The world's new divide

Welcome to the new divide.

Not since the cold war has there been a dividing of the world's nations into separate blocs of such differing ideology and philosophy.

This time the division is not between communists and capitalists. It's between the West and its allies on the one hand and much of the Islamic world on the other.

One had hoped that the eclipse of Osama bin Laden would have tempered Islamic extremists and caused them to reevaluate realistically the causes of backwardness in many Arab lands. Instead, their hatred of America seems to have been refueled.

Meanwhile, the coalition of countries hastening to support the United States in its war on terrorism is expanding and coalescing.

Thus the lines are being drawn. On one side are the Muslim forces that have set their faces against modernity, democracy, advancement of women, and economic progress. On the other are those nations that, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have allied themselves with these essentially American principles and ideals.

Rallying to the American side are nations motivated by diverse factors. Some are former communist states forsaking Marxism for free enterprise. Some are undoubtedly stirred by the forcefulness of President Bush's response to the terrorist attacks. They have witnessed America projecting its military force with vigor and success. They want to go with a winner.

Russia, once the cornerstone of international communism, is becoming almost capitalist. President Putin has forged a chummy new relationship with President Bush. Rapprochement between the two countries "picked up speed" after Sept. 11, and "vast new prospects are opening up for Russian-American relations," wrote Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Sunday's New York Times.

China, while seeking to preserve the trappings of communism for political control, has virtually abandoned it for economic development. Only last year, China threw an anti-American tantrum when a US reconnaissance plane collided with one of its buzzing jets. Since Sept. 11, China has changed its tone significantly. Now it supports US action in Afghanistan, is reaching out to the Bush administration, and even brushes aside the apparent US bugging of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's personal Boeing 767.

Even Cuba's Fidel Castro, one of the last fading practitioners of communism, is trying to burnish his image. His country is listed by the US as a terrorist-harboring nation, but he's trying to convince the US of his new antiterrorist credentials. A test of this alleged new posture will be whether he abandons his support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This guerrilla army, now engaged in uncertain peace talks with the Colombian government, has long been given sanctuary and blessing by Castro.

After Sept. 11, Castro has been docile on the US transfer of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan to the US rented base at Guantánamo, Cuba. All this cooperation from Castro is part of a rapprochement campaign designed to ease US trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, thus providing an inflow of currency badly needed for the island's ailing economy.

Meanwhile, one of the most interesting converts to the American cause is Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf moved quickly and laudably after the Sept. 11 attack to ally his country with the US and redirect it away from its disturbing slide toward Islamic fundamentalism. It is a course fraught with some political peril. But if Mr. Musharraf is successful, Pakistan could become a significant example for those Islamic factions on the other, extremist, side of the new international divide.

Even in Iran, a country with which the US has had a difficult relationship, there are demands for reform and dialogue with America. However, these are offset by "Death to America" cries by the conservative ayatollahs, Iranian meddling in Afghanistan, and the recent shipment of a freighter-load of Iranian arms to the Palestinians.

So the sides are being taken in this new international divide. Those who ally with the US can try to bridge the chasm to the Islamic world with aid, with information, with understanding. In the end, the answer lies with the Muslims themselves.

As the noted Yale Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis says in his latest book ("What Went Wrong?"), either Middle Eastern societies will continue in "a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression," or they can "abandon grievance and victimhood" and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor.

• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News.

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