I really have to stop reading the newspapers.
Particularly on Sunday mornings, I feel like I wandered into a science fiction movie in which everyone but me is a space alien who took over a human body. The pod people are everywhere. They smile at me, they chat affably, they say “Good morning” just like real people, but they don’t get jokes — that’s how you can tell they’re aliens. My model of journalism derives from the opening sequence of “Men in Black,” in which Tommy Lee Jones as an agent of an ultra-secret agency accosts what appears to be an illegal Mexican alien, exposing him as an illegal extraterrestrial alien. Tell ‘em jokes. See if they laugh. If they don’t, they probably just beamed down.
No-one seems to have noticed how odd it is that President Obama will address the Muslim world, speaking of wierdness. What would happen if he were to address the “Christian world”? My alien-tester joke for today appears on Asia Times Online under the byline Spengler. Here is the setup:
Why should the President of the United States address the “Muslim world,” as Barack Obama will do in Egypt this Thursday? What would happen if the leader of a big country addressed the “Christian world”? Half the world would giggle and the other half would sulk. There is no such thing as a Christian world, of course; there hasn’t been since the Great Schism of 1054, even less so since the Reformation. Europe’s nations agreed at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to subordinate the confessional to political sovereignty. America, the new model of a nation, kept church separate from state. To utter the words “Christian world” would persuade the Muslim world that a foul conspiracy was afoot, perhaps a new Crusade.
There is no “Christian world” to address because Christianity has become a private religion of personal conscience. Few Christian denominations aspire to the status of state religion; the Catholic Church abandoned earthly power at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. No Christian denomination aspires to world power. A “Christian world,” in short, is not even a fantasy, let alone a fact, and to pronounce the words would be an absurdity.
To speak to the “Muslim world,” is to speak not to a fact, but rather to an aspiration, and that is the aspiration that Islam shall be a global state religion as its founders intended. To address this aspiration is to breath life into it. For an American President to validate such an aspiration is madness. America is not at war with Islam, unless, that is, Islam were to take a political form that threatens America’s global interests. These interests include friendly relationships with nation-states that have a Muslim majority, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, not to mention Israel. To address “the Muslim world” is to conjure up a prospective enemy, for global political Islam only can exist as the enemy of the nation-states with which America has allied.
And here is the punchline:
There is a way to rescue the situation, which I now propose to President Obama in good faith: change the venue to New Delhi. After all, India’s Muslim population is the world’s third-largest at 158 million, just under Pakistan’s 175 million and Indonesia’s 200 million. Speaking from an Indian podium, Obama could say something like this:
I have come hear to address the Muslims of the world on Indian soil to emphasize that there is life after the end of Islam’s status as a state religion. As a minority, Indian Muslims have had to maintain their communal life without a link between mosque and state, and by and large they have succeeded. It has not been easy. On occasion Indian Muslims have been provoked to violence against their more numerous Hindu neighbors, as in the state of Gujurat in 2002, and the Hindu response was horrendous. India’s Muslims have learned that extremists in their ranks will call vengeance down upon their communities. They demonstrated sagacity in their refusal to bury in consecrated ground the Muslim terrorists killed last year in Mumbai.
Muslims around the world should look to India as an example of moderation and co-existence. Whether they like or not, Muslims will remain a minority in the world, a minority that cannot defend itself against the superior technology and military culture of other countries. Its legitimate aspirations must lead it to moderation and compromise. The alternative could be quite nasty.”
We’ll see if anyone laughs.