Clerics Schmerics

I posted the following comment to Edward Luttwak’s editorial on the New York Times website:

Although it is true that even if Mr. Obama becomes president the United States will be viewed with distrust abroad, Mr. Luttwak’s analysis of how Muslims will perceive Mr. Obama is wide off the mark. The Middle East is not a monotone swath of fiery clerics and their mindless followers. I spent last year in Turkey and met a wide variety of Muslims. Many Turks both enjoy their national alcoholic beverage raki with fish and attend mosque services on Friday afternoons. The idea that Turkish police would refuse to protect Mr. Obama because of some obscure Sunni cleric’s sharia decision is patently ridiculous.

Mr. Luttwak gives examples of state persecution in Iran and Afghanistan. Those two countries are indeed very repressive Islamic states. Most Muslim countries are not devastated war zones like Afghanistan or run by clerics like Iran. Judging how Mr. Obama will be perceived in the Middle East by referencing “jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools” is like judging how President Gul of Turkey will be received in the United States by reading what the far Christian right thinks of Islam.

Religions are not monolithic unchanging institutions, and culture isn’t easily deciphered by reading religious scripture in Maryland. However Mr. Obama’s religion is perceived abroad, the very fact that he is not President Bush will instantly improve America’s image throughout the Muslim world.

Luttwak’s mistake is seeing the world as more black and white than it really is. This common misperception is apparently also one of the reasons that conservatives are happier than liberals.

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