On Blasphemy, Assimilation and Accommodation

09/27/2012 05:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2012

A long time ago when I first worked in strategic policy analysis I was given two things to read. The first was a copy of Getting To Yes, the guidebook used by President Carter during the Camp David negotiations that first brought Israel and Egypt to the bargaining table. The most interesting thing I retained from that book was the importance of knowing your BATNA; that stands for one's Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement.

The second were copies of essays written by John Adams on his thoughts about how the United States should respond to the many colonies in South America inspired to break free by the recently won American Revolution. The primary lesson I got from one of America's Founding Fathers is that leadership is about being the example that inspires the world to be a better place.

These works were given to me to learn some important lessons as I prepared to join the effort to win the Cold War and bring global stability to the planet. They were set in the human rights scale of time in in the days after the descent into depravity and carnage of Pol Pot and before the equally depraved ethnic cleansing against Muslims of Slobodan Milosevic.

Time has moved on and today we deal with a very complex world alignment of one of the world's religions. Islam has met the modern world and it is losing. The old countries of the religion are churning the definition of culture, power and piety. It reveals itself in a quickening pace of social revolutions, population urbanization, declining birth rates and technological adoption. It is a change that is breaking down the old order whether Sultanate or Shariah. We who live outside the borders of these countries often find ourselves confused observers of it all. It's because we've already gone through the sectarian and democratic transitions these formerly insular places are just beginning to.

It just gets worse for Islam when you factor in what's happening to it in the Western World. Immigration patterns in both Europe and North America seem very much on track to assimilate Muslims into the host cultures they settle in. The trill of the alarmists aside, the first, second and third generation integration patterns are no different than other waves that came before them. They are on track to be part of the Borg collective of the West. A couple of numbers I found amusing is that Muslims will eventually number around seven percent (7%) of western populations which is still three percent (3%) fewer than the number of atheists that they'll have to live with. The other number I found funny is that enclave growth wise, the religious group that continues to make inroads in the west is not Muslims but Roman Catholics.

All of this points out a simple truth. The West is winning the global culture war. Secularism and democracy are changing people one by one as surely as the messages of the prophets did the same centuries ago. There's very little that will stop it. The Muslim tide so bandied about by pundits is certainly real; but when I look at it objectively it's an ebb tide.

And so now I turn to how should the west and in particular my country, the United States of America, comport itself diplomatically in these times. What beacons should we present to help inspire the 21st century to be better? Are we credible inspirations? Do we ourselves live up to our own ideals? What BATNA should we hold in our pockets to stand by our principles as others undergo their cultural revolutions?

On the subject of blasphemy,

I think America would be wise to insist upon our principles that thin skinned living is fundamentally un-American. It defiles the core essence of a tolerant plural society. Petty outrage is a weapon of intolerance and it has no place here. Those who would impose it are the most dangerous enemies of our culture.

This caution applies to many other forms of intolerance that have become part of the America of late. We could do with a little more returning to remember that, our family squabbles notwithstanding, we have something special in common that is best appreciated when we are playful.

On the subject of assimilation,

Assimilation into American society is not about hanging on to who you were. Not about building your enclave. It's about letting go of those bindings so you can ascend to what you can become. You cannot be equal here until you learn this fundamental truth.

On the subject of accommodation,

So what's a good diplomatic response to demands that plural democratic cultures change their irreverent ways to suit insular cultures? How about, "No"?

What insular cultures need to realize is that complex democracies need room for discord in order to create living space for the great variety of people that co-habitate their lands. It is important that Western democracies need to respectfully but sternly decline to abandon that which makes them strong.

The more I study this subject, the more I realize that the people of Arabia and Southwest Asia -- in truth of many faiths not just Islam -- migrating to the lands of the Western democracies are slowly but surely assimilating to their new homes. The process, while tumultuous at times, has an inevitable outcome. Like all others who have come before them, in a generation, they will become recognizably different from their cousins in the old countries. They will be members of a new culture foreign to where they came from, more plural and tolerant in their views, more valuing of their neighbors in their new homelands.

It is also clear to me the the United States needs to resist the temptation to "be nice at our expense" in the short term. That's never worked out well for us. Time is on our side. Tides turn as surely as the sun rises. And in the end, it is the insular who must find a way to cease being so.