Americans Support a Foreign Policy that Targets Terrorism's Roots

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July 23, 2009
Suraj K. Sazawal

When examining the results of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' July 2008 survey on U.S. foreign policy, a remarkable thing stands out- Americans are in agreement. 

Some findings from the survey:

  • 98% say it is important to improve America's standing in the world.
  • 96% say it is important to combat international terrorism.
  • 92% say it is important to combat world hunger.
  • 88% say it is important to promote and defend human rights in other countries.
  • 72% say helping poor countries develop their economies is a measure to assist combating terrorism.

Unlike many issues being parsed on Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street, Americans are unified on addressing the systemic causes of terrorism, including reducing global hunger and promoting human rights. The results demonstrate the American public understands the motivation for committing acts of terrorism does not originate in a vacuum. Instead, the conditions that force families to endure extreme hardships, limit opportunities and deny basic liberties and political freedoms have often been the driving forces behind extremism.

That is why another finding from the survey is less encouraging. 70 percent of those polled said they do not want the government supporting humanitarian aid programs operated by Muslim charities. Unlike Christian and interfaith groups, which both received over 50 percent approval, Muslim charities are viewed by many Americans as part of the problem rather than as an ally in the fight against terrorism. 

Underlining this belief is the perception that American Muslim charities, and charities overall, are vulnerable to be co-opted or abused by terrorists to raise funds. This is unfounded and inaccurate. According to the Department of Treasury's own statistics, fewer than 1.5% of organizations listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) are U.S. based nonprofits and charities, including American Muslim charities. Rather than fueling the violence, charitable aid and relief programs reduce the symptoms that lead to global terrorism. And as the results of the poll show, that is exactly what Americans want.