Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kosovo: A Watershed in U.S.-Islamic Relations

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kosovo: A Watershed in U.S.-Islamic Relations

Article excerpt

Kosovo: A Watershed in U.S.-Islamic Relations

The recent NATO campaign against Serbia, and the alliance's manifest resolve to continue military action until Serb forces had withdrawn from Kosovo, is a major step toward the restoration of international law and the respect for human and minority rights globally. The campaign has also resuscitated the U.S. image as a superpower committed to global security and welfare. But the most remarkable, and perhaps unintended, consequence of NATO's humanitarian mission in Kosovo is the re-evaluation of the United States by Muslims in the West as well as in the Muslim world.

For too long Muslims at all levels, from intellectuals to the man in the street, have been laboring under the impression that the sole purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to undermine the growth of Islam and the welfare of Muslims everywhere. The unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel, the implacable U.S. sanctions against Iraq even after acknowledging the great suffering of innocent Iraqis, and particularly Iraqi children, the recent U.S. bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, and unceasing U.S. opposition to the Islamic regime in Iran, are only among some of the many instances frequently cited by Muslims as evidence of a continuing American crusade against Islam.

Nevertheless, there are Muslim intellectuals who consider the "clash of civilizations" thesis as nonsense and who have tried to convince their co-religionists that while the pursuit of American national and cultural interests may sometimes clash with the strategic and cultural interests of Muslims, the U.S. in fact is a self-centered nation in search of global self-actualization, and not of excuses for Islam-bashing. In support of this argument, Muslim moderates point to American relations with Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member nations and, above all, the relative freedom and security in which over six million Muslims live, thrive, prosper and propagate Islam in America, as concrete evidence that the U.S. is not anti-Islam. But until now, these arguments were easily dismissed by the critics of the U.S. as necessary to maintain its oil supplies and to sustain a charade of domestic freedom and democracy.

The centrality and utterly indispensable role of the U.S. in the Kosovo affair has for the first time made more open-minded Muslims, particularly those residing in the U.S., re-examine the popular image of the U.S. as the great Satan and enemy of Islam. The protracted nature of the U.S. diplomatic and military effort and the thoroughgoing coverage the U.S. media provided to the suffering of Muslims in Kosovo has gradually restored some of the long-missing Muslim confidence in American media.

A HUMANISTIC DIMENSION

Importantly, the public expressions of pain and agony by American leaders over the carnage in Kosovo suddenly gave American leaders a new humanistic dimension. From being global tormentors of Islam they became, almost overnight, sympathetic allies of Muslims, sharing their pain and struggling with them in a common, humanitarian cause.

The image of American planes and missiles hitting Muslim targets in Libya, in Iraq, in Sudan and Afghanistan had become so commonplace that Muslims easily came to the conclusion that U.S. concern for human rights and democracy is just hypocrisy and doublespeak. While U.S. leaders lament the plight of Christians in Sudan and Indonesia and Jews in Iran, they have shown little concern for the plight of the Palestinians, Kashmiris or the Chechens. …

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