While the world adjusts to the changes going on in the Arab world, events at home and abroad are complicating U.S.-Muslim relations. In the first incident, a CIA contractor named Raymond A. Davis shot two people in Lahore last month, adding strains to the delicate relationship between the United States and Pakistan. At issue is whether Pakistan can prosecute Davis, which the Obama Administration denies vehemently. In the second instance, the FBI has been sued for conducting indiscriminate surveillance at mosques in Southern California. Lastly, President Obama has signed a three-month extension of key surveillance provisions of the PATRIOT ACT on Friday, February 25th.
Each of these acts plays into perceptions that the United States continues to act against Muslims with impunity. The Davis controversy in Pakistan underscores the intense resentment among the population against America, already heightened by ongoing drone attacks. The PATRIOT ACT has been criticized for targeting unfairly Muslim-American citizens, and yet continues to be reauthorized by the Congress and signed by the President.
There has been much talk of an improvement in U.S.-Muslim relations since the years of President George W. Bush. In some ways, the rhetoric has changed and President Obama has sought to engage the Muslim world. However, in terms of policy, much has remained the same. The reality is that engagement will rarely trump the necessity of American interest when it comes to making foreign policy decisions. This administration continues to make this point with its actions.
If we are to engage the Muslim world, the best place to start is honesty. American foreign policy will always be guided by American interest first. It may please the Pakistanis to cease drone attacks and to turn over Mr. Davis over for prosecution but both the law and America’s security requires that we protect our interests abroad. Interests between nations will always clash. This is inevitable, and not necessarily a sign of poor policy. If we pretend that engagement is our end goal and supersedes our interests, we will only continue to expose ourselves to charges of hypocrisy.