- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

As bombs fall on Osama bin Laden's strongholds in Afghanistan, and America braces for possible repri-

sals, there is still great uncertainty about what strategy can bring complete victory against terrorism.

Our troops will most likely eliminate Osama bin Laden, yet the fact remains that the destruction of the World Trade Center was celebrated by millions of Muslim fundamentalists around the world who share his hatred of the United States. These fundamentalists are the foot soldiers of the terrorist army, willing to give up their lives in suicide missions in the name of Allah. Destroying the al Qaeda organization in Afghanistan will not deter them from regrouping and hatching new acts of terror.

Ultimately, defeating terrorism requires neutralizing the Islamic fundamentalism that is its motivating power. This war cannot be won by military power alone. Military force is no match for religious zeal. A religious and cultural strategy will be a necessary accompaniment to our military efforts. This is what I call "waging peace with Islam."

President Bush is wise to form a coalition with moderate Islamic states. But to be effective, this coalition should not be conceived only as a strategic alliance for the purposes of defeating bin Laden and the Taliban. It needs to go further to address fundamentalist hatred of the West at its roots. Working together with moderate Muslims and people of good will from all faiths, America needs to put forth a realistic vision of how Islamic peoples can be partners with America as we walk hand-in-hand into the 21st century.

One part of waging peace is economic justice. In the global economy of the 21st century, nations are all too interconnected to maintain the old patterns of inequality. Today there can be no peace for the affluent West while nations in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa languish in poverty. Envy is the spice in the stew of Islamic resentment.

This means America has to take the role of an "elder brother," helping poorer nations to attain the blessings of affluence that we enjoy.

Today America is waking up and recognizing it was a huge mistake not to help Afghanistan rebuild after they defeated the Soviets. In a post-September 11 world, we can no longer afford to be so callously isolationist.

Yes, let's provide the Afghan people with food and supplies. Let's encourage Muslim nations to modernize their economies and help them to lift their masses out of poverty.

People-to-people contacts are also vital. Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, and hundreds of other young Americans who go to Islamic nations as aid workers or as volunteers in the Peace Corps, are also heroes in the war on terrorism. They are risking their lives on the front line of the cultural battlefield, waging peace with the Islamic world. We need thousands more like them.

A second component of this cultural strategy is to make known the religious values that lie at the root of America's prosperity. The widespread image of America as a secular society provides fundamentalists with grounds to accuse any moderate regime that cooperates with us of abandoning all religious values.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote, "Islamic terrorists think our wealth and power is unrelated to anything in the soul of this country, that we are basically a godless nation. These terrorists believe that wealth and power can be achieved only by giving up your values, because they look at places such as Saudi Arabia and see that many of the wealthy and powerful there lead lives disconnected from their faith. Of course, what this view of America completely misses is that American power and wealth flow directly from a deep spiritual source."

Many Americans are quite religious, as the recent outpouring of prayers for the victims of the September 11 disaster attests. Nevertheless, religious values are nowhere articulated in the image or policies of America as a nation. Instead, the values that America projects on the world stage freedom to excess, capitalism, technology, the decadent lifestyles portrayed in the mass media appear as an affront and even a threat to fundamentalists who defend a traditional Islamic society.

Globalization only makes the conflict more acute. Muslims who wish to uphold their traditional values preserving female modesty, sheltering their youth from the sexualized culture promoted in the mass media feel threatened by the global hegemony of secular culture that assails them from all sides. Its agents multinational corporations, the Internet, satellite TV, Hollywood, the stock markets all originate from the United States. From the fundamentalists' perspective, America appears to be the great imperialist power, even more insidious than the old imperialism of the colonialists because it is an imperialism that destroys the soul. To them, the World Trade Center was an appropriate symbol of that hegemony.

These complaints find widespread resonance in the Muslim world. It is probably futile to expect a genuine rapprochement with Islam so long as America ignores the sensible cultural values of these religious people.

In response, America should do nothing less than re-examine its own fundamental values. Is the secular image of America today really true to our soul as a nation? Or is America bigger than secularism?

America is a country rooted in Christianity. Every schoolchild knows that the Pilgrims who founded this country were seeking freedom to practice their religion, and that the Founding Fathers were strengthened through many trials by their Christian faith. But today, America is well on its way to making the transition from a Christian society to an inclusive community of all faiths. This is most evident in recent public gatherings where Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh leaders prayed side by side. The new, interreligious America presents a more attractive partner for engagement with Islam than a "Christian" America, being less encumbered with the historical baggage of a religion that Islam has seen as an adversary for more than 1,000 years.

It is time for America to be known for more than just a bastion of freedom and democracy. The religious spirit of America is no longer something to be hid under a bushel. America must confidently affirm that it is a multifaith, multinational community; an example of what the world can become.

Waging peace in this way will eventually deflate the now fearsome Islamic fundamentalist movement. Beyond any military objective, it is the surest path to winning the war against terrorism.

Andrew Wilson is professor of biblical studies at Unification Theological Seminary in New York.


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