Why Europe Hates Bush And The US
Much of it is centered on Faith in the US. Most of Postmodern Europe is Secular to the max. Atlanta JC
'Values' agenda a concern
Evangelicals' views on worldwide matters jangle some nerves
Don Melvin and George Edmonson - Staff
Sunday, December 5, 2004
London --- Conservative Christian values from America have the potential to reshape international relations in significant ways during President Bush's second term. The "moral values" agenda has secular Europe in distress, the Arab world in dismay and staunchly Catholic Latin America watching with disdain.
Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals turned out in large numbers last month to help Bush win re-election. Some observers believe Bush owes them a political debt; others think the president will simply feel freer now to convert his own religious convictions into policy.
Either way, a new emphasis on values could give comfort to those who support a broader Israel, more forceful U.S. intervention in Sudan and a less accommodating attitude toward China. But many people in other parts of the world are horrified.
Some even mutter darkly that fundamentalist Christians are a mirror image of their worst enemies --- radical Muslims who see in all things a battle between believers and infidels.
''I am afraid that people say that these people are the American bin Ladens,'' said Sheik Zaki Badawi, chairman of the Islamic Religious Council, a London-based group of scholars.
''I think a lot of this is true. I think that they are so oblivious to the other side. I mean, I wish very much they would come into dialogue with us, that they would try to understand. Extremism can only be broken by dialogue.''
Not everyone agrees that the influence of religious conservatives will increase. The Economist, a British newsmagazine, noted that the number of American voters saying that moral and ethical values had been their foremost concern has been on the decline --- from 40 percent in 1996 to 22 percent this year.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that conservative Christians expect to help shape Bush's second term --- not only because of their electoral assistance but also because they believe that Bush is one of them.
"We're on a roll," said Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the Colorado-based National Association of Evangelicals.
In "The Right Man: An Inside Account of the Bush White House," former Bush speechwriter David Frum describes the president asking religious leaders to pray for him a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Afterward, Frum writes, Bush told them he had overcome his drinking problem through faith.
"I found God," Bush said. "I am here because of the power of prayer."
Writing in the Winter 2004 Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Andrew J. Bacevich and Elizabeth H. Prodromou said that, after Sept. 11, "religion offered an immediately available frame of reference that enabled President Bush to make sense of otherwise senseless events."
The "personal theology of George W. Bush began to infuse itself into the Bush administration's statecraft," they wrote.
How does conservative theology manifest itself in international relations?
One area where many evangelical Christians see no room for compromise is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, said Paul Boyer, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin whose works include "When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture."
In their view, Boyer said, Israel has a divine right to the West Bank because it is part of the land that God promised to Abraham, as stated in Genesis. Palestinians want the West Bank, a territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, as part of a Palestinian state.
"Matters of ultimate destiny ordained by God are not matters to be negotiated around the table," he said.
But Walter Russell Mead, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned against equating unwavering support for Israel with support for the government of Ariel Sharon.
"If the Bush administration were to decide for other reasons that the time has come to pressure Israel more," Mead said, "I don't think the evangelical community would unite against it."
Mead said the influence of evangelicals had been "in retreat" during the middle of the 20th century.
"What we're seeing in a sense is, now that evangelicals are back closer to what their historical normal strength has been in the United States, they're starting to behave as they historically have done," he said. "And part of that is to have a great interest in what's going on outside the United States."
While the National Association of Evangelicals has numerous priorities that would seem natural for a religious organization, Cizik said the organization's goals are not so narrowly defined.
"Our interests range from religious persecution, such as North Korea, to humanitarian/ethnic conflict in Darfur [Sudan], to democracy building in the Middle East and issues such as climate change," he said.
One major initiative will be a May summit in Morocco between evangelical Christians and Muslim leaders. Another is linked to "Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025," a book by Mark Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary.
"We have as a major priority in the coming four years a legislative initiative aimed at toppling the world's remaining dictatorships," Cizik said, adding that the association favors achieving that goal through peaceful means.
These ministrations are not always welcome in other parts of the world.
In Jordan, Sheik Abdul Menam Abu Zant, a Muslim cleric and former member of parliament, contended that neither Bush nor other American Christians understand the true story of Jesus, who preached peace and tolerance. Bush and his political allies are pursuing instead money and technology while parroting biblical phrases taught to them by Jews, he said.
"History has never recorded such ignorance and stupidity as it recorded with the American people's re-election of Bush," Abu Zant said. "They know they have delivered their sons to be buried in Afghanistan and Iraq."
China a flash point
One area where tensions could surface between business-oriented conservatives and evangelicals, between hard-nosed conservatives interested in realpolitik and those more idealistic, is China.
The Communist Party constrains freedom of religion and enforces a strict family planning policy --- issues that give conservative Christians reason to pressure China on human rights.
So far the Bush administration has not made human rights a priority with China, or with any other country that signed off on its war on terrorism. China has been a crucial player in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program and is an essential export market for U.S. companies.
Groups concerned with human rights in China "don't have high expectations from the Bush administration" in the short run, said Joseph Cheng, head of the Contemporary China Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong.
But, Cheng said, "there is serious concern in the longer term that this Christian right will be very much behind the perception of China as a potential challenger to the U.S. because the Christian right believes their values and the values of China are rather incompatible."
"It's more a kind of clash-of-civilizations type of mentality," Cheng said. "They see China is not a democracy, and it doesn't fear God."
In southeast Asia, media reports of American evangelicals going to Iraq to try to convert Muslims has exacerbated tensions between the Christian and Muslim worlds, said Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist who runs a think tank called International Movement for a Just World in Malaysia.
"The evangelists in some respects are the mirror image of Osama [bin Laden], with a very simplistic way of looking at the world, very black and white, good vs. evil," he said. "One uses private-sector violence, the other uses state violence. Both extreme groups have contributed to the widening chasm."
Consistency a problem
Oddly enough, there is concern in Latin America --- a deeply religious but sometimes left-leaning region --- that the United States will take religious concerns into consideration when making policy.
One example, said Elio Masferrer Kan, a professor at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, could be a change in foreign aid for birth control, he said.
While many Latin Americans are Catholic, most believe that religion and politics should be separate, Masferrer Kan said.
"If your neighbor is gay and wants to live with his partner, most Mexicans couldn't give three peanuts about that," he said. "Whereas to a North American, it could seem like the sky is falling."
"There's a great distance between what one says and what one does in Latin America," he said. "You Americans want to have consistency in what you do and what you say, and that's the problem."
Perhaps the biggest contrast with U.S. religious attitudes can be found in Europeans, who are by and large secular in their politics and tend to view world affairs in terms of nuance and tolerance rather than evil and good.
The new European Union Constitution contains no reference to God or Christianity. An Italian nominee for EU Justice minister, Rocco Buttiglione, was forced to withdraw after he called homosexuality a "sin" and unwed mothers "bad."
For many Europeans, the U.S. emphasis on religion in politics is puzzling, said Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science and the founding director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.
"Their history has involved just a tremendous amount of religious conflict and religious strife," said Wolfe, who is currently on a fellowship in Berlin.
"They feel they're better off now that religion plays less of a role in public life, and they don't really understand why the U.S. wants to head in a direction that they think could have the same kind of impact."
--- To contact AJC staff writers: Don Melvin (firstname.lastname@example.org); George Edmonson (email@example.com). Staff writers Julie Chao in Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org), Larry Kaplow in Jordan (email@example.com) and Mary Lou Pickel in Mexico City (firstname.lastname@example.org) contributed to this report.
Don Melvin is the London-based correspondent for Cox Newspapers. George Edmonson covers the military and domestic politics from the Cox Washington Bureau.