NEW YORK –
It seems too good to be true. The Kurds are free of a tyrannical butcher, the Shiites are free to practice their long-suppressed sect of Islam and the Iraqi border is open to America’s interests. While corporations are salivating over the thought of juicy development contacts, what is going through the minds of America’s Christian missionaries? “So many non-believers,” they observe, “yet so little time.” With the watchful eye of Saddam’s thought police out of the way, and with Protestants and Catholics alike having success recruiting new Christians in the Third World, the freshly opened borders to millions of unsaved souls looks to missionaries like cookies to a toddler.
Will Iraqis welcome missionaries with open arms? If there is a conversion drive anytime soon, there will initially be some resistance, but if it is true that large sections of the Iraqi population view American troops as liberators, then it is very conceivable that they will believe the word of American missionaries. Yet even if discontent with the occupation increases, given the amount of success Christian missionaries have had with populations in underdeveloped countries, social instability among Iraqis could make conversion relatively simple.
Will the American government recognize the separation of church and state and not grant missionaries any special privileges in Iraq? It’s still unclear, but the government has incentive to let Islam in Iraq dwindle, especially among the Shiites, who have protested the American occupation much more than anyone else. The less Islam in Iraq, the less fundamentalism there is, and in turn, America can boast that it eradicated the terrorist threat in Iraq. Therefore, protecting and even encouraging Christian missionaries in Iraq may be in the government’s best interests.
With the failure of the United States to show that Iraq had WMDs or link Saddam to either Sept. 11 or al-Qaida, the Bush administration could tout a decline in fundamentalist Islam in Iraq as a victory in the War on Terror. But is sending Christian missionaries to Iraq a legitimate means of warfare? Is it at all mainstream?
To put in bluntly, it is very much not a mainstream tactic. In fact, after Sept. 11, the Right’s blonde bombshell columnist Ann Coulter suggested the new policy towards the Arab world be to, “bomb their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Such a comment – even while the dust had yet to settle at Ground Zero – was considered so extreme it got Coulter booted from the roster of the hard-line conservative weekly National Review.
There is certainly no international law against missionary activity, but when the waves of men and women preaching the good news come through the borders, the charges of cultural imperialism will fly like F-15s over the floor of the U.N. General Assembly.
Will that matter to Bush? He has made it clear that he doesn’t need the international community’s blessing to do anything; all that concerns him is what the voters will think next year. And given his current popularity and ability to spin the truth to the press, a decrease in Islam, fundamentalist or mainstream, in the Middle East will bring joy to most Americans’ hearts.
Coulter’s prophesy may have been extreme two years ago, but the power of American Christianity and the fear the current administration manufactures have created conditions where a drive to convert the so-called heathens will actually be popular among mainstream America. Things change, and now it’s open season in Iraq for missionaries.
Paul is an LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.