By Daniel Schultz
Look, it’s not that Jim Wallis is wrong, exactly, in this blog post shilling for donations to Sojourners suggesting ways to address the latest round of unrest in the Middle East. He lays out three basic principles for U.S foreign policy in the region: religious extremism cannot be defeated by military means, it’s best defeated from within, and with creative assistance from outside. As top-level bullet points, these are fine, if inevitably oversimplified.
Wallis being Wallis, he can’t help developing them in his inimitable style. There’s the smarmy confidence that if people would just sit down and talk together, they’d find common ground, goshdarnit, and solve all their problems. There’s the belief that religious values—and only religious values—are the solution to every problem, so shut up you atheist rabble. There’s the vaguely patronizing desire to “help” everyone while ignoring real differences and issues of justice, and with the “help” turning out to be both ineffective and a subtle advertisement for Sojourners. However nice billboards in Joplin, Oak Creek and Mufreesboro may be, they’re probably not going to do much to provide hope in Libya or Syria or Yemen for a life without chronic unemployment, official repression, and state-sponsored violence.
But even setting all that aside, Wallis misses the easy shot: it’s both fundamentally immoral and wildly unpopular for the U.S. to keep attacking various nations with drone missile strikes. Literally the fastest and easiest way to improve relations with Middle Eastern Muslims and “defeat the mindset and motives of terrorism” would be to stop blowing up civilians by remote control. Likewise, the fastest and easiest way to promote interfaith relations would be for American Christians to come out against the widespread use of drones.
Of course, any religious leader who wanted to take such a stand would inevitably have to come face-to-face with the fact that drone strikes have increased nearly six-fold under Pres. Obama, and that they enjoy widespread, bipartisan support, all of which might put some stress on that religious leader’s friendly relationships with the president and other leaders. Much safer, in that case, to issue calls for charity and kindness, and whistle past the Nazarene’s call to real, risky love of people facing unjust, arbitrary death.