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Hijacked Islam - The Influence of Islam on American Foreign Policy

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 28 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography

Excerpt

Introduction

The events of September 11th 2001 were crucial in the history of the United States of America because then, according to George W. Bush, “the first generation of students […] witnessed a war fought in America.”[1]

However, the events that followed were more than a war. Put in the President’s words, “this is good versus evil.”[2] Obviously, the head of the United States sees his country’s experience as invested with a higher, quasi religious, meaning. While it is often bewildering to Europeans, this way of understanding one’s nation is shared by many citizens of the U.S.A.[3]

One way of explaining this is the concept of “civil religion” by Robert Bellah. According to this concept, “Americans share common religious characteristics expressed through civil religious beliefs, symbols, and rituals that provide a religious dimension to the entirety of American life.”[4] It is “not […] a form of national self-worship but […] the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it in terms of which it should be judged.”[5]

Being only a religious dimension, American civil religion is no alternative to existing religions; rather, there is a division of function. While the churches cover the

sphere of personal piety and voluntary social action. [They] were neither to control the state nor to be controlled by it. The national magistrate, whatever his private religious views, operates under the rubrics of the civil religion as long as he is in his official capacity.[6]

The sphere of American civil religion is not the private but the public American experience.

It is a means to “mobilize deep levels of personal motivation for the attainment of national goals.”[7] However, American civil religion can do more than integrate the individual into the nation. According to Riikka Kuusisto, rhetoric plays an important part in determining the nature of a war and the course it takes:

The descriptions of the conflicts evolved and were formed into meaningful stories with coherent plots and familiar roles in public statements and discourses, and the resolutions appropriate to the stories became the resolutions of the conflicts.[8]

Consequently, by giving meaning to events, the rhetorics and rituals of American civil religion suggest certain ways of acting.

Although Bellah claims that civil religion is a “distinct cultural component”[9] which does not interfer with existing denominations he also states that “behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes.”[10] The symbolism of American civil religion is taken over from existing religions.

In consequence, the cultural proximity to Judaeo-Christian religious traditions means that adherents of some, namely biblical, denominations are closer to American civil religion than others are.

Battles “good versus evil” like the one mentioned above invested with religious causes have in human history often been fought against enemies identified by their religion.

The enemies named after September 11th 2001 were Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda organisation and the Taliban[11], all of which have an Islamic theological basis for their actions[12].

Indeed, statements on Islam abound in speeches and other statements by George W. Bush after September 11th 2001. However, as Salman Rushdie notes on November 2nd: “’This isn't about Islam.’ The world's leaders have been repeating this mantra for weeks.”[13] Instead of creating Muslim enemies and starting a crusade, the President of the United States incorporates Islam into American civil religion. For this reason, the question whether Islam has an effect on U.S. foreign policy will be in the focus of my paper.

I will show that Islam and American Muslims are assimilated into civil religion rhetorically and via the celebration of Islamic holidays. Captions such as “Courting Muslims”[14] or “The United States Government: Patron of Islam?”[15] indicate that there is fear of growing Muslim influence on the Unites States government which, some fear, might end up “adjunct of the country's Islamic organizations.”[16]

At the same time, in the official discourse, an enemy is created that “hijacked Islam”. While American civil religion extended by Islam is essentially good, the enemy is its negation. Above all, the enemy is not religious.

The assignment of individuals or nations to one group or the other, of course, influences the United States’ policy towards them. Naming is violence.

The practical consequences of the categorization manifest during the religious holy month of Ramadan. Muslim demands for a ceasefire are ignored. While some Muslims celebrate at the White House, others are attacked by the U.S. military. It seems that although Islam is incorporated into American civil religion, the Unites States foreign policy is not influenced by it. Instead, whoever is identified as an enemy is denied religiosity.

Even though 9/11 did not generate completely new patterns of behaviour, the severity of the situation brought existing strategies of problem solving to the surface. The scope of my paper will therefore be September 2001 to December 2001.

I will close my analysis in December, because in this particular year Eid, part of the Islamic Ramadan celebrations, is celebrated at the same time as Hanukkah and the third Advent.[17] This generated a situation in which religious matters were very salient and produced a degree of awareness as well as a comparability not often given.

In describing civil religion, materials of interest are speeches and other official texts[18] by George W. Bush and members of his administration, civil religious observances and his administration’s foreign policy towards Muslims. The President is chosen as main source because, being head of state, he exemplifies U.S. policy.

The Incorporation of Islam into American Civil Religion

In order for assimilation to take place, the harmlessness and similarity of Islam have to be shown. This is done by discussing its teachings. Then, civil religious practices and beliefs are ascribed to Muslims.

The Teachings of Islam According to George W. Bush

In official US statements, the teachings of Islam are good. The concept it is associated with most frequently is “peace”[19]. Islam is personified as preaching[20], teaching[21] or loving peace[22] as well as including it in its “teachings of peace”[23]. George W. Bush even equates the two: “Islam is peace”[24].

Evidently, in times of war with Muslim terrorists special emphasis has to be put on the point that Islam itself is peaceful. In order to confirm that this religion does not induce violence clerics and scriptures as authorities are invoked saying that: “violence against innocents violates the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith”[25] and that “countries and clerics throughout the Islamic world would have rejected it”[26]. Hence, the teachings as well as the teachers of this religion do not allow the use of violence.

However, the rhetoric strategy does not end with the taking away of the dangerousness. It also takes away differences. By stressing similarities with the American mainstream culture and Judaeo-Christian religions, Islam is assimilated into American civil religion.

First, the values attributed to Islam are so universal, that virtually every religion would accept them. Apart from teaching peace, Islam also is a religion of love[27], compassion[28], charity[29], mercy[30] and “believers across the centuries […] built a culture of learning and literature and science”[31].

Moreover, likenesses of the Islamic faith with civil religious beliefs are explicitly stressed. As George W. Bush puts it:

people of different faiths learn […] that many commitments are broadly shared. We share a commitment to family, to protect and love our children. We share a belief in God's justice, and man's moral responsibility. And we share the same hope for a future of peace.[32]

In addition, dedication to family[33], and children[34], the belief in God’s justice[35] and a peaceful future[36] are presented as common religious values in American civil religion and Islam. This is not only expressed on occasion of the Islamic Iftaar but also in Eid al-Fitr messages[37]. The audience the President reaches with messages on occasion of an Islamic holiday is, of course, predominantly Muslim.

Strikingly, a similar stress on similarity of “these great faiths, Islam, Judaism and Christianity”[38] cannot be found in neither Jewish nor Christian holiday messages in the same period. The statement that Islam is similar to American civil religion is only made to Muslim audiences. This means that while American civil religion is advertised to Muslims as being very similar to the faith they embrace, Islam is not advertised to adherents of American civil religion.

Islam’s resemblance to American civil religion is asserted yet again when it is said that commitments, but also rituals like “giving gifts to children”[39] and traditions like “helping,”[40] are shared not only by the three religions mentioned but also by Americans. As the President puts it “helping people in great need is a central part of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, as well as many other faiths. It is also a central part of the American tradition.”[41]

Ironically, the invocation of religious rituals serves on both occasions as euphemism for U.S. efforts in warfare.

The idea of “helping people in great need” comes up in a “Radio Address of the President to the Nation”[42] one day before the war with Afghanistan starts. The gifts mentioned are part of a humanitarian mission during the war: “The children of America, through America's Fund for Afghan Children, are giving food and clothes and toys to the children of Afghanistan.”[43]

By presenting war and humanitarian missions as American civil religious customs and traditions, they are invested with a higher symbolic significance and justification. By integrating Islam, Muslims might relate to this version of seeing the events more easily.

Yet, the use of the modal verb in the following statement targeted at an American audience indicates that the success of the assimilation is not yet trusted. After 9/11, “there was such an outpouring of compassion for people within our own country, a recognition that the Islamic faith should stand side by side, hand to hand with the Jewish faith and the Christian faith in our great land.”[44]

What is more, only those features of Islam are assimilated that are identical with American civil religion anyway. Apart from rituals, no new symbolism[45] of the Muslim faith is discussed or introduced. Therefore, one could rather speak of appropriation than assimilation.

[...]


[1] Bush, George W.. “President Launches ‘Lessons of Liberty’”. (October 30, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011030-7.html >; The term “American” used by citizens of the United States of America usually refers only to themselves and not to the other inhabitants of the continent.

[2] Bush, George W.. “International Campaign Against Terror Grows”. (September 25, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010925-1.html >.

[3] Studies suggest that indeed, “a wide cross section of citizens do share such civil religious beliefs.” Swatos, William H.. “Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Hartford Institute for Religion Research Hartford Seminary. CIVIL RELIGION”. (1998). May 23, 2006. <http://hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/civilrel.htm>.

[4] Swatos 1998.

[5] Bellah, Robert N.. “Civil Religion in America”. Dædalus. Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “Religion in America” Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1-21. (Winter 1967). May 23, 2006. <http://www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm>.

[6] Bellah 1967.

[7] ibid.

[8] Kuusisto, Riikka. WESTERN DEFINITIONS OF WAR IN THE GULF AND IN BOSNIA. The Rhetorical Framework of the Unites States, British and French Leaders in Action. Helsinki: Gummerus, 1999. p. 12.

[9] Swatos 1998.

[10] Bellah 1967.

[11] Bush, George W.. “Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People”. (September 20, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html>.

[12] Davidson, Lawrence. ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM. An Introduction. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003. pp. 77-78.

[13] Rushdie, Salman. “Yes, This Is About Islam”. Guardian (November 3, 2001). May 27, 2006. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,4290897-103418,00.html>.

[14] Entous, Adam.. “Courting Muslims, Bush to Take Part in Ramadan Dinner“. (November 19, 2001). May 28, 2006. < http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fr/574376/posts>.

[15] Pipes, Daniel; Stillman, Mimi. “The United States Government: Patron of Islam?”. Middle East Quarterly. (January 2002). May 28, 2006. < http://www.danielpipes.org/article/90>.

[16] Entous, Adam. “Courting Muslims, Bush to Take Part in Ramadan Dinner“.

[17] The date is December 16, 2001.

[18] By official texts I mean messages, holiday addresses, interviews and other texts that were published on the White House website or appeared in the media.

[19] Bush, George W.. “President Asks American Children to Help Afghan Children”. (October 12, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011012-4.html>; Bush, George W.. “President Shares Thanksgiving Meal with Troops”. (November 21, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011121-3.html>; Bush, George W.. “Remarks by the President At Photo Opportunity with House and Senate Leadership”. (September 19, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010919-8.html>; Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Ramadan”. (November 15, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011115-14.html>.

[20] Bush, George W.. “Remarks by the President At Photo Opportunity with House and Senate Leadership”.

[21] Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Ramadan”.

[22] Bush, George W.. “Radio Address of the President to the Nation”. (October 6, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011006.html>.

[23] Bush, George W.. “President Meets with Muslim Leaders”. (September 26, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010926-8.html>; Bush, George W.. “President Holds Prime Time News Conference”. (October 11, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011011-7.html>.

[24] Bush, George W.. “’Islam is Peace’ Says President”. (September 17, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html>.

[25] ibid.

[26] Bush, George W.. “President Asks American Children to Help Afghan Children”.

[27] Bush, George W.. “America's Youth Respond to Afghan Children's Fund”. (October 16, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011016-4.html>; Bush, George W.. “President Meets with Muslim Leaders”; Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”. (December 13, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/20011213-15.html>.

[28] Bush, George W.. “America's Youth Respond to Afghan Children's Fund”; Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”.

[29] Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”; Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Ramadan”. (November 15, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011115-14.html>.

[30] Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Ramadan”; Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”.

[31] Bush, George W.. “President Hosts Iftaar”. (November 19, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011119-14.html>.

[32] ibid.

[33] Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”; Bush, George W.. “President Marks End of Ramadan at White House Ceremony”. (December 17, 2001). May 23, 2006. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/20011217-4.html>.

[34] ibid.

[35] Bush, George W.. “President Marks End of Ramadan at White House Ceremony”.

[36] Bush, George W.. “President's Message for Eid al-Fitr”.

[37] Iftaar and Eid al-Fitr are Muslim religious holidays discussed in the chapter on Ramadan.

[38] Bush, George W.. “President Marks End of Ramadan at White House Ceremony”.

[39] ibid.

[40] Bush, George W.. “Radio Address of the President to the Nation”.

[41] ibid.

[42] ibid.

[43] Bush, George W.. “President Marks End of Ramadan at White House Ceremony”.

[44] Bush, George W.. “President Holds Prime Time News Conference” (October 11, 2001). (my italics).

[45] I use this term in the way Robert Bellah does in his article “Civil Religion in America.” It denotes a set of symbolic forms carrying civil religious meaning.

Details

Pages
28
Year
2007
ISBN (eBook)
9783640570034
File size
543 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v147395
Institution / College
Humboldt-University of Berlin
Grade
1,0
Tags
George W. Bush 9/11 Islam Afghanistan Foreign Policy Iftaar Ramadan ceasefire Muslim speeches Clinton

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Title: Hijacked Islam - The Influence of Islam on American Foreign Policy