The U.S. is Against Terrorism, Not Islam-II
By William B. Milam
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
This article originally appeared on Pakistan Link on Feb 11, 2000. Reprinted with permission.
FALLACY: The UN sanctions are aimed against the people of Afghanistan.
FACT: UN sanctions are not against Afghanistan. They are not against the Afghan people. The Taliban movement, which refuses to cooperate with the international community on terrorism, is the target of the sanctions, not the Afghan people.
FALLACY: The U.S. wants to impose a government on Afghanistan.
FACT: UNSC Resolution 1267, which was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council, including by the United States, Bahrain, Malaysia, China, and 11 other countries, is focused solely on terrorism. The text of the resolution explicitly states respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and makes no mention of internal Afghan political issues. The U.S., of course, continues to support a negotiated peace which will bring in a broad-based government in Afghanistan.
FALLACY: The UN sanctions will devastate health care in Afghanistan.
FACT: The UN sanctions were carefully crafted to minimize the impact on the Afghan people. They allow humanitarian activity and private trade to continue. Almost all trade in Afghanistan is conducted by the private sector. Traders are free to continue to import medicine and medical supplies into Afghanistan. Even before the sanctions took effect, it was the Taliban themselves that refused to supply minimally acceptable health care to the people of Afghanistan, preferring to expend its resources to continue the senseless civil war.
FALLACY: Because of the sanctions, trade will dry up and, consequently, thousands of Pakistanis will lose their jobs.
FACT: The UN Sanctions do not address trade relations. They target only the aircraft, bank accounts, and other financial assets of the Taliban. Trade and commerce will continue, as they always have in Afghanistan.
FALLACY: Poverty will soar in Afghanistan since Afghans can no longer receive remittances from abroad via international mail, which the sanctioned Ariana Airline delivered.
FACT: There is no reason for sanctions to affect remittances to ordinary citizens. The Universal Postal Union has already offered to help Afghanistan receive mail by overland routes. If the Taliban wishes to cooperate in this effort, it can. Furthermore, most remittances reach Afghanistan through the informal banking system of transfers by moneychangers, which is commonly used in the Middle East and South Asia.
FALLACY: The U.S. refuses to talk to the Taliban.
FACT: The U.S. at high levels has met with various Taliban officials more than 20 times in the past year. To date, our discussions with the Taliban have not resulted in any resolution of the matter of bin Laden, but we are prepared to continue these discussions. Security Council Resolution 1267 is clear. In order for UN sanctions to be lifted, bin Laden must be turned over to authorities in a country where he can be brought to justice. All the Taliban have to do to get sanctions lifted is to expel bin Laden.
FALLACY: The U.S. wants to use the UN sanctions to starve the Afghan people into submission.
FACT: The UN sanctions should not affect trade. In addition, neither U.S. nor UN sanctions prohibit the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including food, to Afghanistan. In fact, in response to the recent food crisis in Afghanistan brought about by the dramatic increase of internally displaced persons as a result of Taliban military offensives and of their scorched-earth policy, the U.S. has pledged $575,000. It is considering additional contributions which will likely total over $1 million for emergency humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. This year the U.S. provided the International committee of the Red Cross with $47.8 million for its South Asia programs, the bulk of which is used to respond to conflict victims and internally displaced persons in Afghanistan. U.S. assistance for Afghans inside and outside their country in this past fiscal year totaled over $70 million. The U.S. urges the Taliban to ensure that food assistance reaches the neediest in Afghanistan, including women and children and those families who have been displaced by Taliban military operations.
The U.S. is for Tolerant, Inclusive, Democratic Societies
Ladies and gentlemen, I have spoken at some length on what America is against: terrorism and oppression. But what is America for, and how does that influence our relations with Muslim countries? Although the United States is proud of its Constitution and the particular political institutions it has developed, it does not seek to export these as a uniform model directly to other nations. Rather, we encourage and support the development of societies that are tolerant, inclusive and democratic.
But some people, both in the West and in the Islamic world, have questioned whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Some western critics of political Islamic movements in Iran and Afghanistan doubt that religiously-inspired Islamic regimes can be tolerant or democratic. Some Islamic critics of western hegemony in world politics see democratic institutions as exports of western imperialism. So if the United States is for tolerant, inclusive and democratic societies, is it on a collision course with the Muslim world?
Some Islamic activists have "Islamized" parliamentary democracy, asserting an Islamic rationale for it, and have appealed to democracy in their opposition to incumbent regimes. Parties like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Jamaat-I-Islami here in Pakistan have advocated democratic elections and have participated in them. The Islamic Welfare party has even held power in Turkey.
The American scholar of Islam, Dr. John Esposito, has studied this issue and concludes: "Democracy has become a integral part of modern Islamic political thought and practice. It has become accepted in many Muslim counties as a test by which both the openness of governments and the relevance of Islamic groups are certified. It is a powerful symbol of legitimacy, legitimizing and de-legitimizing precisely because it is seen to be a universal good."
A major issue facing Islamic movements is their ability, once in power, to tolerate diversity. The status of minorities, the rights of women, and the freedom of speech remain serious issues for some Islamically-oriented governments.
I will readily concede that my own country has not fully realized the goals of tolerance, inclusiveness and democracy. These are goals toward which we strive. They are goals toward which we encourage others to strive. That is why our Congress has passed a law requiring us to issue a report annually on the status of human rights in countries around the world, a report on which we would, ourselves, not make a perfect score.
Thus I would argue that we all share these goals in the United States, in the West and in the Muslim world. Greater political liberalization and participation are part of a process of change that requires time and experience to develop new political traditions and institutions.
Democracy movements and pressures upon ruling governments for greater liberalization have become widespread in the last decades. As the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were swept along by the wave of democratization ten years ago, the demands of Muslim nationalities in the Soviet Union for greater autonomy, the Palestinian demands within the Middle East Peace Process, and the Kashmiri demand for independence captured the attention of many throughout the world. Secular and Islamic activists increasingly couched criticisms of their regimes in the language of political libera,lization and ,democracy. P,roponents of political change in such countries as Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Tunisia and, yes, Pakistan are increasingly appealing to broader forms of i,nclusion, deeper structures of democracy and greater tolerance for minority and opposition views.
The United States is, Itself, a Major Muslim Society
Another simple reason that the United States is not an opponent of Islam is the fact that the United States is, itself, a major Muslim Society. Now this may seem like a strange claim, maybe even a false one. But in saying this I want to dramatize the fact that between six and seven million American citizens are Muslims. Another way of putting this fact is that the American Muslim population is larger than Jordan's is and larger than the combined population of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman put together. Muslim Americans are found in every state and region of the country; they contribute to every part of the American economy - - from laborers to company executives; they serve in the United States armed forces; and they are officials in all Government departments, including the diplomatic service.
Most of these Americans, or their parents, have come from Muslim nations like Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere. Like other immigrant groups they are deeply involved in the creative process of adapting to American society while at the same time preserving their faith and their culture. Admittedly, they are facing problems and instances of misunderstandings, as have other immigrant groups; but they are constantly becoming more effective in organizing social pressure, political power and their legal rights to solve these problems.
Under such circumstances, the calls by certain religious extremists for Muslims to declare war on Americans are ridiculous. These six million people are Muslims AND Americans. They represent the fastest growing religious group in America today.
This large community within American society is having a constructive effect on us. The strong family bonds of Muslim families and their high standards of behavior strengthen these factors in the larger society. The thousands of mosques that dot the American landscape from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, California, are artistic contributions to the fabric of our cities. The need to perform daily and Juma prayers is causing employers to re-think the work week in more flexible ways; and the codes of dress preferred by many Muslim families are challenging schools and even the armed forces to liberalize dress codes. None of these changes takes place without friction and resistance, but the adjustments that American Muslims are fighting for present healthy challenges for America to become a more inclusive, multi-cultural and tolerant society than it has ever been before.
The Need for Dialogue Among Civilizations
We tend to concentrate on conflict within our societies and clashes between our cultures. Animosity attracts more headlines than agreement. Disagreement is more dramatic than dialogue. But let me repeat some thoughts about the need for dialogue between civilizations that were recently written by a Pakistani analyst whom I respect, Dr. Rifaat Hussain. Writing in The Nation, Dr. Hussain said:
Dialogue promotes nonviolent resolution of differences between people, nations and countries, and this has become absolutely imperative because of the salience of cultural and civilizational identities as a source of conflict.
Second, alternatives to dialogue, especially war, are simply unaffordable. In the nuclear age war is not a national option.
Third, dialogue dilutes misperceptions, fosters better understanding of one another's point of view and gives rise to what Aristotle called actions which are "other-regarding" as opposed to actions which are "self-regarding."
Fourth, dialogue represents a predisposition towa,rd human equal,ity and, in th,at, represents the essence of human civilization.
Fifth, dialogue is a practical approach towards cooperative or common security.
Sixth, ,dialogue helps transform the dynamics of a conflict situation by underscoring both the possibilities and benefits of cooperation and the costs of continued strife, hostility and confrontation.
Seventh, dialogue is a prerequisite and a prelude to negotiations.
This makes a great deal of sense to me.
My appeal today, then, is that we all rise to the challenge of rejecting the easy but misleading temptation to regard each other as mutual enemies. It is clear that there are real difference between the United States and some Muslim countries, but as I have tried to illustrate today, there is much more that unites us than divides us. If we all strengthen our efforts toward increased mutual understanding, greater democracy, more tolerance for minorities, a higher standard of human rights, and broader inclusion of all social groups in our political systems, we will not only reduce the suspicions between the United States and Muslim countries, we will also make each of our own countries a stronger and more just societies. --Concluded
Topics: Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Taliban