Priorities

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 18, 2010

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Whatever the symbolic importance of the Ground Zero mosque, Peter Feaver is quite right in pointing out that there are more important issues to focus on. Like, say, flood relief in Pakistan:

. . . Al Qaeda has sought to turn a broad civil war within the Muslim world into a war between Islam and the infidels (everyone else). If al Qaeda ever succeeded in that aim, our prospects for success would dim considerably. In fact, as President Bush and his advisors made clear within hours of the 9/11 attacks, and as leaders from both parties have emphasized repeatedly ever since — and as most Americans have accepted to a remarkable degree — the United States has not viewed the war on terror as a war against Islam. On the contrary, Americans have expended considerable blood and treasure to help protect Muslim victims of al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist groups. And American leaders have sought, wherever possible, to reach out to the Muslim world and highlight America’s long tradition of religious freedom and unrivaled record as a society that welcomes and integrates immigrants from all walks of life.

President Obama has made this particular aspect of the ideological struggle a personal priority of his and he deserves some credit for doing so.

Yet, all of the focus on the Ground Zero mosque controversy may now be having the ironic effect of distracting us from a much more important and much more urgent issue in that ideological struggle: the vast humanitarian crisis caused by the floods in Pakistan. The human toll is staggering, and that alone ought to be enough to prompt an outpouring of generosity from the American people.

But if you are not moved by the human suffering, perhaps the national-security concerns will prompt you into action. Pakistan is at the epicenter of the war on terror, and it is hard to see how that larger struggle will turn out well if the Pakistani state collapses and the society plunges into anarchy. The country was already teetering on the edge with a bankrupt economy, severe food and water problems, and an ongoing insurgency in Balochistan. And, by the way, al Qaeda and other terrorist networks are primarily in Pakistan, not Afghanistan — indeed, several of the recent attempted terrorist attacks in the United States have originated from or had links to groups in Pakistan. Oh, and Pakistan has a sizable nuclear arsenal.

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