December 5, 2006

Bush as a Religious Leader?

I recently watched a Ted Koppel special on the Discovery Channel called "Iran: The Most Dangerous Nation." It was interesting, and I continue to be appalled by how little most Americans know about this country and how blindly many follow our elected leaders without understanding the implications of their policies for the region. But this is not going to be the point of this post. As suggested by the title, I have something else in mind.

During the special, Koppel was interviewing an articulate Muslim woman who, in a very matter-of-fact tone, referred to President Bush as "a religious leader." Bush as a religious leader? How could she think that? Falwell, Robertson, and until recently, Haggard - these are religious leaders. Not Bush. The woman noted that Bush regularly speaks from office about his religious faith, going so far as to say that America's invasion of Iraq was the will of his god. Maybe she has a point.

The more I thought about this, the more I started to realize how Bush must appear to much of the Muslim world. They are used to living in a society where religion and politics are virtually inseparable and where religious leaders have more power than political leaders. When they hear an American President flaunting his Christianity, claiming that his god tells him what to do, etc., it is reasonable for them to conclude that they are listening to a religious leader.

I have been so focused on my experience and the experience of countless other secular Americans living in a society where we are devalued that I've devoted insufficient time to considering the international implications of Christian extremism in America. Each time Bush puts his foot in his mouth, this echoes around the world. When the content of his blunders are religious, this has serious implications for how America is perceived in the Muslim world. Of course many Muslims think America is waging a holy war against them! Given Bush's comments, why wouldn't they think this?

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