Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Does the President Know He is Dealing with Religious Fundementalists?

I confess to being confused about the president's performance yesterday on Al Aribiya TV. [Stewart's (very funny)Take]

My first reaction was disappointment, and, dare I say it, concern? See, I've some experience working with extreme religious fundamentalists, and when dealing with the rest of us, extreme religious fundamentalists rarely negotiate in good faith. The attitude, instead, is one of condescending superiority. They aren't interested in common ground, or meeting in the middle. What they want is to grab as much as they can. This is a direct result of the arrogance that comes from certainty. When you're 1000 percent positive that God chose you, and that your life is being led in the way that gives Him the greatest pleasure, well, you start to doubt that the non-believers matter, and you begin to think their needs and desires aren't really as valuable as yours are.

Whatever God he worships, Barak Obama is not a fundementalist and his view of himeslf and the world is different. Men like him (to borrow from Ian McEwan) recognize that "the world is unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone's thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone's claim on life as intense."

To the religious fundamentalist, however,(continuing to take from McEwan) the non-fundamentalists world is made up of "machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling" that he and his kind enjoy.

So it was worrying, I admit, to see Obama put his hands out and offer to listen. I may be misundersatnding, but it seems to me to be too weak of an opening move. The United States must improve its reputation in the Muslim world, and it must encourage Israel to talk to Arab states that are serious about having serious conversations. I like that Obama is willing to extend a hand to anyone willing to unclench his fist. But when I remember my own interactions with religions fundementalists I worry a bit. When negotiating with people who think you're less then fully human, you need leverage, because their guarantees often aren't guarantees.

Continuation: I became less worried when I saw Bush often went on the same station and often said the same things. Still, listening to clips of the Obama interview, I find myself thinking "They are going to roll him like a cheap drunk." Let's hope I'm wrong.

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