Your Turn: United States invites enemy envy

With the Afghan war winding up and the Iraq war not quite on, I read Russell Greim's piece (war is necessary) and Peter Taverna's response (war is not necessary) with interest - agreeing with points both made and, yet, disagreeing too.

To a student of the classics of Greece and Rome who trusts Thucydides and Plato more than Marx or Freud, the present situation looks like this: the United States, being a wealthy and strong society, invites envy because of the success of its restless culture of freedom, constitutional democracy, self-critique, secular rationalism, and open markets that threaten both theocracy and autocracy alike.

Therefore, the enemies of free speech and tolerance will attack us for what we are, rather than what we have done, inasmuch as they hate freedom and the liberality which is its twin. Only our moral response - not our status as a belligerent per se - determines whether our war is just and necessary.

I'm not convinced that war always results from real rather than perceived grievances such as the poverty arising out of the usual bit of sins: colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism.

As a psychologist, I know that conflict resolution can work in marriage counseling or small claims court, for example, but I' m yet to be convinced that it will work on the global level.

As one who was allowed to study the Classics (as long as I didn't major in them), I know that we are not even remotely akin to the Taliban or the Saudis but are in fact profoundly different in the manner we craft our government, treat our women, earn our livings, and set the parameters of our religions.

The Prophet Muhammad created the state as an instrument of Islam so there is no separation of the divine and secular realms. Before the French Revolution, Europe was a Christian society in a certain sense. One might say that the body politic was identified with the Body of Christ, especially in England. But the framers of the Constitution took Christ's advice in Matthew 22:21 (Render unto Caesar...). So from the start, Christians were very different from Muslims in that they believed the divine and secular realms were separate.

Therefore, modern secularism is profoundly Christian, understood not as hostility to faith but separation of church and state. This is the key religious factor in our politics that has given America a decided advantage, and the same case can be made for the Christian West in general.

Freedom of thought, originally inspired by Christianity and fully embraced by it, became pivotal in producing democracy and science, including evolution, as well as other values Westerners treasure. But it is not Muhammed or Moses or Jesus giving us orders from Heaven, telling us to fight over this or not. It is totalitarians.

And make no mistake about it: God is not on my side (or yours, or theirs).

It might be quite upsetting to learn God's opinion on such issues as war, school prayer, nuclear weapons, disease, starvation and donuts. This whole business of knowing God's devices is particularly piquing to us who believe the sanctimonious fundamentalists are full of it. God lets us alone. He even allows us to choose to do evil. This is part of the paradox of Christianity, which to me is what makes faith equally confounding and thrilling at the same time.

In our ignorance, too many college students and professors make the mistake of assuming that our enemies are simply different from us, rather than far worse for us - as if the current conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is largely due to a misunderstanding among equals, rather than reflective of a vast faultline that goes back to the very origins of our civilization. Israel is a democracy; "Palestine" is not.

Even though Yasser Arafat is an atheist, the state is an instrument of Islam with the divine and secular realms being essentially the same. One might argue that the Israeli state is an instrument of Judaism, but it is a democracy.


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