The Muslim Challenge to the United States

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The bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11th did not surprise me. For several years I have been telling friends that the biggest threat facing the United States was the schism between the Muslim world and the West combined with Muslim extremists’ possession of modern weapons. I had predicted that a truck heavily loaded with explosives was apt to be driven into the World Trade Center (again) or other such prominent United States structure and that chemical or biological agents were apt to be placed in the water supply of a major Israeli city. The 1993 World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombings had shown how much damage skilled amateurs could do.

The military response of the United States is necessary but not sufficient to counter such threats as it does not get to the root of the Muslim world’s two major sources of anger at the West, especially the United States: (1) Our frequent and sometimes extreme tilt in favor of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; and (2) Our undermining of Muslim culture via exporting our social, economic and religious views and practices to Muslim countries. To these must be added: the sanctions against Muslim Iraq which have led to the deaths of as many as 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians; the United States support of repressive Muslim secular governments; the long-term presence of United States military forces in Muslim lands; acceptance by the majority of people in the Muslim world of the vicious lie from their press-controlling governments that the Holocaust never occurred (“It is a lie to justify the Jewish land grab in Palestine”); and a sense of cultural humiliation when compared to an economically thriving, democratic Israel which is aggravated by the knowledge of past glories of their Muslim cultures. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chief advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, has said “We must first understand what pressures cause people to believe they are at a dead-end, that they have got nothing to lose and so become radicals. It is only by understanding these and going to the roots that we can counter terrorism.”

A major sector of the American Jewish community has formed a very effective one-issue lobby (preservation of Israel) with powerful influence over United States spending and policy in the Middle East. Despite Jews being known for their intellect and business acumen, the leadership of this lobby has failed international Jewry in recent years in two major ways: (1) When Muslims were being systematically murdered several years ago in Kosovo, they failed to vigorously press the United States government to intervene. This forfeited future creditability in use of the argument—“You gentiles should feel guilty for not having used your influence in preventing the systematic murder of Jews during WWII. The least you can do now to make amends is to support Israel.” (2) With the sharply increased alienation of Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Muslims from other geographical areas against Israel, combined with their access to inexpensive and readily deliverable weapons of devastating power, it had become evident that the continuing of the “tit for tat” war or the modest ceding of territory tactics was putting Israel into a no-win situation that could only get worse over time.

In addition to the forfeiture of the use of the “guilt” argument, the failure of the leadership of the Jewish lobby has two other consequences: (1) the risk of rekindling anti-Semitism if American gentiles draw a connection between the influence of the lobby and the September 11th attacks and (2) the very high probability of devastating Israeli losses from actions of “terrorists” from the Israeli viewpoint, or “freedom fighters” from the Palestinian viewpoint.

It may be necessary for the safety of the United States for the United States government to threaten to withdraw or very sharply reduce financial and military support from Israel unless they agree to a far-reaching settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, recognizing that all potential solutions carry major risks to all involved parties. This is unlikely, however, as the Jewish lobby has attained such influence over United States politicians that the politicians are afraid to press for even-handed dealings in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for fear of losing their elected positions. When politicians have advocated an even-handed approach, the Jewish lobby has used its influence to tilt elections against them. Such situations have been well-documented in the book They Dare To Speak Out—People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby by Paul Findley (Lawrence Hill & Co., 1985). A telling question demonstrating the power of the Jewish lobby is: “Why does the United States direct so much foreign aid to Israel/Egypt, as opposed to other hotly contested areas of the world such as Northern Ireland, Cyprus or Kashmir?”

Such a potential settlement might run along the following lines:

Some authority over East Jerusalem and the great majority of the West Bank (without the intersection of Israeli military roads) be ceded to the Palestinians. United Nations personnel might be required at disputed holy sites and other locations. The Jewish settlers in what would become Palestinian controlled areas would be given protection for one year with the choice of then leaving or remaining under a Palestinian government.

Compensation, but not return to their former homes, would be given to families that fled in 1948 from what became Israel. United States funding would be required.

The insulting, demeaning social attitudes which many Israelis display toward Palestinians would have to be strongly discouraged.

Joint government activities such as the joint security patrols of Israeli and Palestinian police would have to be revived. Their past success gives hope that future cooperation may be viable.

Joint activities in the three great melting activities of music, sports and commerce would have to be encouraged.

United States and/or United Nations guarantees of Israeli safety.

The great majority of Palestinians would most certainly go for such an arrangement and, with Arafat getting along in years, he would probably support that action. Such a solution would pit Israeli secular and religious interests at odds and pose very serious security risks for Israel since Muslim extremist groups such as Hamas would not consent to it.. The question for the United States is “Without the pressure on our politicians from the Jewish lobby, what steps should our government take regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to further the best interests of our country?” It appears that the pressure from the Jewish lobby is such that this question is not being asked.

Switching away from Israeli-Palestinian issues, the October 1, 2001 issue of Business Week points out major factors influencing Muslim’s perception of America’s undermining of their culture.

Many Muslims view America as the infidel power that is spreading its permissive, secular culture. The United States is the Great Satan that pollutes the world with its pornographic cinema, its alcohol, and its equal treatment of women. America is also seen as the prop for corrupt, secular Arab regimes, and of course, Israel. Slow economic growth combined with unchecked population growth has increased poverty which has further encouraged people to switch loyalties to an Islamic belief system as they feel secular, liberal models have failed them..

The above issues are heightened by the worst of insults—lack of respect. “The Arabs sense they have been not only scorned by the U.S., but considered somewhat less than human” says political scientist Dan Tschirgi of American University in Cairo.

A wild card in the Afghan hostilities is that the Taliban may overplay their hand by engaging in barbaric acts. This could include mutilating captured U.S. soldiers and letting them return to demonstrate the Taliban’s disgust and disrespect for the U.S., while hoping to discourage Americans from pursuing their Afghan war effort.

A step that has been suggested for American forces to use in Afghanistan is to supply the Afghan people with video players and cassettes describing the September 11th events and showing world leaders, particularly Islamic leaders, condemning terrorism.

If America is to offset these highly negative and widespread views of itself in the Muslim world, it must take a hard look at itself, and then be willing to take those steps which it honestly can to change itself and repair the damage which has been done. Despite its best efforts, some important differences and issues will remain.

Fortunately we have been through such an endeavor before and, although it took much time and some pain, we were fairly successful. Our experience is the black civil rights movement and white America’s response. Key to success now with Muslims, as it has been over the last thirty years with black Americans, is getting to know them better as fellow human beings who deserve respect.

Briefly, here are four steps to begin a rapprochement with the Muslim world:

A television series educating Americans on Islam’s origins; the spreading of Islam; and Islam as a religious, political and cultural force today;

An affirmative action program in America for Muslims;

Exchange programs;

Adding Arabic-speaking officials as spokespeople.

Once such programs have been initiated, proposition ben Ladin and other militant Muslims: “We challenge you to divert your funds and energies to productive activities such as education and health care.”

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