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Fundamentalism's Bait-and-Switch
Published on Tuesday, February 14, 2006 by the Progressive
Fundamentalism's Bait-and-Switch
by Ruth Conniff

The more I read about the radical Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoon controversy, the more I think our government has in common with Islamic states.

An article by Fareed Zakaria in the current Newsweek discusses the rebirth of radical Islamic movements in the Middle East.

"Some of these forces have gained strength because of a lack of other alternatives," Zakaria writes. "For decades the Middle East has been a political desert. . . . In much of the Muslim world Islam became the language of political opposition because it was the only language that could not be censored. This pattern, of dictators using religious groups to destroy the secular opposition, has played out in virtually every Arab country."

Or, as the New York Times points out in a Week in Review piece on Sunday, it is no coincidence that the Danish cartoon controversy gained a great deal of media coverage in Egypt right after the government's criminal negligence was on display in the recent ferry-sinking disaster.

Or, as a producer for Al Jazeera said in the excellent movie "Control Room," every time a water main breaks in Damascus, somehow we find a way to blame the Jews and Americans.

The reflexive hostility to the United States and Israel--and now Denmark and Norway, of all places--is part of an increasingly scary, violent extremism that goes beyond legitimate opposition to the war in Iraq, or other recent events, as Zakaria points out. Race hatred and intolerance are cynically fanned by regimes from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Pakistan that would just as soon keep the focus off their own shortcomings.

Talking about the evils of the United States and Israel is really “God, Guns, and Gays,” Islamic-style.

If Karl Rove were working for the governments of Egypt or Saudi Arabia, he would focus relentlessly on Danish depictions of Mohammed and American soldiers in Baghdad, and keep the news off internal repression and incompetence.

Defenders of real American values--not colonialism, cheap oil, and raw power, but democracy, free speech, and individual rights--should take a different view.

It would help us, of course, to stop producing recruiting videos for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

But we also need to talk about the rights of oppressed peoples to responsive, democratic government.

Zakaria concludes his piece by writing: "Give Bush his due. He has correctly and powerfully argued that blind assistance to the dictatorships of the Middle East was a policy that was producing repression and instability. But he has not yet found a way to genuinely assist in the promotion of political, economic, and social reforms in the region.. . . We have not yet managed to forge a real partnership with Middle Eastern societies."

Zakaria is no ingenue. But it seems naive to describe Bush as being on a genuine, if incomplete, campaign to nurture democracy in the Middle East. This Administration has no intention of pressuring Saudi Arabia to stop repressing women and guest workers, or to genuinely wean our dependence on foreign oil. U.S. calls for "democracy" abroad sound as cynical as election-year focus on abortion and gay marriage, while Baghdad still burns.

If we are going to reverse the dangerous trend of an increasingly hostile and divided world, we are going to need a government that has some credibility when it talks about democracy, and stops catering to the fundamentalists and zealots on all sides.

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs.

© 2006 The Progressive


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