Bush of Arabia
A fascinating story in The Daily Star (of Lebanon) gives a glimpse of one of the great underreported stories . . . the popularity of George Bush in the Islamic Middle East.
According to the author, a self-described left-leaning English teacher in Damascus, his students were not only knowledgeable about the recent US presidential campaign, they were vociferously supportive of Bush.
Abandoning my lesson plan for the moment, but curious at this sudden display of interest in the election, I ventured: "Who do you want to win?" "Bush," said Rahaf, while a number of others nodded in solid agreement. I pressed them further for a few minutes, asking individual students why they liked Bush. The same ideas came up again and again: he is a strong leader, an honest man, and, most of all, a believer. Like the winning margin of American voters this year, these Middle Easterners related to Bush's sense of religious conviction and his confident steering of a nation and culture they admired.
This is an insight people like Timothy Garton Ash have been talking about for quite some time.
Back in March, Ash wrote in The Guardian that Europe has the most to fear from Muslim extremism because, essentially, they are non-believers while the Americans still retain the language and “imagination” of religion. “You need a religious imagination to respond to the music of other religions,” he wrote.
Bush has that imagination in spades as his critics frequently remind the world. But it seems, this is one “criticism” that seems to appeal rather than repell in the Islamic world.
Ash goes further to suggest that far from being agnostic, the Europeans are “evangelical secularists” who’s fundamental belief is that “all other forms of belief are symptoms of intellectual backwardness.”
This sort of chauvanism makes European nations particularly bad at assimilating their more devout immigrants. If to be European means you surrender your religious beliefs at the door, then few Muslims are going to even try to fit in.
The United States, on the other hand, is founded on the notion of religious freedom rather than enforced secularism. Religious fanaticism is a recurring theme in American history. Yet religious absolutism is an alien concept.
How does this difference in religous imagination manifest itself. A recent example might be headscarve issue in France. Their solution was simply to ban them. Makes sense to them. Perfectly rational. Ban religion from the public sphere and all the unpleasant issues disappear from view. I have not met a single Amerivan on the Left or Right who thinks this a reasonable solution. In fact, such an approach would never even be considered in America.
Although terrorists acting in the name of Allah murdered thousands of American civilians on 9/11 there have been no firebombed mosques in America. And although U.S. military forces have killed Arab civilians in the course of operations in the past two years, there have been no churches burning in cities with large Arab populations such as Dearborn and Detroit.
America has a rare combination of religious imagination and an inclusive, civic identity. Europe has a fateful combination of secular imagination and exclusive, ethnic identities.”
It’s undeniable that the Muslim world is angry with the West. But who in the West is best able to deal with that anger, alleviate it and transform it into constructive energy . . . is it the United States or Europe?
My bet is on Bush and the United States.