Nearly a decade after religious extremists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, our nation’s anti-terrorism policy is in shambles. America is caught in a ruinous cycle, where we simultaneously fund the very enemies we fight, while embarking on morally bankrupt, logically incoherent, economically destructive, and politically suicidal campaigns in distant lands.
George W. Bush told us we invaded Iraq to bring democracy and freedom to the region, while Barack Obama has increased troops in Afghanistan to supposedly keep the volatile area stable.
Yet, this week the Obama administration announced that it is trying to sell the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia up to $60 billion in advanced weapons, including 84 new F-15 fighter jets. How exactly is selling out our values to prop up this fundamentalist dictatorship in the interest of our long-term stability? Could we try any harder to subvert our message of democracy, sabotage human rights in the region, and undermine reformers?
Ironically, only days before the announcement of this massive arms shipment to our “ally”, a high level Saudi diplomat told NBC News that he was seeking political asylum. Ali Ahmad Asseri, the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, claimed he feared for his life after Saudi officials discovered he was gay and had a friendship with a Jewish woman.
Is such bigotry and persecution what our weapons are defending?
Asseri, who is now in hiding, posted a letter on a Saudi website, condemning his country’s “backwardness”, as well as its decision to allow “militant imams” who have “defaced the tolerance of Islam” to take control of Saudi society.
How easily we forget that eleven of the fourteen 9-11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. At our own peril, we blithely ignore that Saudi Islamists radicalized nuclear-armed Pakistan. These Sunni extremists are still funneling money into Pakistan to build Wahabi madrassas that brainwash youth into becoming Jihadists. Saudi cash — earned by selling oil to liberal western democracies — is also responsible for the proliferation of mosques that preach hate throughout Europe.
If America really gave a damn about stopping terrorism and promoting human rights, it would invest massively in energy innovation, so we would not feel compelled to fund and arm a nation that treats women like pets, brutalizes reformers, and murders gay people.
Our current policy is insane. We turn a blind eye to international Saudi mischief, and then rely on our brave young soldiers to stop the fruits of their fanaticism in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Occasionally, the violence spills over into an American or European city, and we all momentarily focus on the problem, before we get distracted and return to our gas guzzling SUVs and reality TV shows.
While the majority of Americans napped through our historic proposed weapons sale to an archaic country known as the financier of fundamentalism, most people were fixated on the Ground Zero mosque spectacle, where an Imam of the moderate Sufi tradition wanted to create a community center dedicated to peaceful dialogue. Could our nation’s attention span be any shorter or our priorities more misplaced?
America must wake up and wise up if it expects to contain religion-based terrorism.
The first thing we can do is stop making this a battle of Islam vs. Christianity. The entire fight should be recast, as extremism vs. modernity and our criticism must extend across the board to all religions. Peaceful versions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc., should be praised and rewarded, while intolerant, militant brands of faith condemned, with no exceptions.
To succeed, we must educate ourselves on the various sects. Failing to distinguish between a moderate Imam and Osama bin Laden is as foolish as a Muslim not knowing the difference between Rev. Pat Robertson and openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.
What matters is not the broad label of the religion, but what each branch of faith is teaching its children. If hatred, backwardness, authoritarianism are the values taught, it will lead to divisiveness and bloodshed. When love, peace, respect, and modernization are imparted, societies will be uplifted.
Of course, the largest force in undermining national security is the GOP’s embrace of the Religious Right. After all, how can America promote its values and ask Muslim nations to separate mosque and state, when prominent American preachers and public officials are pledging to undermine separation of church and state?
Can you imagine how comforted the Taliban and Iranian mullahs must have been when they watched Glenn Beck’s recent Washington, DC rally and the theocratic calls to return America – a supposedly secular nation — to God?
It is in America’s strategic interest to promote rhetoric and policies that are aligned with our professed secular values. As long as our resources are being used to support nations that export extremism, we can’t say that we are truly in a war against terrorism. It would be more accurate to say we are at war against ourselves.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”