How to win over the enemy

Who said each of the following nearly opposite statements: George W. Bush or Jesus?

  • “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
  • “You’re either with us or against us.”

As you probably guessed, Jesus (Mark 9:38-42) said the first one, and Bush said the second one. Ironic, isn’t it, that a president that claims to have a religious mandate would say nearly the opposite to what’s in the Bible?

In today’s NYTimes editorial “An Easter Sermon,” Robert Wright argues that if Bush had modelled his foreign policy after Jesus’ teachings, we’d have a better chance of winning over our enemies.

Of course, Mr. Bush is more in the shoes of the Roman emperor than of Paul. America isn’t a small but growing religious movement. It’s a great power threatened by a small but growing religious movement — radical Islam. But the logic can work both ways. Great powers, by mindlessly indulging retributive impulses, can give fuel to small but growing religious movements. If you want to deprive jihadists of ammunition, make it hard for them to persuade others to hate us.

Right after Paul espouses kindness to enemies, he adds: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Sounds like naïve moralizing until you look at those Abu Ghraib photos that have become Al Qaeda recruiting posters.

The key distinction is between man and meme. Yes, a great power can always kill and torment enemies, and, yes, there will always be times when that makes sense. Still, when you’re dealing with terrorists, it’s their memes — their ideas, their attitudes — that are Public Enemy No. 1. Jihadists are hosts for the virus of hatred, and the object of the game is to keep the virus from finding new hosts.

A recent BBC survey of 28,000 people worldwide found that only Israel and Iran had a more negative rating than the United States. Of course, our purpose on the world stage isn’t to be popular, but when 28,000 people surveyed generally find something wrong with you, there’s probably something there. Perhaps if we tried to respect other nations and care more about their concerns, we’d accomplish more on the world stage.

Happy Easter.

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