VillageSoup has offered me the opportunity to periodically share some of my thoughts and comments about the United States and its place in the world. I am a retired medical doctor with no special experience in U.S. foreign policy; but I am a citizen of our large and diverse country and have concerns about its image and future, and the opportunities it now and will offer to future generations.

Since I am a physician, many of these comments will involve an analysis of why a person, group or nation behaves in a particular fashion. We are dealing with the human animal and that organism is possessed with a driving ego. That ego is the individual’s personality and its determination to preserve self and family. This factor underlies all of mankind’s decisions, whether individually, as a group, as a nation, or as a civilization.

Harvard’s Samuel Huntington wrote a book titled “Clash of Civilizations,” which was published in 1996. There were and are many who do not subscribe to his thesis, but I believe that evolving history is revealing that he is dead-on. Our world today does not have battles between nations as the west knows them, but does have conflicts between ideals, religions, ethnicities, tribes — civilizations. Therefore we should not expect to see definitive victories that we have expected from battles and wars prior to the 21st century. We shall see how this all plays out over time, but in the meantime, let’s get down to some specific discourse. Being a human being with an ego, I would enjoy hearing from any of you who are so inclined. Now on to the challenge.

Currently, the west and some countries in the east are involved in a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world. This is ongoing primarily in the Middle East and I don’t expect it to end in my lifetime. Conflicts in these areas have been ignited by fundamentalist Islamic groups, principally al-Qaida with roots in the Wahhabi Islamic sect of Sunni Saudi Arabia. Their belief is that Islam is the only true religion and believers of other religions are infidels and should be subjected to jihad (religious persecution). Al-Qaida lives with and has been protected by other fundamentalist Islamic groups such as the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those two countries today have a defined border, but civilization in the Middle East has been of a tribal nature for centuries and certain tribes such as the Pashtuns live on both sides of the border with essentially free interchange.

Al-Qaida, under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden and his Egyptian compatriot Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has lived among, and been accepted by, the Taliban Pashtuns since the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The United States supported al-Qaida during that conflict as part of its Cold War policy. That turned abruptly in the 1990s as al-Qaida began to attack (engage in jihad) western countries, principally the United States: embassies in Africa and a garage in the World Trade Center in New York City. This was allegedly caused by the presence of U.S. troops stationed in the “holy land” of Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Since that time, the United States has been at war with al-Qaida and those responsible in that sect.

To consider Islam in the same light as al-Qaida and Wahhabism is a travesty and a disservice to believers of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths. The three great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all believe Abraham was the human being who recognized there is but one God. Prior to Abraham, humans believed in a variety of gods that affected their lives.

One day after the garage attack in the World Trade Center in 1993, my wife and I left on a tour that began in Egypt. While traveling down the Nile on a cruise boat during Ramadan, the holy month of Islam, our Egyptian guide invited us to join her one afternoon in the forward lounge for a discussion of Islam. She was from Alexandria, Egypt, and had gone to the University of Cairo as a student. Interestingly, there is a statue of a woman tearing off her veil that stands on the street in front of the university. She and her husband had been to the United States, where he had studied as an agronomist at Ohio State University for two years. Islam, as she described it, is a truly great world religion. There are religious duties for believers that are aimed at treating one’s fellows fairly and warmly whether they are Muslim or not. As she described, Islam is filled with love and fairness, and one might say it embodies the Golden Rule. It’s very different from the sect that is involved with the clash of civilization today.

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.