Their Logic, Our Crusade

An ascendant right-wing narrative, growing out of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy but potentially impacting all Muslims, is that religions must pass some “test” of compatibility before qualifying for First Amendment protection. Islam, apparently, fails that test, because a violent minority within the faith successfully tricks the untrained into thinking it’s a majority, and Islamic populations are otherwise incompatible with democracy:

Including Islam within the fold of traditional western religious tolerance is not business-as-usual. It is an experiment. Our Lockean ideas of religious tolerance had their origins in the 16th century (the peace of Augsburg) and the 17th (the peace of Westphalia). Those understandings regulated relations between Christian sects and were steadily liberalised. Judaism later proved assimilable into this system in the US, but not, to put it mildly, everywhere in the west.

Islam – which is, like Christianity but unlike contemporary Judaism, an evangelising and expansionist religion – is a bigger challenge. A radical school of it views the US as its main enemy. Because that school is amply funded by Arabian oil, there is a standing fear that radicals will capture any large international project involving Islam, no matter how good its original intentions.

I wonder whether we actually believe that. Thomas Jefferson didn’t. To his enduring credit, neither did President Bush. And it goes without saying that neither the Constitution, nor our tradition of religious freedom, reflect any such test. Folding in any subjectivity, anywhere, vitiates the entire concept of religious freedom.

But if we believe otherwise, it’s time to pull out of both Iraq and Afghanistan, with all deliberate speed, as our purpose is no longer legitimate. In both countries, we remain with the stated goal of propping up an enduring democratic society, to permanently displace, and eradicate root and branch, all vestiges of violent, clerical theocracy. Bush, on the subject:

We will tear down the apparatus of terror, and help you build a new Iraq, that is prosperous, and free.

Deprived of this justification, we can be nothing more than crusaders, interlopers in a foreign land winning converts not to peace and democracy, but to Christ. Sadly, that’s been a constant undercurrent in the military. We’ve equipped our soldiers with verse-inscribed rifles, and I, at least, have met more than a few soldiers who’ve bragged about doing “the Lord’s Work.” This is an entirely illegitimate goal. But if Islam is irredeemable, it’s the only explanation for these wars.


  1. Actually, Jefferson, et. al. believed the exact opposite. “Religious tolerance” in Europe at the time meant that European states wouldn’t go to war with each other over religion. What they did to people in their country not of the official religion was their own business.

    In England of 1776, this meant that:
    1) Catholic priests were subject to execution
    2) Catholics couldn’t vote, own land or guns.

    That’s how we got Maryland and Delaware.

    1. Jefferson:

      ” The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

    2. It wasn’t their own business in the Holy Roman Empire after Westphalia – the princes were obliged not to discriminate against subjects of different denominations, especially because it was exactly such discrimination that had contributed to starting the Thirty Years’ War in the first place.

  2. The FT quote shows that Mr Caldwell is, as so often before, confused, this time about the nature and origins of different types of religious tolerance.

    Claiming that Locke builds his ideas of tolerance on the Peaces of Augsburg and Westphalia are at best questionable. Augsburg and later Westphalia established the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, that is that each prince has the sovereign right to establish the religion of his own state, but that other denominations were guaranteed a right to worship under certain circumstances (as long as they were either Catholic, Lutheran or Calvinist; Anabaptists needed not apply). This is the essence of early modern tolerance: That one particular demonination is legally established, which others are allowed to exist, but with legal limitations.

    The Lockean idea of toleration, on the other hand, is quite different and has its origins not in the Continental religious wars, but in the English Civil War. Locke argues for the entire separation of church and state, so that toleration is in a sense extended to all* religions and denominations. This is a quite different concept that the one found in the Peace of Augsburg, and builds on entirely different assumptions and historical experiences.

    * – Or almost all; predicting the later discussions of how far tolerance can go without endangering the state, Locke excluded Roman Catholics because they were perceived to also have political loyalties to the Pope.

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