One can only hope that the shrill, ideological voices that distort the meaning of the Egyptian revolution will not prevail, for these are the voices that could lead to catastrophe.
Some of these voices claim that the revolution is the leading edge of a radical Muslim attempt to control the Middle East and then the world.
Some have claimed -- Glenn Beck is a notable case in point -- that the Egyptian revolution is the harbinger of a menacing "one-world government."
Others claim that the Egyptian revolution will ultimately lead to a massive Muslim attack on Israel, thereby ushering in the final "battle of Armageddon" and the end of this world.
What the ideologues all share in common is this: a fear of the Muslim faith which they routinely seek to distort.
In the final analysis, these kinds of fears and apocalyptic warnings undermine the growth of democracy and the best interests of the United States.
That, of course, is a deep and terrible irony, since from its birth as a nation the United States has always sought to inspire democracy throughout the globe.
The truth is this: The Egyptian revolution is being waged by a vast coalition of Muslims, Christians, secularists, and others. Some are old. Some are young. Some are students. Some are workers. Some are desperately poor, and some are not.
But they all share one thing in common: a passion for freedom and democracy. Many Egyptians, in fact, view America as the grand example of the kind of society they hope to create.
How tragic it would be if the shrill, apocalyptic voices so widely heard in America today -- voices that badly misread the meaning of the Egyptian revolution -- finally undermine American support for a movement that could help establish democracy in that vital region of the world.
Once before in America's history, we tragically misread the meaning of a popular revolution and paid a terrible price.
In 1945, seeking independence from French colonial control, Ho Chi Minh created the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with a "declaration of independence" modeled squarely on America's own Declaration of Independence.
The Vietnamese declaration proclaimed that "all men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
In 1945, Ho Chi Minh addressed a letter to President Harry Truman that affirmed "the sentiments of friendship and of admiration which our people feel towards the American people." His letter concluded with this strong expression of admiration for the United States: "America's fine stand for peace and international justice on all occasions is not only appreciated by our governing spheres but also by the whole Vietnamese nation."
In 1946, Ho addressed another letter to President Truman, begging for American support against the French who sought to extend colonial control over his country. Ho wrote, "I most earnestly appeal to you personally and to the American people to interfere urgently in support of our independence and help making the negotiations more in keeping with the principles of the Atlantic and San Francisco Charters."
President Truman never responded.
The United States rebuffed a popular movement for Vietnamese independence for one primary reason: our fear of Communism. The Truman administration felt that French control of Vietnam would provide a powerful wall against the spread and growth of Communism in that part of the world.
But by refusing to support the democratic aspirations of that country, we left the Vietnamese with only one other choice -- to turn to Communist powers for their support.
America paid a very high price for that decision, and if we listen to the apocalyptic voices that can find in the Egyptian revolution only the birth of a "one-world government" or the dawn of a great "battle of Armageddon" or the creation of radical Muslim control of the Middle East, we will once again act against our nation's own best interests.
And we may once again pay a terrible price for allowing our fears to subvert our own democratic principles.
Richard T. Hughes is Distinguished Professor of Religion and Director of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah College, and the author of 'Christian America and the Kingdom of God'.
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