Monday, May 22, 2006

Albright writes a new chapter ...

I wish Bush knew how to read. He'd hate The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright's new book.

You might like it. Rather eloquently and in a very constructive way Ms. Albright examines the ways religion is entwined in politics and particularly, the way its role has changed in the last ten years in American politics. She looks with the authority of one of history's true co-authors at the folly of crafting foreign policy based on slight familiarity with the religion and culture of the nations we face. She gives no comfort to anyone who hopes that we can conduct a politics that is "above religion". The opportunities wasted have been numerous but she concludes all is not lost yet if we begin doing our state department homework about other countries and work on our humility. She can also say with more credibility than anyone currently in office exactly where the UN can be most effective. I read the book and hope Bolton gets apoplexy or suddenly develops a conscience so that body is still in tact to do its work. I read this book and pine for the days when presidents appointed people who had not only brains but breadth and some capacity for basic human sympathy and decency.

As a person with loud mistrusts of religion's contributions to the state of the world, I find myself surprisingly appreciative of Ms Albright's advice to us. She has sat across the table from Saudi Kings and had any number of first hand encounters with victims of war in Africa, the Balkans and the middle east. She was long a student of the cold war stasis of Poland by the time Pope John Paul II visited there and stirred hope. She has been to the places and talked to the people whom I, in my upper middle class suburb think of as plagued by relgion and she sees along with the problems, perhaps some solutions. As thorny as religious conflicts can be, throwing up ones hands in disgust at religion will produce no change. Rather, says Albright, a little unity among Americans and a foriegn policy that truly has a moral foundation instead of domestic campaigns that have moral talk would start us in the hard work to improve both the muddles of conflict in which the world is mired and the low esteem in which the US is now held by the world.

The book is full of quotable goodies and a few favorites I quote here are not representative of the more or less balanced [such a relative term!] tone of a writer who also calls in to question the species of criticism of America's past policies that can find no good in what was done.

There is a parallel, I think, between religious fundamentalism and the unquestioning jingoism that views all of history through a narrowly American lens. Both traits are fed by a desire for certainty, a hunger for solid answers on which to build a coherent picture of the world.

I am already angered by the facile discussion of a split between so-called "red" and "blue" states, as if we did not all pledge allegiance to the same tricolor flag. I regret that we have fostered a political culture that rewards the extremes, a culture in which dogmatic belief is deemed a virture and open minedness a weakness, and sarcasm and slanderous attacks frequently drown out intelligent discussion. Haven't we had enough of this?

Studies indicate that wars with a religious component are fought more savagely than other conflicts. As the acerbic liberal columnist I. F Stone observed, "Too many throats have been cut in God's name through the ages, and God has enlisted in too many wars. War for sport or plunder has never been as bad as war waged because one man's belief was theoretically 'irreconcilable' with another."
The fault in such logic is that, although we know what a globe plagued by religious strife is like, we do not know what it would be like to live in a world where religious faith is absent.

No comments: