11/27/2006 - Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Turkey this week may well test the scholarly pontiff's diplomatic skills. The visit--his first to a Muslim country since being elected pope--comes during a difficult period in Turkey's relationship with the West. In Europe, a heated debate surrounds the granting of EU membership to Turkey. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has created new strains for Turkish-American relations. And of course, the September controversy over Benedict's remarks regarding Islam at Germany's University of Regensburg has only added to these tensions.
A recent Pew Global Attitudes survey, conducted in April 2006, finds that public opinion in Turkey reflects this contentious atmosphere. For example, only 16% of Turks have a favorable view of Christians, down from 31% in 2004 - a sign of the challenges Benedict may face in trying to promote interfaith dialogue.
Turks generally have negative opinions of major Western countries, especially the United States. Only 12% of Turks have a favorable view of the U.S., down from 30% two years ago. American foreign policy is extremely unpopular - 70% say the Iraq war, which Turkey fears will further embolden its own Kurdish minority, has made the world more dangerous and 77% oppose the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
However, France does not fare much better - 61% say they have an unfavorable view of France, while only 18% hold a favorable opinion. Germany, home to a large number of Turkish immigrants, receives somewhat more positive marks, with Turks divided between those with favorable (43%) and unfavorable (41%) opinions.
Western leaders are remarkably unpopular in Turkey. Only 3% of Turks say they have a lot or some confidence in President George W. Bush to do the right thing in world affairs. While Bush is the most unpopular Western leader included on the survey, France's Jacque Chirac (5% a lot or some confidence), Britain's Tony Blair (7%), and Germany's Angela Merkel (11%) are not far behind.
Read the full poll analysis Turkey: Troubled Terrain for Pope Benedict on the Pew Research Center Web site.