Monday, October 27, 2003
In his latest article in Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria is worried about Muslim perceptions of the U.S.:
President Bush’s commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations only 12 percent of respondents surveyed believed that “Americans respect Arab/Islamic values.” Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists. To address the problem the commission suggested amajor reorganization of the American government, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and the creation of a new cabinet position. I have a simpler, more urgent suggestion: fire William Boykin.
I am not familiar with all the details of the Boykin flap, and I value Mr. Zakaria's opinion quite a bit, but one one point, he needs be set straight: the Muslim perception that Americans don't respect Arab/Islamic values is entirely correct. This applies just as much to the warmed-over hippies at this weekend's "peace" marches as it does to the most strident neocons -- more so, in fact. Where "Arab/Muslim values" are distinct from American values, we get practices that Westerners would never accept for their own societies -- be they relatively harmless ones like avoiding pork and alcohol, or sickening atrocities such as female clitorectomies, honor killings, and "martyrdom operations."

This is not to say that Americans don't respect Muslims, or the Muslims' right to practice their religion as they see fit, complete with its harmless idiosynchrasies. But there is a difference between respecting one's right to hold different beliefs, and sharing those beliefs. Simply put, Americans are at best indifferent to Arab/Muslim values -- but the more we learn about them, the less indifferent (and more hostile) to them we become. (Except for the "non-judgemental" part of our population, whose own values prohibit them from judging those of others. Of course, such an attitude is itself anathema to Arab/Islamic values, which is the crux of the whole problem.)

Not that we should apologize for this. As the good Dr. Mahathir Mohamad mentioned as the OIC conference, the Muslims hardly get bent out of shape over respecting Western values. And frankly, ours have done a helluvalot better. So perhaps they should be asking us how we feel about Arab/Muslim respect for our values. Though first, may I suggest muzzling a certain Malaysian Jew-hater...


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