Americans have a difficult time honestly and openly discussing our fight against radical, fundamentalist Muslim extremism. It goes against our grain to say our enemy is a member of a race or a religion.
Live free or die - Americans take the concept of personal freedom very literally. And because one of those personal freedoms, the freedom to worship, is so deeply ingrained in our earliest grammar school lessons about our country’s history, we don’t like to use the word Muslim or Christian or Jew to qualify anyone, especially in a negative light.
As the terrible riots throughout the Middle East and the resulting deaths of innocent Americans in Libya demonstrate, we’re caught in a terrible crossfire by another of our cherished freedoms, the freedom of speech.
The spark that ignited, what to our sensibilities, was a completely disproportionate response, was an anti-Muslim video produced in America and disseminated via the internet. We watch similar media poking fun at Christianity and Judaism and the world’s other major religions seven nights a week on cable TV, never mind what we can dredge up on the internet if we choose.
Because we also deeply respect the freedom to say what we want, when we want, the worst of what we find offensive in our mass media may provoke a barrage of letters-to-the-editor, or a demonstration, or even the threat of a boycott against the offending program’s commercial sponsors. But that’s the end of it.
Our deep respect for the powerful combination of freedom of religion and freedom of speech makes it almost impossible for us to focus the blame for all of this madness on the believers of any one religion.
But we desperately need to have a calm and rational national discussion of exactly that religious context.
The life story of Mohammed Morsi, the current president of Egypt, provides a good example of the depth of the commitment of even relatively moderate Muslim leaders. Morsi is no stranger to the west.
He earned a PhD from the University of Southern California. He held a professor’s position at an American college. Yet this man, who had established a comfortable life in America, voluntarily returned to Egypt and an active role in the Muslim Brotherhood, knowing full well that this meant he would be ostracized and worse, as did happen, thrown in prison in a country where going to prison is no joke.
Egypt is a country which, seen within the context of the modern Middle East, has been fairly friendly to the United States. Morsi, Egypt’s most visible, and first openly elected public official has a history of what is, especially by our western standards, an almost martyr-like devotion to the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood. How much more intense, then, is the willingness to fight and certainly die for their beliefs of the more radical leaders from areas of that world which are openly and bitterly hostile to the west?
For over 11 years, we have been asking our American military to fight these fanatical enemies, on their terms and their turf, in a complex and extremely dangerous style of warfare. Because we have the best military in the world, they have shouldered this burden with great personal bravery and professionalism.
But if the events of the past week tell us anything, it’s that this war isn’t going away. Without admitting and openly discussing that this war has, as its root cause, a fanatical religious motivation, we will never be able to figure a rational way out. Our only other answers will be to either continue to demand a great sacrifice from the men and women of our armed forces, or escalate to a level of conflict that would guarantee us a victory and an end of hostilities practically overnight, but that no rational person wants.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.