Monday, April 02, 2007

Clash of Trivializations

The following is from the editorial page of the Dallas Morning News for Monday, 2 April 2007. The position is well-stated, and one that needs to be repeated time and again. The link can be found here, though I have copied the article in its entirety.

Clash of Trivializations

On his radio program Le Show, satirist Harry Shearer airs a feature called "News Outside the Bubble," in which he comments on important stories underplayed in the U.S. news media. The idea is that Americans live in a hermetically sealed zone that keeps relevant information from crossing our minds and informing our judgment.

Last week's editions of Time demonstrated why it's the newsweekly of choice for the Bubble Nation. In its three international versions, Time's cover centerpieced a report on the Taliban roaring back in Afghanistan.

On its American cover? "Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School."

Are the news media dumbing Americans down or merely giving people what they want? Either way, the public remains ill informed and insufficiently curious about the world beyond our borders. America's painful experience in Iraq should teach us how little we truly understood about the complexities of that nation and its culture before our invasion.

Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington has controversially warned his countrymen that we risk exacerbating a "clash of civilizations" by failing to grasp the fundamental differences among cultures and instead assuming the rest of the world is like us.

In this context, it's easy to see why Americans might be puzzled, even offended, by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah last week calling the U.S. occupation of Iraq "illegitimate." Aren't the Saudis our allies? And why in the past two weeks did Pakistan, which gets billions in U.S. aid each year, strengthen Gen. Pervez Musharraf's dictatorial powers?

These allied governments might be behaving badly. But it's also possible that they're acting in America's best interest. Maintaining stability in oil-rich Saudi Arabia and nuclear-armed Pakistan – and keeping anti-Western Islamic forces out of power there – is extremely important to U.S. interests.

Americans, idealistic by nature, must appreciate that there's considerably more gray in the world than black and white. A more realistic Middle East policy would seek to understand the differences not only between Islamic and Western civilizations, but also among the nations within the Islamosphere – and to work with those differences to strengthen America's hand.

But first, we have to burst our bubble.

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