President Bush might as well have asked Karen Hughes - his friend and longtime political adviser - to hold back Hurricane Katrina, because he has assigned her an equally impossible task. In naming Hughes undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, the president wants her to improve America's image abroad and specifically in the Muslim world.
The Bush Administration believes that image has been distorted and the message concerning what America stands for is not getting out. The problem with this thinking is that the Muslim world's position regarding the United States is rooted in fundamental political and most especially religious doctrines that will not be changed by people many of them regard as "infidels" and worthy of death.
Take Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population. Three Christian women were given three-year prison sentences in West Java earlier this month after they were convicted of "enticing" Muslim school children to become Christians. The parents of the Muslim children had given permission for them to attend Sunday school classes in private homes.
None of them converted, but the hosts are going to prison for speaking of their faith in front of Muslim kids. How does America combat such a mentality through political "missionary trips" and television commercials? Asked another way, has the public relations campaign by some Muslim organizations in America converted us to the belief that they and Islam are mainly peaceful and interested in religious and political co-existence?
Some Muslim clerics and Web bloggers have been gloating over the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. They say it is Allah's judgment on wicked America. It is unlikely people of such persuasion can be convinced of America's goodness.
Here are two of many examples of this line of thinking. In a Sept. 2 sermon on the hurricane that was broadcast on Sudan TV (transcribed and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute), Sheik Al-Karouri said, "If America wants to maintain what is left of its civilization, it must free itself, as we say in Sudan, from the curse of the Jews. . The curse of Israel has affected America. . The state (sic) called New Orleans is no longer 'new' at all. . If people want their countries to prosper, they must make peace with Allah and avoid disputing Allah and His prophet."
"Al-Qaida in The Land of the Two Rivers" issued a statement that declared, "Congratulations to the nation of Islam on what befell the worshippers of the cross."
How does one counter this? How can an "infidel" like Karen Hughes or any other American say or do anything (short of removing U.S. support for Israel and converting en masse to Islam) that will change these minds?