Monday, September 7, 2009

Combating Extremism Abroad

There is a debate going on about how America should use information, propaganda, and humanitarian aid to combat extremism abroad. Reversing the tide of extremism worldwide is now the number one foreign policy goal of the Obama administration, and an important part of meeting that goal is to use information and diplomacy.

But Washington seems divided about whether to spread information and goods (such as messages of peace, mosquito nets, and bottled water) as overtly American or using the voice of the local people. In other words, is it in our best interests to advertise America as providing these goods and services and education, or would we see more positive results if those things were perceived to be coming from local organizations.

The argument for America stepping back and letting local voices speak for tolerance and peace, as opposed to our government making that case, is fairly persuasive. For one, America has a terrible reputation overseas right now, and anything coming out of Washington is viewed with skepticism and distrust. Pres. Obama is taking steps to mend broken fences, but it will take time. Often, then, people that would otherwise benefit from goods or see the virtues of our message of peace and democracy will reject it outright simply out of disdain for our country. There is therefore a threat of fostering more extremism through our perceived "meddling."

More fundamentally, however, it is important for people to hear the message of peace and tolerance from their peers. It resonates more. It seems to me that democracy and peace are more stable and long-lasting if they come from an organic process, like the American revolution, as opposed to coming by force, like in Iraq. When a nation takes ownership for its own destiny and raises up a generation of brave, freedom-loving patriots, its peace and freedom will be all the sweeter. America can nurture this organic process, but probably shouldn't be forcing it.

The other point is that it is more important for us to foster dislike of extremists than love for America. The point is to make America and Americans abroad safer, not to be everyone's best buddy. If we can be successful in encouraging nations such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and the Sudan to reject extremists within their border, then perhaps a closer relationship with America will be a positive side-effect. But the goal is for those nations to voluntarily reject extremism, intolerance, and war.

One of the signs that more is needed to be done is the closing of the temple in Aba, Nigeria. This is a country that for years was one of the more stable African countries. There has recently been increased violence, however, even in the safe neighborhoods like the one the temple is in. Perhaps if America had been focusing on emergent nations such as Nigeria, that showed signs of enduring peace and freedom, instead of focusing efforts on a war with Iraq, we might have avoided Nigeria's deterioration.

Finally, I want to point people again to the talk by Elder Oaks, "World Peace." I think it provides excellent insight into how we, as members of the church, can promote peace. Sometimes it seems overwhelming to me. There are so many huge problems in the world that seem unsolvable. But Elder Oaks makes a simple statement: "The blessings of the gospel are universal, and so is the formula for peace: keep the commandments of God. War and conflict are the result of wickedness; peace is the product of righteousness."

Obviously we can't demand that America adopt the Gospel as its primary foreign policy tool. The Obama administration is doing what it can by promoting peace and stability behind the scenes. But we should be doing what we can, as members of the church, by living and spreading the Gospel. There are members of the church in hundreds of nations, and I really believe that where even a few members live the Gospel in an otherwise oppressive nation, peace and freedom can follow.

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