February 12, 2002 - Northern New Jersey Record: The Peace Corps Reaches out to the Muslim World

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 02 February 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: February 12, 2002 - Northern New Jersey Record: The Peace Corps Reaches out to the Muslim World

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 17, 2002 - 8:25 am: Edit Post

The Peace Corps Reaches out to the Muslim World

Read and comment on this op ed piece from the Northern New Jersey Record on the Peace Corps reaching out to the Muslim world at:


* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.


Feb 12, 2002 - Record, Northern New Jersey Author(s): Bill Tammeus

DEEP IN President Bush's State of the Union speech was a little- noticed but critical call to a new way of relating to the Islamic world.

If something like what he suggested doesn't happen, the roots of discontent and hatred that grew into the evil of Sept. 11 won't die.

Rather, we may forever be forced to battle terrorists who think they're following respectable religious teachings.

Bush said he wants to double the Peace Corps size over the next five years "and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world." He said we must seize "a great opportunity during this time of war to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace."

In this new engagement with Islam, he said, "we have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance." The goal, he said, is "a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

Is it possible to do what Bush asks? Yes. Will it be easy? In no way. For one thing, America must be consistent in advocating the Bush list of "non-negotiable demands." For America's stance to seem credible in the Islamic world, it must apply equally to Saudi Arabia's arrogant royal rulers as well as to the restless, angry Palestinians.

Our history of consistency, however, is checkered indeed. We supported the Shah of Iran's oppressive rule. We haven't spoken up forcefully when religious rights of non-Muslims are quashed in some Middle Eastern countries. We saved Kuwait from Saddam Hussein but then let its restored rulers continue to treat women like mortgageable property. And our support of Israel, which is the right policy, at times has seemed even to neutral observers to come at the expense of the best interests of the Palestinian people (whose leaders often have been disastrous to their cause).

Islam's followers notice all this. In fact, what many Americans see as their nation's goodness comes to be understood in some Muslim circles as unfairness or, worse, evil.

Even more distressing, this perception is driven to wildly inaccurate lengths by lies of radicals like Osama bin Laden who care nothing about reality, but only their twisted vision of it. They see America as the willing pawn of Satan (Iblis, in Islamic terms). This cockamamie vision sells well among far too many people in Middle Eastern Islam, partly because their own governments are distant, oppressive, and corrupt and yet have America's official support.

So there's a problem of both perception and reality. The perception of America often is a misperception, fueled by proponents of a rigid Islam who view the West as the infidel and who fabricate bizarre stories about America's alleged sins.

But the reality is that for too long in Muslim countries America has backed decadent rulers who have created failed societies. We have agreed to continue supporting them because we are afraid the alternative would be so much worse.

Fareed Zakaria, international editions editor of Newsweek magazine, put it this way in one of a series of profoundly enlightening analyses he has written for the magazine since Sept. 11: "This fear The Fear of the Alternative has paralyzed American foreign policy in the Middle East. Compared with almost every other part of the world, where over the last three decades the United States has pushed for economic and political reforms sometimes more slowly than democrats would like in this region it has always veered away from any such confrontations. The Middle East is the great exception in American foreign policy."

I'd like to think that Bush's proposal to beef up the Peace Corps and to begin to engage the Islamic world at the ground level can start to reverse that policy. We cannot, of course, expect a few idealistic Peace Corps members to be our complete answer. It will require much more and the effort will have to be sustained for a long time.

But if we don't find a way to help all segments of the Islamic world join us in advocating consistent human rights for all, we may well have to pay a price even higher than the one extracted from us on Sept. 11.

Bill Tammeus writes for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to him at: The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.

64108-1413, or e-mail him at tammeus(at)kcstar.com.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

This story has been posted in the following forums: Headlines; Special Reports; Speaking Out


Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.