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Americans are once again surprised to learn that the rest of humanity doesn't always share their hopes and dreams - or even their basic set of values. Hence, in the aftermath of the massacre in Afghanistan of 16 people in the hands of an American soldier, some pundits have been trying to resolve what they consider to be a paradox of sorts.

While the accidental burning of Qurans by US government employees in Afghanistan last month triggered violent protests outside NATO (North Atlantic Treating Organisation) that took at least 29 lives, the intentional mass murder of Afghan civilians, including nine children in Kandahar on March 11 have led to a few and mostly peaceful anti-American demonstrations.

That most Afghans seemed to have supported the February 2006 decision by a judge to execute an Afghan aid worker for converting to Christianity or that many Pakistanis refused to condemn the assassination of leading politician Salman Taseer by his own security guard who disagreed with Mr Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law, are two other examples of incidents that have dramatized the wide gap between what we tend to regard as the American secular tradition and the continuing powerful role that religion tends to play in the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis and other people who, on paper at least, are considered to be America's allies in the war against terrorism.

Indeed, it is difficult for Americans to understand that the so-called Enlightenment Project of the 18th Century - with its rejection of the received truth of religion and faith, of church and traditional authorities and its emphasis on individual rights and the liberating power of reason - which sparked a major philosophical and political revolution in the West and provided the ideological foundations for the establishment of the United States - has never become a unified and universal undertaking.

In fact, the growing power of the theocratic political right in the Republican Party, represented by presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his supporters among Christian Evangelists, conservative Catholics, and ultra-Orthodox Jews - who have expressed strong opposition to abortion, homosexual relations and even contraception - is a sign that even in the American Republic that enshrined the separation of religion and state in its Constitution, religious faith and traditions continue to play a major role in public life.

At best, even in the US, in the Anglosphere and in much of Europe, the Enlightenment Project and the philosophical traditions, political movements and social and economic systems it sparked (secularism; liberalism; democracy; capitalism; socialism) has been a work in progress, adapted in different ways by different national and cultural traditions.

Hence, advancing women's rights, religious freedom, racial equality, political rights, and free markets has certainly not been uniform process in the West. For example, Catholic nations like Italy and Ireland had banned abortion and divorce and blacks had suffered discrimination in the US until the 1960s.

And the American version of democracy and capitalism have not been cloned in the rest of the West, including in Canada that with its government-controlled health care programme and European-like parliamentary system is probably regarded as 'socialist' by the leading Republican presidential candidates, while Canadians and west Europeans believe that the continuing American practice of executing convicts is not very, well, enlightened.