Friedman goes on to suggest that President Bush's response to the riots should have been, in part:
"Look, Newsweek may have violated journalistic rules, but what jihadist terrorists are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan - blowing up innocent Muslims struggling to build an alternative society to dictatorship - surely destroys the Koran. They are the real enemies of Islam because they are depriving Muslims of a better future. From what I know of Islam, it teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence for his creations, not just his words. Why don't your spiritual leaders say that? I am asking, because I want to know."I wish I could believe that Bush truly wants to know, and is truly ready to engage in that kind of dialogue.
For nearly four years, I have yearned for this kind of robust, candid dialogue between the USA's president, acting as our national representative responding to the horrible attack of September 11, and the leadership of the sector of the Muslim world that attacked us. In this weblog ("Public Christianity," August 12, 2004) I cited such communication as part of the minimum we should expect in response to Jesus's direct command to love our enemies. I still want to see President Bush debate our enemies' grievances - to acknowledge where they are right, to dispute vigorously where they are wrong, and not to fudge issues by looking for disloyalty in the ranks, by insulting our enemies, or by emitting nice platitudes about the Muslims we approve of.
In advocating a direct rhetorical confrontation with Osama bin Laden or his most accessible allies and spokespeople, I am not arguing for legitimizing his tactics by entering into negotiations. Nor would I want to see the kind of limp approach taken by Christians who go into Christian-Muslim dialogues mumbling historically uninformed apologies for the Crusades. I just want the whole Muslim world to see our president, our leadership, demonstrating both integrity and Christian humility, even a bold and nearly unprecedented level of courtesy, by taking on the whole radical-Islamic case against the USA with the kind of directness and candor that Friedman advocates.
And guess what? Doing so would cost a lot less than $300 billion. It would in fact cost a tiny fraction of what it costs to run the facilities at Guantanamo.
Instead, our leaders continue to act as if they believe sending our young men and women into intolerably ambiguous hairtrigger situations, and harvesting the inevitable corpses on all sides, all the while continuing to lay down smokescreens of diversion and outright lies, will win the religious and intellectual conflicts behind the Afghanistan/Iraq war.
On my trip home from Moscow, I spoke with a retired couple from Lexington, Virginia, who were well-educated, friendly, intelligent, widely traveled, and in touch with the world. When I said (in a long conversation that touched on many subjects) that I was hoping to be a Friends missionary, they couldn't believe that Friends had missionaries. The only Friends they knew thought that there was no reason to spread a particular message, because all religions were basically the same.
When I talked about evangelical Friends, they were even more mystified (but to their credit remained in the conversation!) - if we were against war, how could we possibly be evangelical? It turned out that they were totally unaware that large numbers of evangelical Christians have not been "blinded by might" (to appropriate the title of the Cal Thomas/Ed Dobson book) and do not accept certain far-right politicians or ideologies as adequate reflections of the Gospel.
Now comes Calvin College, the location of today's George W. Bush commencement speech. (Calvin's own coverage of the event is here.) Having done some work with this gem of a school, I was not surprised that Calvin's brand of evangelical integrity would lead to courteous but assertive expressions of dissatisfaction with Bush's policies.
An open letter signed by nearly 800 students, faculty and alumni, published as a full-page ad The Grand Rapids Press yesterday, said: "In our view, the policies and actions of your administration, both domestically and internationally over the past four years, violate many deeply held principles of Calvin College."
In a Sojourners commentary, graduating student Elise Elzinga explains her own participation in the dissent surrounding Bush's commencement visit at Calvin:
"For me to sit silently on the sidelines as Bush addresses Calvin and not stand up for what I believe about these issues would be to ignore my personal faith convictions about working for justice. The goal of Calvin student dissent at graduation is not to be disruptive, disrespectful, or unpatriotic, but rather to apply the lessons we've learned about engaging the world as responsible and informed citizens. That's why I - along with other students and some administration and faculty members - will be wearing an armband or button as a non-disruptive display of disapproval."I hope that this news made its way to certain retirees in Lexington, Virginia.