found, while 31 percent believe that conflict is inevitable.
In an interview with Voice of America, Mr. Miller of GlobeScan said that the survey results also show most people would back efforts by their leaders to find practical solutions based on "the values shared by all communities."
"I think it is clear that more moderate leaders have the support, and on both sides, [and] that likely peacemakers are going to come to the fore," said Miller.