The United States of America, since the end of World War II, has believed itself to be a world “superpower.” However, at the turn of the millennium, that title seems to have outgrown its welcome. The United States, over the past fifty or so years, has placed missionary to those nations in need of a democratic government. However, while the United States may have had the best interests at heart, or even on the surface, this foreign policy needs to be “revamped” to meet the needs of the international community, if the United States is to continue playing the Superman card.
In the “War on Terror” the Untied States begins a new round of undertaking in soil untouched before, at least, in the invasive manner it has been affected by. However, instead of forcing their power onto the nations being affected, the United States should adapt their foreign policy to this region, and understand its dynamics, rather than tailoring it to be biased and therefore fueling more radical perspectives of the people. Instead, the United States has formed a biased foreign policy towards the Middle East that negatively portrays Islam, and radical Islam groups have gained support from the legitimate people who are affected by the United States foreign policy and are in need of an outlet to react to the oppression, and thus, the foreign policy of the United States has backfired. However, there is a way to develop American foreign policy to be adaptive to the principles of Islam, and therefore, the Muslim world.
The current foreign policy of the United States that has developed over the past five years is undeniably questionable. During the current administration, there is overwhelming sense of evangelicalism that has fueled the biased view of Islam (Benjamin). A radical example of this viewpoint come from remarks made by General Jerry Boykin, who told a church group that he was sure America would prevail in the struggle against Bin Laden because “my God was bigger than his.” Boykin has made his viewpoints widely public, in an effort to rally support for the war in Iraq. Additionally, as Boykin is a General in the United States Army, he also serves a representative of the American foreign policy.
However, the main problem with the current United States foreign policy is not that it includes an, although not explicitly stated, religious perspective, but that the policy on the “War on Terror.
However, the original foreign policy problem actually catalyst the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, actions, which are the supposed reason for the “War on Terror.” The missionary style of United States foreign policy forces other nations, for which the government is attempting to “relieve” from danger or conflict, are forced to surrender to American ideology (Eland). And although these nations may be exposes to positive aspects of American society, such as individual liberty, rule of law, and economic prosperity, it also, unfortunately, this ideology includes exposing nations to the worst traits of American culture, including materialism, militarism, and racism (Zunes). This American culture, grounded in capitalism, creates more desires and social pressures; presents an emphasis on individual choice that weakens traditional male authority; and liberal sexual attitudes. In the communal emphasis of Islam, such “individualism borders on amoral and unethical behavior” (“Resentment has fostered a violent clash of cultures”).
This exposure, opposition to American individualism, and the history of the Western approach to the Middle East, has created an opportunity for militant groups to gain support and public legitimacy to oppose American supported regimes. From the time of the Crusades through the European colonial era to the ongoing bombing and sanctions against Iraq, Western Christians have killed far more Muslims than the reverse (Zunes). Given the history of the relationship between America and the Middle East, the United States government, and policy of military threat and force, punitive sanctions and retraction from the United Nations, and its support of oppositional governments result in the reaction that has been characterized of religious extremism (Zunes).
Additionally, the reform proposed by American forces it equates reform with pro-Americanism, and therefore it inhibits those who engage Muslim societies critically to submit their critique freely without the fear of having their views misappropriated. And similarly, this criticism is misconstrued to replicate opposition, which works effectively with the logic of the War on Terrorism (Ghamari). The current United States foreign policy uses the logic of terrorism, whereas intimidation and violence are considered to be effective means of political engagement (Ghamari). The current policies repress the very people on behalf of whom they profess to speak, and allow regimes of political extremism be characterized as religious extremists.
Both the United States government and the media have exaggerated these extremist groups to represent all of Islam such as Al-Qaeda, rather than revealing the majority of Muslims in the Middle East, which are considerably moderate. For example of the media’s role in these exaggerations, look at the role of the press after the arrest of seventeen adolescents in Toronto, the international media identified them as ” Muslim Terrorists” (Khawaja). Gwynne Dyer, a Britain-based journalist, also pointed out that:
“there is no shadowy but powerful network waging a terrorist war against the West: the whole thing is a fantasy.” Europeans are well aware, of Baader-Meinhof Gang (German), Red Brigades (Italy), and Red Army (Japan), but no one calls them Christian or Buddhist terrorists. Why? Simply, because there are Christian or Buddhist, not Muslim. The “War on Terrorism” is a war against Muslims and to control their natural resources under the American Empire, and nothing else.”
However, the expansion of radical Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and beyond is what has forced political Islam to be the primary concern of United States foreign policymakers. And unfortunately, this attention has strengthened the “ugly stereotypes of Muslims already prevalent in the West,” despite existence of more moderate groups and separate movements that are more influential as radicals in the political life of Islamic countries (Zunes). And despite the fact that the majority of Muslims oppose terrorism and the predisposed stereotypes of the media, such “popular misconceptions about Islam and Islamic movements—often exacerbated by the media, popular culture, and government officials—have made it particularly difficult to challenge U.S. policy,” (Zunes).
Nevertheless, United States foreign policy can be changed to be adaptive to Islam. To be able to respond effectively to what is happening within the Middle East, the American government must understand why there have are a minority of extremist ideologies and violent tactics adopted by Muslims. When a group has lost their identity, because of foreign occupation, war-induced relocation, collapse of a national economy or another reason, people want to embrace something that can provide purpose and worldview, which can help rebuild lives (Zunes). Similar to the rising of the Nazi party in post-World War I Germany, Muslim extremist groups have preyed on the innocence of the individuals struggling to restructure their lives, especially in Afghanistan, after the Soviet Union abandoned the territory in the late 1980s. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and Middle East editor of Foreign Policy In Focus, stated in a article prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that “the roots of Islamic radicalism stem from economic inequality, military occupation, and authoritarianism. Given that U.S. policy in the Middle East and elsewhere has often perpetuated such injustices, responsibility for the rise of radical Islamic movements can often be traced to the U.S. itself.”
Additionally, the United States lacks sustainable strategy to confront religious extremism in the Muslim world. Policymakers do not recognize that the challenged is in both the West, but also in the ideological shifts within the Muslim world, and these shifts and have caused a question in the future of Islam as a civilization (Maghraoui).
For the American government to adapt its policies to Islam, it must revert away from using totalitarian force and threats of violence to encourage pluralism and democracy within the Muslim world. By doing so will then further allow the United States to support sustainable economic development in the Islamic world, therefore benefiting foreign investment and globalization which can be distributed with nominal social chaos (Zunes).
Additionally, to challenge the threat from radical Islamic movements, the American government must shift the focus of its foreign policy from attempting to defeat radical Islamic movements to engaging in policies that discourage such groups from forming. Also, the United States must recognizes that not all Islamic groups and movements are opposed to the development of political pluralism or other initiatives to form good relations with the American government.
To effectively challenge the threat from radical Islamic movements, the U.S. must shift its focus from trying to crush such movements to pursuing policies that discourage their emergence. Similarly, the U.S. must recognize that not all Islamic movements are contrary to the development of political pluralism or good relations with the United States. Political Islam has substituted where there have been failures of many other ideologies have tried to free Islamic countries from unjust political, social, and economic systems from Western imperialism (Zunes). Those radical movements that the United States remains so opposed to are not without merit; every action is due to a reaction, and in the case of radical Islam, it may be a reaction to overbearing foreign polices from the West. The U.S. must stop considering Islam to be the enemy and instead encourage Islamic movements by working for justice and economic equality (Zunes). “American policy could tip the balance between extremist and modernist interpretations of Islam and seize a great opportunity for constructive engagement. The U.S. strategy should be to support the renewal movement, which could reform Islam and mobilize Muslim constituencies against religious extremism,” (Maghraoui).
If the United States could do so, then it would optimistically lead to a variety of other conclusions. The Anti-American sentiments that exists the Middle East would eventually be quieted, and American worries about Islamic radicalism would be eased. Furthermore, this would allow the Untied States to revert back to a sense of isolationism, in terms of military combat, which would appease concerns about the stress of war on the American economy.
To develop a foreign policy that is applicable to both the goals of democracy and Islam, on behalf of the United States, would end a multitude of problems facing modern day Islam. The current policy restricts the abilities of the Muslim world within the Middle East to form reformist groups and not be considered radical extremists, calling for an adaptation of American foreign policy.
“Resentment has fostered a violent clash of cultures.” Understanding the Conflict: U.S. Foreign Policy. 2001. The Seattle Times. 26 Apr 2007 .
Benjamin, Daniel. “The Book Club: Debating American Islam.” Slate. 24 Jan 2007. Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC. 20 Apr 2007 .
Dyer, Gwynne. “The international terrorist conspiracy.” Jordan Times 06 June 2006. Common Ground News Service. .
Eland, Ivan. “The Harvest of Messianic Foreign Policy: Anti-U.S. Radical Islam .” The Independent Review 23 May 2005 20 Apr 2007 .
Ghamari, Behrooz. “How Bush’s War on Terror Has Helped to Silence Reformers Across the Middle East.” Counter Punch 07 Dec 2004 22 Apr 2007 .
Khawaja, Mahboob A..”Terrorism Myth: The ‘War on Terrorism’.” Global Research 25 June 2006 20 Apr 2007
Maghraoui, Abdeslam M.. United States. United States Institute of Peace.American Foreign Policy and Islamic Renewal. Washington, DC: GPO, 2006.
Zunes, Stephen. “U.S. Policy Toward Political Islam.” Foreign Policy In Focus. June 2001. 20 Apr 2007.