Monday, February 27, 2012

Unfortunate Apologies

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know that one of my running themes is the danger of blind religious faith. You don't have to look very far for examples nowadays, from the desire of the homegrown religious right to impose its values on the country to the current situation in Afghanistan, where dozens of people have been killed and injured in riots protesting the burning of copies of the Quran at an American base there.

The wild rage displayed by those who protest the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book is compounded by the despicable behavior of those here at home who take advantage of the situation for cheap political advantage. I refer, of course, to the Republican presidential wannabes who have condemned President Obama's formal apology to Afghanistan for the inadvertent destruction of the books.

So, what would a President Gingrich (God forbid) or a President Romney have done?

For the record, I don't think President Obama should have issued the apology. In my heart and in the long view, I think it was the wrong thing to do, because it appears to put the United States in a subservient position vis-a-vis the Muslim world.

But let's look at the situation on the ground.

We have many thousands of US troops in Afghanistan, many of them serving in isolated or exposed positions, some of whom have already been murdered by people whose passions were inflamed by irresponsible religious leaders. Something needs to be done to help defuse the situation. Halfhearted calls for calm by some Islamic clerics and Afghan president Karzai don't seem to be doing the job, and so the President took the unfortunate step of issuing a formal apology in an attempt to help defuse the situation.

The sad truth is that deeply-held religious beliefs can drive otherwise reasonable people to terrifying acts of cruelty and violence. Whatever else you might say about Muslims - and much of it is very good - they take their religion very, very seriously. Many of them, particularly in extremely religious conservative lands like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are spring-loaded to react with extreme negativity ... and often with violence ... to real or perceived slights against their faith. Such people would never believe that the burning of the Qurans was an accident or an honest mistake - to them, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, it's a deadly insult and an example of a war being waged against Islam by a West whose beliefs, customs, and culture they despise.

Writer and commentator Thomas Friedman once said that in the Middle East, people will never believe a simple and honest explanation of an act when it can be explained by a sinister conspiracy theory, and it's true. The average simple citizen of Afghanistan doesn't read the Washington Post or the New York Times, doesn't listen to CNN or Faux News or MSNBC, and doesn't subscribe to The Economist. He believes what his local imam tells him, and his local imam doesn't read, listen to, or subscribe to those information sources either ... that imam believes with all his closed and circumscribed heart that the West is hell-bent on destroying his faith, and makes sure his followers believe it, too.

So ...

While it pains me deeply to agree with people like Newt Gingrich on much of anything, I think the President's apology was wrong but, unfortunately, necessary. Will it do much good in the long run? Probably not. But ask yourself honestly: whatever your personal political beliefs are, what would you have done, given the many moving parts of this unfortunate situation?

Sadly, I think you'd have done the same as I ... and apologized, as much as it might have stuck in my craw to appear to bow to wild religious bigots.

Just something else to think about as you decide which candidate to back in November. And when you think about your own religious beliefs.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

This is one of those situations in which the President would have been damned if he did, damned if he didn't. I hope (and think) that one factor motivating him to issue the apology was for the safety of our troops on the ground. They're in enough danger without some fanatic imams fanning the flames.

There's such a different attitude there. Several years ago, with regard to a similar episode in Guantanamo, a columnist wrote that if they burned the Bible, people would not run riot on the streets of Mayberry. It's really nice that most people are capable of perspective.

Mike said...

I think Thomas Friedmans' comment applies to a lot of people in America these days too.

John A Hill said...

I think EPT has it right -- damned if he did; damned if he didn't.

You can read my thoughts on the comment I left after yours on Facebook.

David said...

Bilbo, thanks for you comment on my blog. I am obviously very passionate about this topic as it makes our country look very racist. To me there is no damned if he didn't. He had to apologize. It IS the right thing to do. Just because there is a tiny minority of the religion that is extreme and dangerous does NOT make it ok to disrespect them as a whole. In my opinion, this is where you go very wrong in this post, you are lumping them all together. I sincerely hope you can see where I am coming from here. There are several million Muslims in the world and just a couple thousand zealots that are dangerous. All religions have extremists that give the rest a bad name.