Monday, September 23, 2013

Keeping Our Friends In The Muslim World

The majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists but remain convinced of America’s bad intentions. They see us as a disappointment and a threat.
By Jim Sciutto.
Courtesy Of Middle-East-Online
As the military conflict in the tribal areas grows more intense, many Pakistanis see their country descending into a war that they believe is of America’s making.

The situation in Pakistan demonstrates the mountain the US has to climb in the Muslim world.
America is faced with the task not only of fighting terrorists, but also of winning back a far larger segment of the population who see the United States as a greater threat than the extremists.

Today, a remarkable variety of Muslims believe in a grand Western scheme against Islam, led by America and bent on punishing Muslims for 11 September 2001. For them, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most pointed examples. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and America’s continuing relationships with Middle Eastern dictatorships are also cited as evidence. The increase in Islamic fundamentalism is an enormous problem, but for many Muslims, it is American policies, not religious beliefs, that drive their anger.

In Egypt, it’s Gameela Ismail, the wife of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour. The Bush administration encouraged her husband to challenge President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections – Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election in decades – but has barely protested since Mubarak sent him to jail soon after. For three years, she’s rallied for his release, with no help, she says, from US officials.

In Iraq, it’s the trauma surgeon who welcomed the US military with real hope. But after five years of piecing together the war’s victims, he now blames America for failing to deliver the type of country it promised him.

At times, he even suspected that the US planned the violence to justify a long-term military presence. The success of the surge has tempered that suspicion. But to him, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis have been too high a price for his country to pay.

In Iran, it’s the pro-democracy student leader, Babak Zamanian, who risks his life fighting for American-style freedom in Iran but wants no American help. In fact, he says the United States is hurting his cause by threatening war, which he believes strengthens Iran’s hard-liners.

Muslims have admiration for the American system. And polling consistently shows Muslims’ priorities mirror ours: family, economic opportunity and a political system they can participate in. It’s just that today they see us standing in the way of those values rather than promoting them.

34 American leaders from government, business and academia signed a report calling for a new kind of engagement with the Muslim world. Called Changing Course, the report recommends more diplomatic engagement, even with Iran and other adversaries, economic investment in Muslim countries to create jobs for alienated youth, the renunciation of torture and a new commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most of all, the report recommends diplomacy, not military force, as the primary tool for interaction with the Muslim world. This echoes the principal complaint I’ve heard from Muslims – that far too often they experience America only at the point of a gun.

But, why should we care?

This is not about the feel-good factor. It’s about advancing US interests. Many of our most important goals in the region – from keeping young Muslims from joining extremist groups, to promoting political reform, to fighting the Taliban in Pakistan – are impossible without local support.

While there are some in the Muslim world who will never be our friends and for whom military force is necessary – like the captured Al Qaeda fighters I have met – the majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists but remain convinced of America’s bad intentions.

They could be our friends, but today see us as a disappointment and a threat.

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