Aside from the stark geographical differences between the east and the west, the ideals and ways of life are unlike anything Americans can and ever will understand. At the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, Neoconservatives such as Dick Cheney believed that the Americans would be welcomed as "liberators." In the future, Iraqis would gather in George W. Bush square in downtown Baghdad to sing our praises. Needless to say, that did not happen.
Citizens in the Middle East will never understand us, and reciprocally, we will never understand them. This could, however, become subject to change. In 2001, the idea of the Neoconservatives was to drive a wedge in Islam and create a democracy in the Middle East. The only problem was that democracy was an alien idea to that region. Those who inhabit the Middle East have been ruled by theocracies for thousands of years. It would be very difficult to suddenly change their beliefs which predate our own great nation.
The Washington Post recently did a piece on atheism in the world. They listed six countries which execute citizens for atheism. Of those six countries, four of them are located in the Middle East. They include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These nations do not enjoy religious freedoms as other nations world-wide do. Many of these nations in the Middle East govern with Sharia law which is the moral and religious code of Islam. These laws dictate behavior and define criminal and religious offenses. Their religion dominates their society and government in ways Americans just do not understand.
The first amendment to the United States Constitution was aimed to protect us from creating a state religion such as Islam or even Christianity (case in point: Henry VIII of England). The founders did not want the United States to fall subject to these cases which have occurred throughout history. While many will argue that the United States was founded on religious values, our founders did not want a leader to determine the religion of the people and the nation.
The world has seen how seriously entrenched religion is in the Middle East during protests over French cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a distasteful manor. Islamists have also held protests over Koran burnings in Florida when an American radical called for the anti-Islam demonstrations. Some believe that the world should not have to walk on eggshells when approaching this issue and not give in to the violent protests, but religion is life in that portion of the world. Religious freedom is a privilege shared by many other countries around the world, but to those in the Middle East, their religion is everything.
Democracy is not an indigenous idea to the Middle East and it has been subject to backlash but has made its way slowly in some cases. If the United States expects to mend its relationship with the region, they need to have a better understanding of the Islamic way of life rather than trying to change it. Their ideas are not wrong in many ways, they are just different from ours. In recent years tensions have run high between the United States and the Middle East but we must not solve the problem by Americanizing them. It has proved to be ineffective and costly. We need a more diplomatic solution which will bring forth peaceful negotiations and relations between the two vastly different societies.