When it comes to Islam, America’s tradition of religious tolerance hurts us. We stumble over our words trying to project respect for all beliefs, even those that spawn violent extremism. It would be more realistic to just admit that Islam will prove time and again to be uniquely suited to cultivating intolerance and violence.
Can Kerry cope with Islamic extremism?
As John Kerry prepares to take over for Hilary Clinton, we might get a glimpse of where things are headed from a remark he made at the beginning of the Obama presidency about another senator and a film cast as anti-Islam:
As we gather here today, a Senate colleague of mine is reportedly hosting a screening—in the Capitol building itself—of a short film called “Fitna” that defames a faith practiced by 1.3 billion people.¹
We heard similar comments from the president last year when the U.S. was blamed as the source of an anti-Islam film after Americans were murdered in Benghazi (see: Appeasement Policy Shows Tolerance for the Violence of Muslims). How do our public officials justify defaming America on the grounds of religious tolerance for a notoriously intolerant faith?
When religious tolerance sows death.
Americans who died in Benghazi, Mali, and on 9/11 no longer have to worry how many people practice the Islamic faith. We shouldn’t, either. The number of adherents to a religion does not justify the ways in which that religion is practiced, though in the case of Islam it may point to lots of problems on the way in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Given that Islam cannot be separated from politics in Muslim countries, the U.S. would be better off ignoring it altogether and focusing on the bad behavior, lest our inclination towards religious tolerance gets the better of us.
Our leaders still claim to believe that there are democratic solutions to problems in the Muslim world. We engage in tired, expensive, unproductive efforts at nation-building while apologizing for perceived slights to a theology with adherents who use their faith as an excuse to threaten us with death (see: Kerry, McCain, Lieberman Support Nation-Building. Lugar Gets It Right).
Nation-building in Africa wastes our tax dollars.
Most of us would probably have a difficult time locating Mali on a map, or explaining what the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership is, or why taxpayers should shell out the $32 million just requested by the White House to train troops in Africa. There is nothing new about the problems in Mali. There is nothing new about spending tax dollars to combat violent Islamic extremism in the Sahel, either, including the $353 million appropriated from 2005 – 2008² and efforts by USAID:
For example, USAID provided training and support in democracy and governance for elected local officials in Chad and Niger in remote areas. In addition, in Mali, USAID supports basic education programs in schools to engage youths and promote messages of tolerance.³
We already know how much we accomplish by spending on foreign aid to promote tolerance and democracy, and to convince the Muslim world to like us. In Egypt it got us the Muslim Brotherhood. In Pakistan it made sure Osama bin Laden had a safe haven.
In a UN address in September 2012 Secretary of State Clinton talked about violent extremism in Africa, skirting references to the religion behind the bloodshed and civil insurrection:
Ultimately, our perspective is that strengthening democratic institutions must be at the heart of our counterterrorism strategy. It is democracies that offer their citizens constructive outlets for political grievances, create opportunities for upward mobility and prosperity, and are clear alternatives to violent extremism. And their success offers a powerful rejection of the extremist ideology of hate and violence as we also saw in Benghazi last week.4
The question of whether the moral growth of Muslims precedes democratic political development has become irrelevant. The spread of Islam is accompanied by the spread of violence, but our leaders seem incapable of facing the elephant in the room and admitting that our Muslim allies happily stab us in the back whenever it suits them. Pakistan’s betrayal is just more business as usual. A government report on U.S. efforts to combat Islamic extremism found:
For example, in July 2005, a Treasury official testified before Congress that Saudi Arabia-based and -funded organizations remain a key source for the promotion of ideologies used by terrorists and violent extremists around the world to justify their agenda.5
Other troublemakers on the list included current hotspots Iran and Syria.6
This is how Islam will reward our religious tolerance.
We need to shed ourselves of the delusion that the U.S. has a viable fan base in the Muslim world that will precipitate change if we throw enough money at problem areas. We might want to stop blaming ourselves on the world stage, too, when violence erupts and fingers point at the U.S.
As Barack Obama took office, John Kerry talked about a “new chapter in our history”7 after returning from a trip that included Egypt and Syria:
At every turn, I heard a newfound willingness by people and governments alike to take a fresh look at America. This moment won’t last long, and we need to seize it.8
If that moment ever existed, it is long gone. Still, we have to give credit to our Islamic foes. They hate us, they let us know it, and they let us make fools of ourselves spending our tax dollars and accusing America of being part of the problem. Their strategy will pay off handsomely when Iran finally manages to develop a nuclear weapon and we find out once and for all just how much our religious tolerance is reciprocated by extremist adherents to Islam.