Tuesday, May 27, 2008

American Preponderance in the Muslim World

Bush Speech Joint Session

President Bush, in his speech to a Joint Session of Congress following 9/11, declared:

On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country....

The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinction among military and civilians, including women and children.

These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.

We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except the will to power -- they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies....

Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.
The president's speech engendered a huge academic, political, and religious debate on "why do they hate us?"

Is it truly our values, our way of life, our liberty that causes global Islamic anti-Americanism? It's no doubt some of that, particularly as Western values holding the essential equality of women threaten the foundations of gender apartheid in Muslim authoritarian regimes, and so forth

But Muslim anti-Americanism's more complicated than that. Which is why the new survey data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project on Muslim views of the United States is extremely interesting.

Andrew Kohut and Richard Wike summarize the findings at the National Interest, and this section in particular caught my attention:

To a large extent, America is disliked in the Muslim world because of its power—and especially because of how it is perceived to be using it. Unrivaled since the end of the cold war and on the offensive since the 9/11 attacks, the United States is seen as a menacing giant, using its considerable strength without regard for others.

What's noteworthy is that when opposition to U.S. policy is broached in terms of power - it's not so much the Bush adminstration, but American preponderance that repels.

To take it further, if Americans elect Barack Obama in the fall, will global anti-Americanism decline? Will the Islamic world open its arms to a new president, one whose father was Muslim, and one who has proclaimed the goal of direct talks with our enemies without precondition.

Well, no actually. On religious grounds alone, Obama's seen as a Muslim apostate, and he's thus likely to cause extreme alienation among some Muslims who consider the Illinois Senator heretical for choosing Christianity over Islam. (It's not clear, moreover, for all the bluster and controversy, that Obama would actually enter into talks with our enemies, at least uncondiontionally, given the backlash to the candidate's views.)

But more importantly, U.S. power, for all the renewed talk about America's relative decline, will continue to cause unease among Muslim populations around the world. Sure, other issues are at play, like perceptions of a global religious struggle, the alleged Western threat to Islamic values, and not to mention inequalities in global wealth and economic mobility.

But as the survey shows, American power is key. The Islamic jihad against the U.S. really saw its most successful assault on the United States on September 11. Yet the desire to balance America's hegemonic power in Muslim populations preceded the Bush administration and it will continue long after the 2008 election.

These are some facts that the kumbaya advocates on the liberal internationalist left might do well to think about.