Friday, October 26, 2007

U.S. Relations with the Muslim World

This is really a tough problem, and one which occupies the foreign policy establishment and defense department. U.S. foreign policy is often governed by mirror imaging, which amounts to Americans believing that foreigners see us from the same vantage as we see them. This is a huge problem in understanding the attitudes and actions of Islamic states. U.S. policy makers largely deal with Arabs and other Muslims in the world of Western educated elites, suits and ties, good manners, and excellent English, leaving Westerners with the impression that they are just like us. But in the Muslim Middle East, Muslims dress in flowing robes, adhere to Islamic doctrine and practices, and often loath the West for its sexual decadence. Our so-called strategic ally, Saudi Arabia, has underwritten the construction of mosques around the world and fostered an extremist, anti-Western rendition of Islam in Wahabiism. Muslim uprisings have infected Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Our supposed ally in the war against terror, Saudi Arabia, does not permit Christians or Jews to openly practice their religion in its territory. Indeed, it is a crime to bring a Western bible into Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and Western Europe, dependent on the production of Saudi oil to keep the high price of oil from going even higher, make no attempt to secure reciprocity of religious freedom for Western residents in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East.

There is no meaningful separation of church and state in Islamic countries (save Turkey). This puts Western countries in an asymetric relationship with Islamic countries. Islam is tolerated and accepted in the West, while Christianity and Judaism are rejected in the Islamic world.

Hand-in-hand with the rise of Islam is the decline of mainline Christianity in the U.S. Here are some figures on the Catholic Church. Between 1965 and 2007, the number of diocesan and religious priests fell from 5,632 to 41,440. More alarming is the more than fifty percent fall in priestly ordinations, from 994 to 456. Graduate-level seminarians declined from 8,325 to 3,274, religious brothers from 12,271 to 5,015, religious sisters from 179,954 to 63,699, while the number of parishes without a priest increased from 549 to 3,238. Apart from Spanish-speaking parishioners, church attendance is way down.

The War in Iraq

Just when the U.S. military is reporting progress on many fronts, new crises in Iraq seem to emerge. U.S. military forces have empowered the Kurds in the north, which has emboldened the PKK, the Kurdish rebel group seeking greater autonomy for Kurds in Turkey, in killing Turkish soldiers. Turks regard PKK rebels as terrorists, and have tired of these attacks. The Turkish parliament has authorized massive military measures to halt these attacks. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops have moved to the Turkey-Iraq border and some are carrying out military operations on Iraqi soil.

The Turkish government demands that the Iraqi government and the U.S. take whatever measures are necessary to put down the rebels. This amounts to the threat of another front in Iraq. It might be recalled that the invasion plan for Iraq included moving a large number of U.S. troops from Turkey, a plan that was thrown off track when the Turkish government refused its permission.

Democracy in Pakistan?

In late October, Pakistan was riven with maneuvers among rival political groups in Pakistan, including supporters of Benazir Bhutto, President Pervez Mushariff, and radical Muslims. The U.S. government has weighed in with its support for democratic elections. Evidently no one in power can recall what happened when Hamas won the election in Gaza, when the Muslim Brotherhood picked up seats in Egypt, and Hezbollah became a major player in Lebanese politics. The U.S. government should be careful what it wishes for given a stock of several hundred nuclear bombs in Pakistan that could fall into the hands of anti-Western forces.

Getting Serious with Iran

The U.S. government announced new financial sanctions against several factions inside Iran and has been trying to mobilize leading foreign governments to support strong efforts to dissuade Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. President Bush has warned about a possible World War III if diplomacy does not succeed, and Vice-President Cheney has said that Iran must not be permitted to get the bomb, period. General David Petraeus has charged Iran with supplying sophisticated weapons to Iraqi militias and insurgents. The Israeli attack on a Syrian nuclear reactor site indicates the seriousness with which the Israelis regard the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Let’s hope for diplomatic success, but prepare for a nuclear-armed Iran.

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