Thursday 6 November 2008

Lazy anti-Americanism in charity's reaction to Obama win

In a recent post I wrote about the tendency of many progressive Christians to identify with the some of the wackier fringes of the left, particularly when it comes to lazy anti-Americanism. I came across another example today, in the reaction of Christine Allen, executive director of Progressio (formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations) to the election of Barack Obama.

After quoting Allen's entirely laudable aspiration that an Obama-led government would be 'an opportunity to build new relationships and partnerships between countries' and lead to 'real dialogue between leaders of North and South', the Progressio website adds this:

In Muslim countries too, says Allen, people hear America talk of 'freedom and democracy' but their experience is of occupying forces and Guantanomo Bay. 'For too long this has smacked of hypocrisy', says Allen. 'Our hope is that the message and the reality of US actions are integrated in a new, more collaborative approach to foreign policy'.

While heartily endorsing the hope that the new president will act swiftly to close Guantanomo, and swallowing my irritation at the term 'Muslim countries' [see footnote], this is surely too onesidedly anti-American for the leader of a (presumably) politically neutral charity. Nothing here about the US coming to the aid of the Muslim populations of Bosnia and Kosovo, liberating the Muslims of Afghanistan from the inhuman tyranny of the Taliban, or (whatever you think of the decision to go to war) helping to establish the first democratic elections in Iraq for decades. Nothing, either, about the miserable lack of 'freedom and democracy' in most of the 'Muslim world', if we have to use that archaic term. I wonder what Christine Allen has in mind when she talks about a more 'collaborative' approach to foreign policy: precisely which advocates of 'freedom and democracy' among governments in the Middle East would she like the new US government to 'collaborate' with?

Footnote: re. my annoyance at the term 'Muslim countries'. Nations, like neighbourhoods, do not have a religion. A majority of the population may subscribe to a particular faith - hence my preference for the compromise term 'Muslim-majority countries', if we have to mention religion at all. But to identify a whole country with a religion is to disenfranchise those of other faiths or none who live there - not something the director of a Christian charity, of all people, should be doing, surely. We don't any longer (unless we're the present Pope, or a member of the religious right) refer to Britain or America as Christian countries, so let's not fall into the same trap when it comes to other faiths. This may seem pedantic, but to adopt this habit is to lend succour to the Islamists, who (like their Christianist counterparts in the west) would love to roll back the separation of religion and the state, in public discourse as well as in political practice.

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