December 29, 2006
Something is rotten in the state of Islamist politics
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is one of the two most prominent leaders in Sunni Islam. He might not have the stature of the pope, but when he speaks, people listen. So what does he think is the chief objective of every Muslim?
Could it be:
- Being a good person, and living in harmony with one's neighbors?
- Following the five pillars of Islam?
- Defending Prophet Mohammed against slanderous attacks by enemies of Islam?
If you correctly guessed C, you win nothing - the first two would not have merited a mention here.
The offenderati are clearly not going away anywhere. The last link is full of quotes by speakers at a prominent conference claiming that Islam is under attack, and that it needs defending against its conspiring enemies. These speakers might have asked for peaceful action, but there are plenty of people who believe otherwise speaking in smaller rooms without getting quoted. And the consequences have often been deadly.
So the real question is one of how to engage in dialog with people who have very little faith in your motives. Clearly, dealing with the Mubaraks of the region hasn't been a successful strategy in this regard. It might always be possible for someone to stand up and make absurd claims about what the West 'really' wants. But how does one convince the bulk of a population that this is not the case, and do so with sufficient firmness that anyone making outrageous claims loses credibility? Who does one enage in dialog? And when your credibility is so low, who will listen? How do you overcome the obstacles posed by the media of a state that does not find it to be in its interests not to cooperate with you?
I don't claim to have all the answers. I'm not sure if there even is a good solution. But I suspect that one policy that could partially alleviate suspicions would be to set up various types of assistance programs. In Indonesia, for instance, perceptions of America improved dramatically after US help with tsunami relief. Such programs might not work if they come in exchange for large political concessions- too many countries are already accused of being puppet states.
Perhaps Western countries could offer help with a large, but uncontroversial and apolitical project in any country of concern. Build and run a medium-sized port requiring minimal paperwork to appeal to businessmen. Train farmers and give them fertilizers if you want to get on the good side of the peasantry. Announce full/partial university scholarships to the top 100/1000 students in a country, and build a friendly future elite. Projects need not be particularly costly (tens of millions of dollars spread over multiple years, with the costs borne by multiple countries). What is important is that they succeed. More important still is that they be seen to succeed, and get associated with sponsor countries. A huge media campaign should ensure that everyone knows who built what, and that they asked for nothing back.
Pie in the sky? Very possibly. But if you have a better idea, the author would love to hear it.
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They defend the prophet, but not god. Interesting.
It's really about My Guy's Bigger and Better Than Yours, isn't it?
Posted by: secretdubai at December 31, 2006 04:43 PM
A god that needs defending is not very strong.
As for a better idea: destroy capitalism.
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at January 1, 2007 10:47 PM