Sunday, March 26, 2006

Uneducated Muslims Pose Major Threat to West

They belong to a religion - Islam. There are over one billion adherents of Islam, and these Muslims outnumber Christians. They dominate from North Africa through the Middle East to south central Asia and east Asia - a vast and heavily populated geography. They live largely under authoritarian political regimes and under the supervision of clerics who have had little extra-theological education or life experience. Their allegiances have been shaped by a long history of tribal and religious sectarian conflict, and they are relate more to sectarian boundaries than to national boundaries.

Many of us know and respect Muslims who live in the West or have exposure to western culture. They are educated and peace-loving, generally speaking. They live side by side with those of other faiths, and they have dialogue where they find many areas of agreement even in areas of faith. Yet these people seem to be a small minority of the one billion Muslims. The remainder, who are influenced primarily by fundamentalist, controlling clerics, represent a major problem for the western world.

The West is responsible exacerbating the hard line beliefs of uneducated Muslims. For hundreds of years western colonial governments and western nations' foreign policies supported authoritarian governments in countries that were largely Muslim. The resulting repression enabled the clerics to become the primary hope, and voice, for the people. When life was hard, a hard religion became the only refuge for the suffering population. The clerics taught a "black and white" version of Islam that mirrored the "black and white" version of Christianity found in western fundamentalist churches. We are now facing a huge population of people who have been fully indoctrinated in hate for western customs, and for western governments who they feel continue to keep them in a state of poverty. Our support for the Shah of Iran is an excellent example of how western-supported repression resulted in the creation of an Islamic theocracy that hates us.

The violence we see in suicide bombings, beheadings, and torture emanates from the harsh history of these poor Muslim regions. Because they lack political, economic, or military power, the most angry of these people resort to terror power that is often approved by the clerics as a legitimate means to obtain their desired political and religous ends. This willingness to use terror, and the trend toward harsh Islamic law in areas where democratic elections are held, is tending to enlarge the gulf that currently separates the western countries from the Islamic nations. Reconciliation will not be easily achieved, but it is the only long term answer to developing a more peaceful world.

A two-part strategy may point the way to reconciliation. First, the West must support democracy in countries dominated by Muslims, and provide visible support to these governments in areas where their programs are positive. At the same time, the West must insist on freedom of the press, religious freedom, and non-religious laws and judges in these countries. Pressure must be put on the fundamentalists when their teachings cross the line, and religiously-dominated governments must be held to account when their actions infringe on basic human rights.

In the meantime, western countries must remain extremely vigilant to ward off the terrorist threat posed by the most anti-western of the Islamists. Their hatred has built up over many years, and it will take many years to overcome. Keeping these people away from us is the only way to minimize the damage they are intent upon doing inside our borders. Whether the Republicans or the Democrats are in power in the U.S., both need to be fully aware of the risks posed by these implacable Muslim enemies, and act accordingly.

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