President Bush might as well have asked Karen Hughes - his friend and longtime political adviser - to hold back Hurricane Katrina, because he has assigned her an equally impossible task. In naming Hughes undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, the president wants her to improve America's image abroad and specifically in the Muslim world.
The Bush administration believes that image has been distorted and the message concerning what America stands for is not getting out. The problem with this thinking is that the Muslim world's position regarding the United States is rooted in fundamental political and most especially religious doctrines that will not be changed by people many of them regard as 'infidels' and worthy of death.
Take Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population. Three Christian women were given three-year prison sentences in West Java earlier this month after they were convicted of "enticing" Muslim school children to become Christians. The parents of the Muslim children had given permission for them to attend Sunday school classes in private homes.
None of them converted, but the hosts are going to prison for speaking of their faith in front of Muslim kids. How does America combat such a mentality through political "missionary trips" and television commercials? Asked another way, has the public relations campaign by some Muslim organizations in America converted us to the belief that they and Islam are mainly peaceful and interested in religious and political co-existence?
Some Muslim clerics and Web bloggers have been gloating over the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. They say it is Allah's judgment on wicked America. It is unlikely people of such persuasion can be convinced of America's goodness.
Here are two of many examples of this line of thinking. In a Sept. 2 sermon on the hurricane that was broadcast on Sudan TV (transcribed and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute), Sheik Al-Karouri said, "If America wants to maintain what is left of its civilization, it must free itself, as we say in Sudan, from the curse of the Jews. ... The curse of Israel has affected America. ... The state (sic) called New Orleans is no longer 'new' at all. ... If people want their countries to prosper, they must make peace with Allah and avoid disputing Allah and His prophet."
"Al-Qaida in The Land of the Two Rivers" issued a statement that declared, "Congratulations to the nation of Islam on what befell the worshippers of the cross."
How does one counter this? How can an "infidel" like Karen Hughes or any other American say or do anything (short of removing U.S. support for Israel and converting en masse to Islam) that will change these minds? After receiving $50 million in aid from the United States, Palestinian Authority religious officials continue to openly promote vicious anti-American hatred. According to a Sept. 6 Palestinian Media Watch bulletin, one religious leader, in the presence of Mahmoud Abbas, called for Iraqis to intensify terrorist uprisings against American soldiers.
In a June 24 letter to Philip J. Perry, general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, Barry Sabin, chief of the counterterrorism section for the Department of Justice, described The Muslim Brotherhood organization (which claims chapters in 70 nations, including America) as "committed to the globalization of Islam through social engineering and violent jihad." How does Karen Hughes, or anyone else, reprogram such people?
Hughes recently spoke at a gathering of American Muslims in Rosemont, Ill. She told a news conference, "We need to foster a sense of common interest and common values among Americans and peoples of different faiths and different cultures." That sounds good to Western ears, but where are such values shared in the Muslim world? What if the strategy of our enemies is to take advantage of the kindness, understanding and pluralistic intentions of the United States in order to further infiltrate and undermine this country? This is the plot line of the chilling 1995 novel by Peter De Rosa called "Pope Patrick." A fictional "Federation of Islamic Republics" weakens the resolve of the United States government by using America's good motives against the president with disastrous results.
Before President Bush and Karen Hughes proceed with their attempts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, they should read this novel, which sounds more like current events than fiction.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist and a host on Fox News Channel. Readers may leave e-mail at www.calthomas.com . His column appears on Tuesday and Thursday.