Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Evangelicals hijacking American foreign policy?

Rod's grandmother died last week and I attended her wake this weekend. Apparently, she often asked about me. Rod and I are friends from way back. MAGNET days, as a matter of fact. We spent a few hours talking afterwards over some decent take-out Chinese food. Bemoaning our progress with girls and relationships, which has long been the standard fare of discussion, and the rapid advancement of our age without commensurate life achievement, which is becoming regular fare. Much by my insistence, we also talked about the election and politics.

Rod, you see, is a Muslim and very familiar with South East Asia and the Middle East. He's globally connected, as an academic and a natural businesman, in a way I never could be. He just spent about a year or so in Yemen and Syria.

Rod is not an ABB hate-mongering moron, yet he was greatly depressed by Bush's election victory. I pressed him, and he painted a bleak picture of how US interaction in the ME has been interpreted regionally since 9/11. According to Rod, US and Jewish Israeli Zionists have been linked more closely than ever and regional democracy is viewed cynically, a buzz word for excusing American imperialist interests. Local democratic groups, meanwhile, have been suppressed by already oppressive governments, with the blessing of the US, in the name of fighting terrorism.

That's disturbing enough, more so because I understand what we're trying to accomplish in the War on Terror and the noble purpose our troops are fighting and dying for. I understand the complexity of what we need to accomplish in order to achieve the liberal goals of the mission. I understand how much we need to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in order to succeed. And it seems our enemy's message is being conveyed much more successfully than our message.

Rod is against Bush because of his deep belief that Bush is no more than a front for Evangelical crusaders bent on converting the Middle East. What sickened me the most is Rod's strongly held view that the whole democracy thing is a sham and that the war is all about Evangelicals on a proseltyzing mission to Christianize the Middle East. He even went so far to say that Evangelicals are as bad as the Taliban, an idea which he spread while he was over there.

In other words, even if a Muslim doesn't support Islamic extremists, he ought also to oppose the American mission because they too are religious extremists, Christian rather than Muslim. To him, the war carries the worst connotations of a Christian Crusade. That an American who I've known most of my life would spread this view worries me tremendously. Rod said things which would raise my hackles with anyone else. Coming from my childhood friend, I can't be angry at him, but it deeply worries and saddens me.

I tried to explain to Rod, lightly, that soldiers aren't missionaries and that's not what they're trying to do in Iraq. Rod alternately called them "cannon fodder", "expendable" and Evangelical agents. Nevertheless, Rod is honestly and deeply convinced an Evangelical agenda is driving the War on Terror, enough so to give me pause.

On a more philosophic and somewhat political front, our conversation reinforced to me that a disturbing dichotomy has arisen in how we interpret the hot-button issues of the day. In today's polarized America, to be a progressive means to side with Godless amorality while to be a conservative means to side with Evangelical fundamentalists. Where in that polarization does conviction fall in? The sense of right and wrong? Traditional values and morality? Patriotism and duty, honor, country? The greater good? The beliefs embodied in the Kennedy Inaugural? Where do I fall in that severely strained spectrum as a JFK liberal, as a non-religious person who is an idealist with the conviction that we should act for the harder right instead of the easier wrong? Where does my cherished US military, the national repository of conviction and belief, fall in?

Americans cannot win this War on Terror without an overt commitment to conviction, faith and belief, yet if the very exercise of those values feeds the Evangelical Crusade Conspiracy as explicated by Rod, while we desperately need to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, I don't know how we can do this. The very question makes me want to return to the Army even more, because the harder the fight, the more confused and less practical, the greater the need for warriors who are true believers. In war, to the victors go the spoils and we cannot lose to this enemy.

My choice. I am not religious and I have no plans to convert to any. I have no love for any proseltyzing religion. However, if I must choose between Godless amorality and the moral conviction of Evangelicals, especially in this time of war, I simply cannot side with Godless amorality. Americans need the strength of conviction, all of it we can get. I just wish we could draw our conviction from liberals and the secular American right. If it must come from Evangelicals, though, then that's the way we're going to do this.

- Eric

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