Friday, September 22, 2006

The Clash, via Pinkerton

The latest Pinkerton article; well-said, about how we're going about resolving the East-West issue in the wrong way.

Clashing left and right - and wrong
September 21, 2006

Are we headed toward a clash of civilizations? Or toward world peace, through freedom and democracy?

Four significant world figures - President George W. Bush, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Pope Benedict XVI - have spoken out on these questions, each with different answers. So they can't all be right.

Let's start with the pope, who on Sept. 12 delivered a speech in which he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor saying that Islam was "evil and inhuman" and that its doctrines were "spread by the sword." The pope has apologized, sort of, for those remarks and declared his "profound respect" for Islam. But amid all the erudite word-parsing in the days since, one must conclude that the pontiff meant what he originally said.

And from his point of view, why shouldn't the pope hold fast to his anti-Islamic opinions? At one time, the Middle East, the birthplace of Jesus, was mostly Christian, and then after the Arabs conquered the region, in the seventh century, it became mostly Muslim. How can a Christian leader be expected to be happy about that religious conversion? And yet at the same time, for their part, how can Muslims be happy about what the pope said?

Many in the West will answer those questions this way: The pope is right, and the Muslims are wrong. But many in the East will say just the opposite - and that's how clashes of civilization get started. And different people, with different views, often resort to violence to settle differences.

Now to Ahmadinejad. Fresh from his enthusiastic reception at a Cuban conclave of 118 "nonaligned" nations, most of them hostile to the United States, the Iranian leader came to the United Nations this week and accused the United States of being an "empire." But, he said in a triumphant voice, the era of empire is over. Most Americans will undoubtedly reject Ahmadinejad's formulation, but billions around the world will probably agree with him. Once again, the clash of civilizations.

Next, Chavez, who seems determined to make Ahmadinejad look moderate. In his UN speech, the Venezuelan declared Bush to be "the devil." Such words will strike many of us as mere buffoonery, but once again, others are likely to agree with his vehement anti-Americanism, if not his precise words.

It's probably hard for many Americans to fathom the deep and obscure sources of all this hostility to the United States. And indeed, perversely, there's much love for America mixed in with the hate; lots of America-bashers would move here if they could. But Americans need only think back to 9/11 to be reminded of the ways in which some cultures can work themselves into a homicidal rage against Uncle Sam.

So now to Bush. He's on record as saying "Islam is peace" and, further, that the desire to live in peace and freedom is "universal" among human beings. Therefore, Bush concludes, democratization is the path to world harmony. And on Tuesday, the president made that idealistic pitch one more time - to a notably stony audience at the UN General Assembly.

It's true, of course, that the General Assembly contains many dictatorial and tyrannical governments, but Iran and Venezuela are democracies, more or less. And in their demagogic way, Ahmadinejad and Chavez represent huge constituencies, not only in their countries, but around the world. Those two men don't hate America - and our allies, such as Israel - because they aren't free. They hate America because they hate America and its allies, period.

We live in a world in which not everyone gets along, for a combination of reasons - theological, historical, personal, legitimate, illegitimate. That's politics, because that's human nature.

So of these four leaders - the pope, Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Bush - the odd man out would seem to be ... our own president. He has his faith that he is right, but the others have their faiths, too. Hence, the Clash.

James P. Pinkerton's e-mail address is

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