Monday, September 13, 2010

A plane ride to a stranded pilgrim

This afternoon I came across the following excerpt. It describes actions taken by the U.S. government in response to a need for propaganda victories in the Middle East in 1952:

"When a local airline overbooked and left 3,800 Muslim pilgrims stranded in Beirut, the U.S. embassy arranged for the U.S. Air Force to airlift the pilgrims to Mecca in 'Operation Magic Carpet.' When the airline reimbursed the U.S. government for the face value of the tickets, the government donated the money to charity. Such a story turned on American compassion and respect for Islam. A shared respect for God in the face of godless communism became the default message of U.S. Cold War propaganda in the Middle East."
--Nicholas J. Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (Cambridge, 2008), 74.

Yes, this was an action related to propaganda efforts. Yes, the U.S. government did many far less savory things in the Middle East in the name of Cold War tactics.

Still: compassion and respect for Islam.

A colleague of mine in the field of conservatism studies, Dan Williams, posted a Facebook link to a speech President Dwight Eisenhower made at the opening of an American Islamic center in 1957. It's well worth reading. He speaks of Islam's cultural and scientific contributions to the world, and he defends the right of Muslims to worship. Especially poignant are some of Eisenhower's closing words: "Faithful to the demands of justice and of brotherhood, each working according to the lights of his own conscience, our world must advance along the paths of peace."

Yes, Americans have been mightily tested by those within Islam who do not operate according to their own religion's fundamentally peaceful dictates. That is no excuse for us to abandon our commitment to freedom of expression--or our own charge to advance along the paths of peace.

We need to foster the better angels among us who decided--even with the carrot of a Cold War propaganda victory--to bring a bunch of pilgrims home. We can be the people who help and support. If we do it in the spirit of help and support, there's nothing wrong with reaping the positive benefits of that. And I truly believe that if we do, we will.

No comments: