The challenge of Islam: What America should do now

Yemeni protesters gather around fire during a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Sanaa over a film mocking Islam, on Sept. 13, 2012. Yemeni forces managed to drive out angry protesters who stormed the embassy in the capital, with police firing warning shots to disperse thousands of people as they approached the main gate of the mission.

John Hughes is a member of the GlobalPost Editorial Advisory Board. He is Professor of communications at Brigham Young University.

America and its allies have been challenged in contemporary times by three dangerous “isms.” Fascism was bred in Nazi Germany and defeated in Europe. Communism, now a fading force, was nurtured in Russia, but confronted on a global platform. Islamist extremism, which exploded on American soil on September 11, 2001, is rooted in the Arab lands of the Middle East, and in the light of recent events is clearly still with us.

What should America do about it?

After the murder of our diplomats, and the harassment of our embassies, it may seem tempting to write off the Arab world. We should not hand the Islamic extremists that victory.

For a time during the Cold War, I was Director of the Voice of America, the government-funded radio operation that broadcast the truthful news about America and the world to captive nations. I was moved by the letters reaching me by circuitous means from Russians opposed to the communist regime who, at some peril, took their shortwave radios out in the snow into the birch forests at night to listen to our broadcasts. “You keep the flame of freedom burning in our breasts,” one man wrote me.

Despite the ugliness of attacks on American installations in the Islamic world, millions of Muslims do not want to live in the grip of Ansar al Sharia, or the remnants of al Qaeda.

Millions of Egyptians did not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Libyans are appalled at the atrocities in Benghazi. Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab spring, which began the demise of dictatorships in the Arab world. Clearly, large numbers of Muslims in the non-Arab land of Iran are opposed to the Islamic clique that runs that country. Moderate Muslim countries like Indonesia and Turkey are not threats to America. Almost three million Muslims live peacefully in the United States, only a handful of bad actors attempt terrorist acts. Thousands of Muslims serve in the American military. In a world in which the population predictors say will one day have a population where one in three people will be Muslims, Americans cannot live in isolation.

The United States was built on the premise that all men, not only Americans, should be free. Ending the Nazi and communist tyrannies took decades. Helping true freedom and prosperity in the Islamic world will be difficult and lengthy. We should not be dewy-eyed about it. It calls for tough love. We should be bold in confronting terrorism and unyielding with regimes that harbor terrorists. We should be unapologetic in proclaiming American values and explaining American policies. Our wealth and energies should support only those governments nurturing democracy and building their economies. The advancement of Arabic women, 50 per cent of whom are illiterate and suppressed, should be an imperative.

Throwing the Islamic world under a bus is not a winning strategy.

John Hughes is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and former editor of the Christian Science Monitor. He has also served as US Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

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