U.S.-Muslim Alliance: To be or not to be?: Spiritual Re-armament and the Enemy Within
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
During the past two years U. S. policymakers have debated whether Islam inevitably must replace Communism as the new global enemy and as a central reference point for what is good and bad in the world. This debate continues because the threat mentality of the Cold War simply cannot survive without an external enemy.
As the expected “peace dividend of victory” after the Cold War disappears in rising chaos both at home and abroad, students of the post bipolar world have begun to rethink their basic premises. They have begun to see opportunity by regarding threats less as alien forces to be overcome than as weaknesses that we must face everywhere in the world, especially in ourselves. The death of President Richard Milhaus Nixon in April 1994, gave heightened prominence to his posthumously published book, Beyond Peace, in which his central theme is that by renewing ourselves we can renew the world. This lays the groundwork for the further conclusion that America and Islam should be natural allies in the process of global civilizational renewal in the face of growing forces of fascism and nuclear blackmail.
The real threat in the world, writes Nixon, lies in the fact that, “Our country may be rich in goods, but we are poor in spirit… Poor-quality secondary education, rampant crime and violence, growing racial division, pervasive poverty, the drug epidemic, the degenerative culture of moronic entertainment, a decline in the notions of civic duty and responsibility, and the spread of a spiritual emptiness have all disconnected and alienated Americans from their country, their religions, and one another.” Drawing upon the imagery of Muslim and Christian saints, Nixon cries out that “our crisis of values at home, coupled with our lack of a coherent mission abroad, has created an even more deadly spiritual deficit. We seem to be experiencing what Arnold Toynbee, in his Study of ‘History sixty years ago, called ‘the dark night of the soul’.”
Nixon distinguishes between the morality of self-defense and duty, which won the Cold War against Communism, and what he calls “the morality of aspiration.” He notes that Communist leaders lost the Cold War because of the weakness of their economic and political system, but remarks that the real victory came from “an alliance spearheaded by ‘one nation under God’.”
“Two hundred years ago,” he recalls, “the United States was militarily weak and economically poor, but to millions of people in other nations America was the hope of the world because of the timeless values we stood for.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution he reminds us, “could not have imagined a society in which religion did not play a dominant role.” While we must be ever vigilant in assuring that religion never becomes an instrument of politics and that politics never be used to further sectarian ends, Nixon emphasizes that we must never let these two basic premises, on which freedom of religion is based, drive religion out of our private and public lives. “With the end of the Cold War,” he urges, “we must ask ourselves what we stand for in addition to national strength and prosperity. Democracy and capitalism are just techniques unless they are employed by those who seek a higher purpose for themselves and their society.”
“Today,” Nixon asserts, “our enemy is within us.” Quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, probably the most acute observer of the American experiment, Nixon warns that we face the “new despotism” of mediocrity, selfishness, and directionlessness. But Nixon also sees that our opportunities to “rediscover a new sense of common purpose” lie within ourselves. He welcomes the apparent resurgence of spiritual hunger in America, and he urges that “our hunger for something to believe in is a profoundly positive development that members of the leadership class should celebrate, not fear .... Progress cannot be commanded; renewal cannot be dictated. The inspiration for a true leap forward cannot be dictated. The inspiration for a true leap forward for America must come from within - from within the people making up the nation, and from within the soul of the nation itself.”
“Building a more open world beyond peace,” declares Nixon, “means moving beyond transient pleasures, beyond superficial happiness, beyond the collection of emblems of earthly status, beyond the pursuit of power for its own sake, and beyond the contentment found in the attainment of peace .... The promise of peace means a better spiritual life, in which hope is heard not just in empty echoes of rhetoric but in the voices and actions of every citizen, and faith guides the life of the nation, ... [so that] when the people of the world look to us, they should see not just our money and our arsenal but also our vast capacity as a force for good.”
What does all this mean for the Muslim world? First of all it should mean that Muslims in America and our representatives in Washington can speak the same language. The presence of more than six million Muslims in America, and the promise of tens of millions more within the next generation, makes the Muslim world very much part of America. And the identity of spiritual and philosophical understanding found within traditionalist America and traditionalist Islam makes America and the billion Muslims in the five continents at least potentially allies in seeking the goodness that Nixon in his “last testament” invokes.
Specifically, how does Nixon’s spiritual manifesto relate to U.S. foreign policy today toward the various real or self-styled Islamic movements around the world and toward the many despots who fear the Muslims’ calls for democratic freedom and justice? In his last legacy, Nixon seems to have retained much of his wisdom but to have lost his boldness in applying it.
He suggests that, “In fashioning a new Muslim-politic for a new era, the United States must learn to view the Muslim world not as a unified, radical geopolitical force bent on confronting the West but rather as a diverse cultural and ethnic grouping bounded by a faith in Islam and a legacy of political turbulence. Our failure to appreciate the diversity of the Muslim world and the genuine threat its populations face has already contributed to the tragedy in Bosnia-Herzegovina - one of the most disgraceful chapters of the post-World War II era.”
Nixon speaks of the “hospitality, openness, and tolerance that are the true hallmarks of Muslim philosophy,” and suggests that, “It is these pro-American impulses, which hundreds of millions of Muslims share, that should be the guideposts of our policy, rather than the ravings of malcontents and tyrants. By cultivating partnerships with nations that share our interests and our political and economic ideals, the United States can help create success stories that will serve as examples to other nations.”
“The United States,” writes Nixon, “must not let the ‘clash of civilizations’ become the dominant characteristic of the post-Cold War era. As Huntington observed, the real danger is not that this clash is inevitable, but that by our inaction we will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we continue to ignore conflicts in which Muslim nations are victims, we will invite a clash between the Western and Muslim worlds.”
The opportunity mentality, which Nixon always managed to maintain even in the midst of overwhelming bureaucratic opposition, is best exemplified by the concluding words of his chapter on “Building Bridges to the Muslim world”:
“Muslim fundamentalism is a strong faith. Its appeal is religious, not secular. It appeals to the soul, not the body. Secular Western values cannot compete with this faith. Neither can secular Muslim values. In the clash of civilizations, the fact that we are the strongest and richest nation in history is not enough. What will be decisive is the power of the great ideas, religious and secular, that made us a great nation. ... The twentieth century has been a period of conflict between the West and the Muslim world. If we work together we can make the twenty-first century not just a time of peace in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, but a century in which, beyond peace, two great civilizations will enrich each other and the rest of the world - not just by their arms and their wealth but by the eternal appeal of their ideals.”
Great men leave great legacies, but great thinkers may not have the courage to see the implications of their own thought and apply it. In his last contribution to American foreign policy, Nixon failed to see that the despots who rule in most of the Muslim countries are creatures of American power and are part of the problem and not in any way part of the solution. He failed to see that the Islamic and the American civilizations can enrich each other only if the tin tyrants in places like Algeria and Egypt are replaced, if possible without force, by true leaders who have the civilizational values that gave rise to the American Revolution and still motivate Americans and Muslims today. In his last legacy, Nixon failed to understand that the Muslim nations of which he speaks are not the undemocratic rulers propped up by American power but the masses of people who would be allies of enlightened American foreign policy if given a chance.
The Brzezinski-Lake Doctrine
President Nixon’s spiritual manifesto, release in May 1994, on America’s need to build ties to the Muslim world was matched by a political manifesto, made public at the same time, by President Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake. Both manifestos pioneered new directions by rejecting the paradigm of civilizational conflict resurrected in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs by Samuel P. Huntington. Both contain much wisdom, but both raise the question whether this wisdom can be applied in the world of real politik, where recent protagonists in the old Cold War are becoming allies in the new one.
In a carefully prepared address last May to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which generally supports the paradigm of civilizational conflict between the West and the rest, Anthony Lake asserted: “In the Middle East, as throughout the world there is indeed a fundamental divide, but the fault line runs not between civilizations or religions. No, it runs instead between oppression and responsive government, between isolation and openness, and between moderation and extremism, and it knows no distinction by race and creed. ”
“We also reject,” he emphasized, “the notion that a renewed emphasis on traditional values in the Islamic world must inevitably conflict with the West or with democratic principles. These values of devotion to family and society, to faith and good works are not alien to our own experience. It should come as no surprise that citizens throughout the Middle East and North Africa are testing and debating the role of these values in society and government. People in the region, as is the case around the world, are searching for ways to achieve responsive government, guarantee basic human rights, and to guide their daily lives. That so many of them look to religion and to Islam is neither unusual nor unique. This is a universal quest. Islam is not the issue.”
This was not mere rhetoric on the part of Anthony Lake, as demonstrated by his willingness to reach out to militants “from Algeria ... to Egypt,” and by the Administration’s open call for the Algerian government to proceed with the elections cancelled in January of 1992.
The Clinton Administration says it now wants to maintain contacts on what it calls “both sides of the religious-secular divide,” in order to promote the needed basic changes in the Muslim world through peaceful means, so that Muslim movements that engage in what Lake calls “democratic progress and the free movement of people and goods” can compete with the “extremist paths of Libya, The Sudan, Iran, and Iraq.”
The issue is whether America’s pragmatic interests require a revolutionary shift in focus from threat to opportunity and whether America has the moral guts to sustain such a shift.
Many think-tanks have led the way in mounting this shift. Perhaps the most notable is the Santa-Barbara-based Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, which has played a leading role in shaping American elite thought for more than thirty years. In the summer of 1993, an entire issue of the New Perspectives Quarterly focused on the global role of Islam during the decades ahead.
This quarterly presented for the first time to America’s opinion leaders in a credible way what the editor of the journal, Nathan Gardels, calls “the Brzezinski Doctrine,” from which both Richard Nixon and Tony Lake drew much of their inspiration. Gardel’s striking introduction, entitled “Soul of the World Order,” forecasts that the new world order during the coming century may well be Islamic.
Part of the rationale for this forecast is a position paper in this issue of New Perspectives Quarterly by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who preceded Anthony Lake as head of the National Security Council during the Carter Administration. A decade before the collapse of Communism, Brzezinski pioneered in a credible way the insight that Communism as a global force would soon be dead, so he has a uniquely good track record in forecasting basic civilizational change.
In forecasting the future of America during the coming century, Brzezinski writes: “What worries me most is that our own self-corruption as a society may undercut America’s capacity to sustain not just its position in the world as a political leader, but even as a systemic model for others. Self-indulgent, hedonistic society cannot project a moral imperative onto the world. Our moral consciousness has been corrupted by consumerism and the equal indifference we assign to all values as if they were products on the supermarket shelf.”
Gerdels suggests in his introductory editorial: “We cannot accept the anything-goes value relativism of the West as the first refuge of nihilism and decadence .... Perhaps the clash with [Islamic] piety will help produce in the West a post-scientific age which readmits the spiritual presence it once excommunicated? Perhaps sheer exhaustion from the mad consumerist rush to an empty future will prompt a second look at the Islamic values of balance, equilibrium, and meditation? Perhaps disintegrating cultures lacking authority and tom in a million directions by the individual pursuit of happiness will come to appreciate the virtues of Confucian order? ... The West enters the contest with the upper-hand of the latest technology of the media. Though armed to the minds eye with CNN’s and MTV’s, one must wonder if a civilization where nothing is sacred can prevail over others where the sacred is all that matters. Only God knows.”
Such an assessment seems too pessimistic in view of the spiritual renaissance now sweeping the world. The only real question is whether the Islamic movement worldwide can help restore the spiritual basis of the great American experiment. Can global Islam be not the nemesis of America but part of its salvation? The good news is that this question may be the real foreign policy issue facing us in the 21st century.
The Bad News
Global forecasters, as well as policy planners, live in a world that often seems cruelly disconnected from everyday reality. The “facts on the ground” are beginning to suggest that the great era of global cooperation, in which Islam is to be a seminal force, may dissolve into a Cold War waged jointly by the United States and by an increasingly fascist Russia against all the forces that are arrayed against the status quo, preeminent among which is Islam.
Both the American Experiment and Islam are inherently revolutionary because they both are based on the call for divinely ordained justice. Since the world will always be full of injustice, both must always be threats to those who worship the false god of short-run stability in the form of the status quo.
The fundamental conflict in the world, as both Richard Nixon and Tony Lake have emphasized, is not between civilizations, but rather within them. Within the governing elites of both America and the Muslim world are many who reject the necessary spiritual framework for successful foreign and domestic policy. These tend to be the “haves” in society. The “haves” in the world generally have a vested interest in opposing change, especially that espoused by the “have-nots.” The more powerful the forces for change, the more powerful the efforts to suppress them.
A global confrontation is building because the forces aligned against the status quo are proliferating in an unprecedented way, especially in America, as evidenced by an entire new generation of journals that together constitute a cultural revolution. One of these new journals, the International Quarterly, devoted its third issue, in the Summer of 1994, to “The Middle East and the Africas.”
Highlighting this issue was an article by John Kelsay, entitled “Spirituality and the Social Struggle: Islam and the West,” which contends that the significance of Ayatollah Khomeini lies not in his politics but in his spiritual teachings on which all Islamic action is based. His thesis is that this spiritual renaissance is the real substance of the Islamic challenge to the West, regardless of what one thinks about the practical politics of Khomeini and his cohorts.
If Kelsay’s thesis is correct, then the only realistic response from the West is to transform this challenge into an opportunity by joining and guiding the movement. This, in effect, was what Nixon and Lake were suggesting.
In fact, however, on the ground we see the beginnings of an un-holy alliance against this challenge. The result could be U.S. participation in the unleashing of new holocausts along the entire border between fascist Russia and the Muslim world.
The nature of this new threat to both justice and stability in the world was first clearly laid out on August 5, 1994, in The Christian Science Monitor. This editorial marshaled some evidence to back its thesis that the U.S. government is sacrificing the independence and human rights of the peoples of Asia to the needs of a new U.S.-Russian alliance.
Since details are necessary to understand the threat of what seems to be a horrendous new U.S. policy now developing in Asia, we should read the entire editorial, which was headlined “In the Name of Peace.”
Little has been said about the price the White House paid to Russia to get a military green light in Haiti. The Haiti vote was secured by giving Moscow a “peace-keeping” mandate in Georgia. This is troubling, suggesting the Clinton administration is winking at the diplomatic hardball played by Moscow to assert control and occupy territory in former Soviet states. In Georgia, Russian troops helped create the crisis they then went in to solve.
The real question is will the White House continue passively to allow Moscow to play an imperial game - swallowing free and sovereign states and doing so in the nan1e of peace?
TI1e test may come soon. The venue is Azerbaijan; Russia is lobbying hard to establish a “peacekeeping” presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the 1988 fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia continues (triggered by Armenian expulsion of the Azeris from their enclave in Armenia, which caused a counter move by the Azeri expatriates against the Armenian enclave, NagornoKarabakh, in Azerbaijan).
Azerbaijan was the only state to negotiate for a complete withdrawal of Soviet forces during the Gorbachev period. Any honest discussion of Azerbaijan’s future must acknowledge that Azeris do not want Russians back period. Moscow, however, wants a military base there. It would like profits from the sizable Azeri offshore oil fields. It wants control of Azeri borders with Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. The bear can get its claws under the tent by further destabilizing the Caucasus and sending in “peacekeepers.”
The problem is complex; the key to a solution involves a settlement on Karabakh. A successful Armenian campaign to carve a “Greater Armenia” out of Azeri land has forced one million Azeris from their homes - as many as in Rwanda - and into crowded, ugly camps. That there are no pictures or stories about this reinforces the Islamic world’s belief that the West cares little about Muslim lives.
Armenia is winning, though both sides bear blame. Azeris imposed a brutal energy embargo on Yerevan. But what President Clinton must stress with Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan is that continued fighting and no peace treaty will simply further Moscow’s hold on Yerevan.
Mr. Clinton should rethink his Moscow policy. TI1e Russian proposal for Nagorno-Karabakh is only one effort. A Serious “Minsk Group” proposal exists overseen by the United States, Germany, and France. In it, Armenians would accept autonomy in Karabakh in exchange for a withdrawal from Azerbaijan. But will Armenian troops leave?
Clinton and the United States could do much in the Minsk group to support two sovereign states. But so far, the White House seems to feel that friendly relations with Moscow make this impossible.
The danger of this de facto U.S. support of Russian imperialism is that it undercuts the good news about American willingness to cooperate with Islamic movements in promoting democracy, freedom, and justice in the world. Muslims, and others, will conclude that Washington and New York are determined to impose on the world a condominium or duopoly of power, just as originally proposed by Henry Kissinger more than thirty years ago, regardless of what this means for the peoples of Russia and the rest of Asia and Europe.
Not only in Muslim countries, but in Russia itself, the popular belief is that the big international financial institutions deliberately planned the fascist takeover of Russia, simply because this has been the result of their economic policies. Just as in most developing countries, the big banks pressured the reformers in Russia to privatize enterprises not by broadening share-owning opportunities by selling the factories to their employees, to be paid back out of future profits, but rather by selling them at “fire sale” prices to those who could buy them without vouchers and without credit, namely, to the black marketeers and the Communist (now “nationalist”) functionaries who have always worked hand in glove.
Seeing the practical result of Euro-American policies toward Russia, the countries in Asia and their allies targeted by new Russian imperialism will seek security in the development of nuclear weapons, which is already being countered by a strategy of joint U.S.-Russian superiority in defensive weapons to meet the “threat” of nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, whereas strategic defense might have succeeded to some extent during the last Cold War, tactical nuclear defense during a new Cold War with the Muslim world can never be more than a dream.
American foreign policy will be judged by its results, not by pious pronouncements, no matter how sincere. The properly skeptical analysts in Muslim countries will see in American policy a return to the old policy of concentrating power in the hands of the unscrupulous, just as Euro-America is seen to have done throughout the twentieth century wherever popular sentiment might oppose Euro-American hegemony. If the Muslim nations of Asia are sacrificed to the fascist movement in Russia, this will be seen as deliberate U.S. policy.
The watershed address by President Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, in May, 1994, reproduced in its most significant parts in the July / August issue of The Minaret from Los Angeles, was perhaps the biggest salvo in the war of global policy, but it was definitely not the last shot. American Muslims should alert receptive senators and congressmen to the inevitability of new holocausts unless congress weighs in on the side of reason now. Meanwhile, the Muslims of America and around the world should pray that the leaders of the Islamic movements in such countries as The Sudan and Algeria can maintain their leadership while reorienting their radicalized cadres toward a new era of reciprocity in peaceful engagement with the United States.
A first step in such peaceful engagement would be for the Front Islamique du Salut in Algeria to draft a constitution laying out not only the universal principles of Islamic law as guidance, but also the precise details of government and governance and of the institutions designed to maximize productivity and social justice.
Above all, Muslims in America must understand and accept the need to change the world by changing themselves so that we can fulfill our destiny as Americans to provide moral leadership.
*Originally published in the print edition ofThe American Muslim