President Bush took his case for freedom, democracy, tolerance and "respect" for Islam to the United Nations. His speech was eloquent at times and uniquely American in its plea for understanding and help in freeing people from oppression in the Middle East.
The only problem with the speech was that most of the oppressors and who knows how many of the "oppressed" see us, not themselves, in bondage to the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. They see even those who claim to be professed believers in God falling short in the way they live; and witness our "decadence" on constant display in our media.
Those critics may be right in their indictment, but they are wrong in their proposed solution, which is the forced subjugation of all to their supposedly "pure" form of religious belief. Forced belief does not persuade people to love God with their hearts, any more than a forced marriage creates love for another human being. God and relationships must be freely chosen to be meaningful and herein lies the fundamental difference in world views. One sees their God as an angry enforcer who needs goon squads to whip people into line. The other sees God giving humanity free will with blessings and consequences for each choice, but with ultimate judgment reserved for Himself.
This is the great chasm that confronts the world.
Adding to this dangerous clash of civilizations is the need by despots to have an enemy in order to escape accountability for failing to improve their own societies. This is true not only of despots in other lands (today and in the past), but demagogues in our own.
People who ignite religious and political flames do so to augment their own sense of power and place. It is about controlling others and acquiring political power. It is also about raising money. One can never succeed in brokering peace or the power would subside, the influence wane and the money dry up. Imagine what would happen if racial harmony suddenly broke out in America. The self-appointed civil rights hustlers and race baiters would have to find honest work. The preachers who speak more of the kingdom of this world, rather than the one that is not, would have to return to the Gospel and focus less on the Republican (or Democratic) Party. They would have to close their offices and lay off staff. Their White House invitations would cease, as would offers to appear on television. Who wants to labor in obscurity and humility when the glare of the spotlight and the comfort of the limousine beckon?
President Bush has been consistent in his comments about Iraq and Iran. He did not deviate from previous remarks in his U.N. address. This consistency - along with rapidly falling gas prices - has had a positive effect on his approval rating, now at 44 percent, according to the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll.
The real test remains to be taken and passed. Will "moderate" Muslims step up and begin isolating the fanatics? Will Muslim seminaries and Islamic religious leaders issue "fatwas" that not only state the use of violence is contradictory to the way and will of God, but that murder is a one-way ticket to Hell instead of a trip to heavenly virgins?
It is one thing for President Bush to say the United States is not at war with Islam, but what if Islam sees itself at war with the United States, indeed the entire West? That's what one hears from various imams, Arab and Islamic media and sermons throughout the world. Jews are referred to as apes and pigs and Christians are called cross-worshippers and crusaders. Jews and Christians don't riot when slandered, but Muslims do at the smallest perceived slight. That is not an example of a developed religion or a developing society. That is medieval.
One nation can declare war on another, but can it un-declare war when its adversary has declared war on it? I am not optimistic that the words of President Bush will have much influence (or even be heard) in the part of the world that demonizes him and calls the United States the "Great Satan."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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