6. "Moderate." This ubiquitous term is meant politically but can be received theologically. If someone called me a "moderate Christian," I would be deeply offended.
7. "Interfaith." This term conjures up images of watered-down, lowest common denominator statements that avoid the tough issues and are consequently irrelevant.
8. "Freedom." Unfortunately, "freedom," as expressed in American foreign policy, does not always seek to engage how the local community and culture understands it. Absent such an understanding, freedom can imply an unbound licentiousness.
9. "Religious Freedom." Sadly, this term too often conveys the perception that American foreign policy is only worried about the freedom of Protestant evangelicals to proselytize and convert, disrupting the local culture and indigenous Christians.
10. "Tolerance." Tolerance is not enough.
Now, some have responded to these points with outrage: We're Americans, we can say whatever we damned well please, and they better swallow it with a smile!
Some have nodded sagely and thought yes, it is time for more cautious diplomacy rather than the idiot cowboy ways of the previous Chimperor.
I have a little different response. Most of what he says is basic charity and decency toward someone, particularly someone who is at best distant toward you. Some are more stern than they initially seem, for example under "Clash of civilizations" he points out:
There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it.
His point is that any "civilization" that at best protects and ignores murderers and ignores the rule of law cannot be defined as such. It is mere barbarism, and ought not be given the title of civilization. He does not think there is no such clash, merely that the title is misleading, and it lends greater significance and honor than the enemy deserves.
Other points are an attempt to avoid code words and cultural confusion that can conflict with the attempts at diplomacy and reaching across societal boundaries. Under "Secular" he notes this:
And a godless society is simply inconceivable to the vast majority of Muslims worldwide.
See, for the Muslim there's no separation of church and state, there's not even a distinction. Church and state are one
. It is simply not possible to divide the two, since the church and Islam controls all aspects of life, from personal hygiene to courts and government, from schools to art, to dating to all areas of every corner of society. Islamic religious courts make laws and decisions for government. There is absolutely no separation, and those who are raised and live under such a system have a hard time understanding that it can be different.
So when the average Muslim in countries like Indonesia thinks about the USA, they think "Christian nation" so Christians are in charge like Muslims in their nation: if a political or military decision is made, Christians did it. They can't understand the possibility that the church does not control the government.
The point Mr Seiple is trying to make is that when you deal with someone from another culture, you have to reach out to what they understand and in terms they will respond to. In Diplomacy, that's sort of the point: to be diplomatic. If you can't reach some basis of understanding, you cannot have any agreement or discussion at all.
So to that extent, I think he has a point: be cautious and controlled with your language and present your case wisely. If the Muslims don't respond in a similar manner, if they are clumsy or offensive, or just cannot comprehend how to speak to our culture, then it is our job to adapt to their failure and inability as best we can - just as it is their job to deal with our failures, as they may happen. It isn't that we should fear or have our language controlled by Islamic people, it is that in the setting and office of diplomacy, this is how best to do your job.
However, there is a way in which Mr Seiple is in error as well. Take for example Jihad. He is correct that in Islam "Jihad" does not merely mean "holy war" it means any struggle against unholiness, and the primary meaning for most Muslims in their life is the struggle against sin and unholiness in their own lives. However, Mr Seiple is wrong when he says
...we confirm their own – and the worldwide Muslim public's – perception that they are religious. They are not. They are terrorists, hirabists, who consistently violate the most fundamental teachings of the Holy Koran
That's simply false. The Koran clearly teaches that Jihad also
means holy war; that lying, enslaving, killing and stealing from the unbeliever is not just permitted by in some places commanded. The official interpretation of the Koran as done by Imams, Muftis, and the Hadith does teach that a holy war not just permits but sancftifies actions taken in the cause of Allah and against the unbeliever. Dying in a fight against the unbeliever sends you straight to paradise with all those virgins, liquor, and comfort (and young boys who never age) whereas all other Muslims must endure hell until they pay for the sins in their life before going to paradise.
Jihadis, and they are
religious. The worldwide Muslim public believes correctly that these killers are religious and fighting against evil. They see it as a battle between religions, not civilizations: Christianity vs Islam, Judaism vs Islam, Hinduism vs Islam, etc. It might be wiser to avoid the term so that this perception
is avoided, but it is not that we should avoid it because it is incorrect.
Similarly, the term Freedom is not to be avoided, for that is what the west stands for more than anything else. If the Muslim culture misunderstands freedom, then it is our duty and the duty of the diplomat to explain liberty to them, not avoid it. It is the central pillar of western civilization, it is the very shining beacon of hope that the US stands for. Diplomats are not simply workers trying to accomplish a goal, but representatives of their nations and cultures and that ought never
be avoided or downplayed. We should be bold and strong in presenting the benefits and greatness of the culture we represent as a diplomat - and all of us are diplomats when we deal with those outside our culture.
That doesn't mean arrogant or dismissive, brutal or condescending. It means strong. And strength is respected by all people in all cultures - even feared, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in one's enemies. Strength means strength of character, of integrity, of not backing down on what is right and proper, it means honor in the face of dishonor, dignity in the face of indignity, and courage in the face of opposition. Know what you believe, understand it to be true, and do not fear disagreement. And realize that when you deal with Muslims, you are dealing with people who from their earliest age have been taught that they are superior in every way and you are inferior and even despicable.
“How can you prove you are not a bad person? You can't prove that.”
Muslims are good at this: they do not fear negative reaction to their declarations of faith and belief. They defy people to become upset. They stand tall and declare their ideals to any who will listen, and they respect that from others. The purpose of diplomacy is not to be weak and capitulate, it is to be understanding, respectful, and winsome. If your opponent attacks, disarm him and move on to the goal, do not fight and squabble. Sometimes that means leaving the table, sometimes it means a show of strength, but always with wisdom and respect.
So with that in mind, I'd like to offer a few words that Muslims ought to avoid when dealing with the west, in the light of Mr Seiple's offerings above.
1. Satan. While in Muslim culture the presence of demons and angels and Satan is pretty well assumed, in the west, this is largely the realm of fantasy and stories. Satan isn't a scary or dangerous figure, he is a figure of mockery and humor. When you mention Satan to someone in the west they don't become offended or afraid, they don't begin spiritual introspection or look over their shoulder in concern, they laugh. We think of Satan as a red guy with horns and a pitchfork, a figure of ridicule, not fear. Calling someone a "great" Satan might even be considered a compliment.
2. Unbeliever. While this is a standard concept in Islam, it is confusing to the west. Unbeliever in what? The west swarms with faiths and beliefs, even religions which claim not to be religions. There is no one monolithic religion in the west, so being an unbeliever just makes no sense, everyone believes in something.
3.Antisemitism. Jews used to be treated with respect and dignity in Islamic countries, the Koran clearly calls Jews "people of the book" who are to be treated better than mere infidels. To be virulently opposed to and hate Jews might make sense culturally but it does not make sense in Islam. Further, since the holocaust, Jews are considered a protected people in the west, and while that sense is fading, any antisemitism instantly throws up barriers and opposition in the west.
4. Holocaust Denial. This is simply unforgivable to the west. Whether you personally believe the events of the Holocaust happened, or happened as detailed in countless eyewitness accounts, court testimony, admissions by people involved, documentation in movies and paperwork, and so on are false or not... acting that way with the west makes people think you are insane or criminally idiotic. Chances are someone you speak to will have family members with a tattoo on their arm and stories of death camps.
5. Christian Nation. Because the concept of government and religion in Muslim world is different than the west, the use of this term will confuse people from the west. America, for instance, calls its self a Christian nation at times, but that does not mean Christians are in charge. It simply means that in the nation's history, the majority of people were Christians and Judeo-Christian ideas helped shape the nation's culture and ideals. Not that it is in command, but it is an influence through individual beliefs.
Just a few thoughts to help the Muslim deal with the west, and understand who they are dealing with
Granted the guys who'd use this kind of language aren't likely to read this blog or listen to a thing I'd have to say (although, hello to all the people from Islamic states who look up stuff on my blog that sounds sexy and has pictures of pretty girls). But in the name of parity and fair play, it only makes sense to offer both sides advice.