The Magazine

The Audacity of Shallowness

What would the Democrats do?

Aug 20, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 46 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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Obama wants to "open 'America Houses' in cities across the Islamic world, with Internet, libraries, English lessons, stories of America's Muslims and the strength they add to our country." Senator, go visit the many Internet houses of Peshawar in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, and you will find young men everywhere surfing porn. They are free to view other glories of Western civilization, but they choose to focus on young women. Many of these men are faithful Muslims, who think more highly of bin Laden than they do of the United States. They thought this way before the invasion of Iraq. They were surfing porn before Saddam went down. Open "America Houses" and we will surely increase the knowledge of such Hollywood entertainment more than we will of the Founding Fathers or the lifestyle of Muslim Americans. The "American Dream" is alive and well in the Middle East, but it is vastly more complicated than Obama seems to realize.

To the senator's credit, he sees that Iraq and al Qaeda do not define Muslims and Islam. What he does not seem to grasp--and the Bush administration is no better--is that America is the cutting edge of a modernity that has convulsed Islam as a faith and a civilization. This collision will likely become more violent, not less, as Muslims more completely enter the ethical free fall that comes as modernity pulverizes the world of our ancestors. Barack Obama's newly devised "Mobile Development Teams," which will bring together "personnel from the State Department, the Pentagon, and USAID . . . to turn the tide against extremism" are unlikely to make America more attractive to devout Muslims who know that America is the leading force in destroying the world that they love. The senator can leave Iraq, shut down Guantánamo, apologize for Abu Ghraib, and build "secular" schools all over Pakistan, and he will not change this fact. This is the deep well from which al Qaeda draws.

--Reuel Marc Gerecht, for the Editors