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McCain was right about (at least) one thing: It should be plainly obvious to us that we Westerners (and Americans in particular) are not loved in the Muslim and especially in the Arab Muslim world.
It wasn’t just the reaction by the Arab street when 9/11 happened (some even celebrated, although the reaction was generally more evenly divided between those who considered the attacks justified and those who condemned it). It wasn’t just the anti-European reaction to some Danish cartoons. It wasn’t just the murder of the American Libyan ambassador and the common reactions of the Arab street and Arab leaders (condemning primarily the awful nutcase movie, and only secondarily the murders). It wasn’t just the regular demonstration in Pakistan against the US or the fact that “The Elders of Zion” was a hit movie in the Arab world, or that Islamists destroy art that they consider inappropriate.
The illness is deeper than the symptoms. These societies are neither our friends nor are they ready to be our friends. We are “used” by some of their factions when convenient and discarded when not. They fund an army of lobbyists in Washinton DC, thinly masqueraded as independent think tanks. They play us. That’s it.
Of course, it isn’t that Muslims and Arabs are different kinds of human being. It isn’t that we don’t have many individual Muslim and Arab friends. We have many. But our friends are not strong and vocal enough to be able to stand up to the overall climate of extremism and intolerance in their countries. And when they do, they often get killed. And a significant part of the street celebrate the murderers without much opposition.
It is also not that Muslim societies are intrinsically incapable to adapt to modernity. Turkey is almost ok (with the exception of their laws that disallow open conversation about Armenian and Kurdish history). Many years ago, even many Arab societies were moving towards an open Western orientation, although this has regressed. The kinds of societies that are not ready are those in which Salafi-type hardline Islamist views are strong and widely tolerated (instead of actively fought). It is impossible to be a modern Salafist.
For the US to become genuine friends with any societies, we need their masses to be outraged when our modern values are violated, not when their medieval values are violated. (I use medieval not in a derogatory sense, but in the sense that we had similar values in the West in medieval times.) Most Muslim and Arab countries today are just not ready for modernity. Maybe they have to live through their own renaissances (and for a few centuries) before they come around to change their views. Maybe they never will. Maybe the masses just do want to be left alone and live how they are living now.
The differences in perspective between us are profound:
We are offended when we see discrimination against women and minorities. They are offended when we stand up for equal rights and tell them how to treat women and minorities. We are offended if the penalty for converting a Muslim is death. They are offended when it is not. We are offended when criminal penalties (e.g., for murder) depend on the religion of the murderer and victim. They refer to the Koran and its interpretations to tell us that this is what Gd commands. We are offended when someone is punished for tearing up or desecrating books. They are offended when the penalty for tearing up the Koran is not death. We are offended when someone is punished for insulting the prophet (e.g., Salman Rushdie, who also offered very insightful views on NPR). They believe it is acceptable for this offense to deserve capital punishment. They think parents should decide who their daughters marry and when. We believe it should be the daughters who decide for themselves–and only when they are at least 18. We believe honor killings are criminal. They believe they are justified. We believe there should be no penalty for adultery. They believe it should be death. We believe there should be no penalty for being gay and/or gay sex acts. They believe it should be death. We believe anyone should be able to speak out in favor or against gay lifestyle. They don’t believe in such discourse. We believe in separation of church and state. Our universities teach primarily secular studies. Their universities teach primarily the Koran. This colors the outlooks of our and their elites differently.
Although some of these are negotiable in moderation (e.g., separation of church and state; and laws against some intentional incitement), most are not. There simply is no middle ground on many such fundamental issues. Moral relativism is just wrong, from both perspectives. We are not willing to change our constitution to prevent our nutcases from making bad or offensive movies. They are not willing to change their constitutions and attitudes to guarantee such rights to all. Our nutcases will horribly offend them, often intentionally so. Their nutcases will try to kill the infidels that break their sacred rules and those that condone and protect them (i.e., us). And sadly, they seem to have even more nutcases than we do.
Some would argue that we should compromise. We shouldn’t offend. But they are missing the point. When we do compromise, we give up our values and adopt their’s. We have lost our right to free speech without fear. I am not fond of tearing up the Koran, but I am fond of everyone having the right to tear up any book they want. I am not fond of offensive movies and cartoons, and would stand up for the right of Muslims to demonstrate against them (although this will only raise their profiles), but I would also stand up for the right to show them.
Until their societies and cultures are ready for modernity, our societies and cultures should disengage. As much as possible. Escape our dependence on oil, even if it costs us cash (and it won’t cost us half as much as it costs us now, if we take into account that oil dependence is driving our aggressive foreign policy). Let their medieval societies and attitudes develop how they want to develop. Follow the Star Trek Prime Directive as long as there is not overwhelming majority consensus in those societies that they share our values and want our help. They will be happier. We will be happier.
We can offer refuge to those who want to escape into modernity–but not those who want to bring medieval views to our shores. Europe brought on itself an Islamic ghetto hostile to modern views.
Unfortunately, we are doing exactly the opposite. We support many of their tyrants and factions. We invade their lands. We tell them what they should do, only to be shocked that they don’t. We buttered $1 trillion and many American lives into Afghanistan, and we get complaints and threats and warnings. (In fact, we can’t even blame them for doing this. They have a point.) But we are damned if we do, and we are damned if we don’t.
Of course, my rant does not just apply to Arabs and Muslims. It applies to everyone and all countries who live in the past and do not share our modern values. It especially applies to those who condone violence in the name of their own values. It applies to some Chassidic Settler Jews, the real IRA, and other political extremists, too. It’s just that the many Arab societies today are the best examples.
Yes, these societies will suffer when we disengage. Without a reduction in birth rates (necessary for a Demographic transition to wealthier economies and ultimately to modern views), without modern attitudes, and with corrupt demagogues as leaders, these societies will remain poor for centuries. Frankly, it’s terrible, but there is really nothing we can do. We tried. We failed. We can’t drag them into it over the opposition of large minorities.
To disengage, we need to be more careful who we let into our country. We should make it a prerequisite of getting a VISA to enter the United States that the applicant understands and fully agrees that women and minorities have equal rights here, that everyone in the US has the right to insult their beliefs (especially including their religion), and that everyone in the US can burn and desecrate any books they wish–including not only the Bible (both Old and New Testament) and the Koran, but also the US Constitution and the US Declaration of Liberty. If this offends them, we should not let them in. The interview should be conducted by a minority female, if possible, and, if there are doubts, she should tear up a few pages of every holy books and lifestyle manual around–not because they are bad, but to make the point that we believe in the right of free expression without fear.
Maybe we will then no longer be considered the fools that we are.