A couple of weeks ago, the Elliott School hosted a forum to discuss one of the most provocative, complex and important questions facing us today: Is there a clash of civilizations between America and the Islamic world?
The forum, co-sponsored by the group Americans for Informed Democracy, featured guests with impressive and influential backgrounds in media and politics. They included Gordon Adams, Director of the Security Policy Studies Program at the Elliott School; William Greider, veteran political journalist for publications including The Nation and The Washington Post; and James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute.
Given the collective gravitas of the panelists, I anticipated an exchange of insightful perspectives on an issue desperately in need of honest and critical evaluation. Instead, I witnessed an appalling exercise in equivocation and an intentional avoidance of uncomfortable facts.
I reserve most of my criticism for Zogby and Greider, as Mr. Adams’ contributions-while in keeping with the general tone of the discussion-were relatively benign.
The crux of Zogby and Greider’s evaluations is that America has created this “clash of civilizations” as a cathartic outlet for our cultural prejudices. By their estimation, our attempt to bring democracy to the Middle East is yet another example of America’s blind imperialist ambition.
When evaluating the situation between the United States and Islam, self-criticism is absolutely essential. The “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” axiom, which appeared essential in winning the Cold War, has clearly come back to hurt us. Henry Kissinger set us on a course of realpoliticking that led to the shameful propping up of corrupt despots, including, at one point, Saddam Hussein.
Clearly, if we are to effectively combat worldwide Islamist terrorism, this approach to foreign policy must end. To accomplish this goal, the U.S. and its allies must rid the world of both terrorism and the anti-democratic regimes that aid and abet it.
It is also essential the government and private citizens clarify exactly what we are fighting – not Islam, but its perversion. This requires an honest discussion of a question being put forth by a number of distressed Islamic scholars: what is happening in the Islamic world to create such a virulently retrograde movement?
Amazingly, the panelists conveniently avoided discussing Islamist terrorism, which – one would think – should be a central concern in this forum. Mr. Greider actually appeared more worried about the influence of Christian fundamentalism in America – a scary breed, to be sure, but not the ones who rammed planes into the hub of Western civilization.
At this point, I felt as though I had slipped into an alternate reality, a feeling Mr. Zogby confirmed with his endorsement of Saudi Arabia’s status quo. According to his polls, he said, Saudi Arabians don’t really care about having rights. I’d like to have seen that exchange: “Hey average Saudi Arabian woman, do you mind being a second-class citizen? No? Did that male chaperon influence your answer? No? Okie dokie.”
This cynical and willfully ignorant attitude insults the millions who have suffered under corrupt governments and at the hands of the terrorist groups on their payroll.
Zogby and Greider – quite appropriately – expressed concern over discrimination against Muslims in post-9/11 America. Yet they failed to address the widespread abuses of basic human rights which occurred under the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and which continue to occur in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Sudan. Instead of advocating reform, these men retreat to the lazy position of moral relativism – “who are we to judge when we’ve done so many bad things ourselves?” For the record, we’re talking about a region where stoning homosexuals and impure women is still done for sport. The last time I checked, this was unacceptable in America. One would think, as leader of the free world, we would apply our own standards of human rights to the rest of the globe – but I suppose this would be too “imperialist.”
The only real conclusion to be drawn from Zogby and Greider’s logic is that if we join the chorus of America-bashing, our responsibilities end there. These “progressive thinkers” are wearing a threadbare costume – they don’t offer any ideas of moving forward, because the sad truth is they don’t care.
It is absolutely true that our great power has led America to do some terrible things. But we have also used that power to do some truly good things. We remain the only nation able to positively influence other countries on a large scale. To blame only America for this “clash of civilizations,” assuming it’s not invented, as Mr. Greider believes, and leave it at that does not answer any questions. It only propagates the most poisonous type of cynicism.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in English.