Global Ethics Corner: Can Trust Be Restored?

Sep 24, 2012

With a U.S.-made anti-Islam film angering many in the Muslim world, some are wondering if there is an unbridgeable divide between the two cultures. Is Islam compatible with free speech and democracy? Can trust between the U.S. and Muslim communities be restored?

Shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, he delivered a groundbreaking speech in Cairo, Egypt, where he announced a "new beginning " in relations between the Islamic world and the United States. For a while, public opinion polls showed the U.S. winning high marks among Muslim communities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey. Many expected the trend to continue long into President Obama's presidency.

But the wave of protests prompted by an American's amateur film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed, have called such hopes into question. After all the expectations ushered in by the Arab Spring, a new wave of analysts are pointing to a so-called "clash of civilizations." They argue that there's an unbridgeable divide between America's defense of free speech, no matter how hateful, and the views of many Muslims across the world, who believe that governments should censor what they consider to be blasphemy.

Not surprisingly, the discussion of an unbridgeable cultural divide has angered many, both in the United States and around the world. Many analysts counter that Islam is compatible with democracy and free speech. They argue that the anger caused by the film was not rooted in anti-democratic sentiment, but in the widespread perception that America lacks respect for Islam.

This perception is due not simply to the war on terror, but to decades of ill-conceived U.S. foreign policy. Despite America's recent role in overthrowing Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi, memories of past American support for dictators remain fresh. Civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes in Muslim countries only reinforce antagonism and suspicions.

As Americans try to make sense of the recent protests, what do you think? Can trust between America and Muslim communities be restored? If so, how can individuals work to achieve this?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Howard LaFranchi, "How Arab Spring turned into protests and 'Death to America!'," The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2012

Lizzy Tomei, "Anti-US protests and Arab public opinion: Q&A," GlobalPost, September 17, 2012

Nathan Gardels and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "America should not apologize for values that clash with hostile Islam," The Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 2012

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force Chuck Kennedy/White House Pete Souza/White House White House sam bacile United Nations Photo Jennifer Yiu Sam Graham [also for pictures 10 and 11] David Shankbone U.S. Army William Murphy doodledubz collective Debra Sweet Asim Bharwani

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