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.