Things are getting uglier in the Mideast. We strain western-trained brains to understand why as confusion and frustration build. After all, we’re the good guys. We dig wells, ship in foodstuffs, correct cleft palates. Why don’t they love us? Could it have something to do with the 11,874 civilian Afghan civilian casualties since 2007? Though many of those fell to the Taliban, Afghans prefer to hold foreigners responsible.
It does little good to negotiate peace treaties with Arab governments that have little control over splinter groups of radicals, many infiltrated by al Queda. In fact, any Muslim leader who co-signs agreements with Americans is labeled a friend of the West and will likely be killed.
African and Mideast Muslims don’t think as we do. They can’t. The Koran commands a way of life in line with the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings as set forth soon after his death in 632 A.D. We, on the other hand, up-date laws and values as society demands. Right or wrong, both sides can’t help but see issues differently. Given this reality, we should have expected the people of Islam to view our way as foreign and hostile.
Across the Arab Muslim world, the faithful speak Arabic reverently because it is the frozen-in-time language of their holy book. To say Arabs are related by both language and faith is to address a single issue because the Arabic language and the Koran cannot be separated. Muslims tell us that English translations just don’t cut it and that the poetry of the Koran can only be experienced in Mohammed’s Arabic of the seventh century.
If Christianity had taken a similar course, all of Europe and the Americas would be speaking the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Or the Latin of the early Church of Rome. French, Spanish, English, Germans, Icelanders, and other Christian nations would speak the same language. Though ethnically different, we’d be unified in language and it’s hard to overestimate the unifying impact of a common language and faith.
The so-called Arab Spring liberated whole populations from dictators. Since so many opposition leaders had either fled or were killed, few leadership cadres were in the wings to take over. It was the same in Argentina after Peron died. Once his absolute power was gone, lingering fear kept potential leaders from raising their heads. It was during that period that Dr. Abaca, head of Argentina’s fledgling Environmental Protection Agency said to me, “We’re still waiting for someone with courage to rise up to lead us.”
History is rich with post-overthrow periods of mob rule. Two reasons Spain was able to settle down so quickly after Franco’s demise was that a respected Spanish king was appointed to keep the peace. And Spain wasn’t awash in weaponry as is the Arab world. As Mao Tse Tung said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The Taliban and al Qaeda agree.
So here we are, trying to keep a lid on explosive situations while conservative Muslims everywhere reject all but the leadership of the Prophet, Mohammed. He is their foundation and core of their lives. Some Muslims might sneak peeks at forbidden internet porn or have an illicit drink or two but on average, they are stronger in their faith than nominal Christians. The word, Islam, actually means submission to the will of God and obedience to his law.
In gut-level power struggles, ideology always trumps money and military in the long run. Islam’s faulty notion that we’ve attacked their faith gives them a determined ferocity that defies our mission and resources. Though Islam suffers internal fractures, Muslims pull together to fight common enemies. That attitude is explained by a pair of Arabic proverbs; The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and the friend of my enemy is my enemy. Which helps to explain why Libyan and Egyptian radicals will jump to revenge the killing of Afghan Muslims by American drone attacks.
We’re also different from African and Middle-Eastern Muslims in that Americans come from every nation on the planet. With our mix of race, faith and life-experience it would take more than a wacko movie about Christianity to drive a cross-section of America to take to the streets. We’ve become partially immunized against mob action by practicing day-to-day acts of live and let live.
Peace between Christianity and Islam is not impossible. I once taught in a peaceful Nigerian school where the student population was half Christian and half Muslim. Not a problem. In Tanzania I witnessed a political system in which Christian and Muslim presidents serve alternating terms. Some tensions do persist but violent outbreaks are few.
But today’s situation has blown so far out of control that Western efforts to cool things down can only add fuel to the fire. The naïve trust that the America’s power and prestige might ensure victory in the Muslim world was criminally ignorant and most of our current problems trace back to that one misjudgment.
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