Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mountain from molehill due to cultural ignorance

The fury over President Bush's reported comments
In the programme 'Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs', which starts on Monday, the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

And "now again", Mr Bush is quoted as telling the two, "I feel God's words coming to me: 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God, I'm gonna do it."

is the culturally ignorant Western press making a mountain out of a molehill. One of the blessing of working at an international school has been learning so much about other cultures. One of the first things I learned about Muslims was that Allah (God) is omnipresent. Muslims aren't afraid to talk about Allah, in fact, it is a very common topic. In Arabic Inshallah - God willing - is uttered about as often as Americans say "huh".

I had a Kuwaiti student who was taking a French test later in the afternoon and I asked him if he was going to do well. He simply replied, "Inshallah." It was just a natural response, but said volumes about where God was in his life. In secular Western society, if a student replied "Lord willing" to the same question, he'd get a sideways glance like something must be wrong with him (or his theology).

Arabian society is funadmentally different from the West. Not incompatible, but different. For President Bush to be talking the language of God with Muslims doesn't surprise me at all. I think he would probably be more comfortable with a Muslim imam than a Kantian philosopher. He may have even said what has been reported, but his audience clearly understood the context and its overall meaning. That is why I believe Scott McClellan's assertion that "He's never made such comments," It wasn't that Bush didn't say those words, but that he said them in a context and to men of a different culture who understood what he really meant. What he really meant was that it was right, just and good to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, tyranny in Iraq and work toward a Palestinian state.

We might disagree about Bush's underlying meaning, but we need to be culturally aware enough to know what Bush was really talking about. Instead we have attacks on Bush from bloggers and in the Western Arab press.

Don't waste your time on this molehill when there are many Bush-sized mountains worth spending your time and energy to fix.