The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

No Mere Religion

Regular readers in this space know that I am no fan of Donald Trump. As a politician, Trump is a bombastic, hubristic bully who has superficial knowledge of important wedge issues but offers no meaningful policy prescriptions to address them. When pressed for detail, Trump is one question deep, blathering on about how in his magnificence he will cow China on trade, or get Mexico to build a wall, or defeat radical Islam. He provide little indication that he has a deep understanding of any of those issues. Yet, low information republicans and not a few democrats (the "trumpkins") seem to like what he says.

Like many of his media-driven controversies, Trump's latest suggestion that we ban all Muslim immigration until we better understanding of how to vet the immigrants for terror ties or sympathies has caused a uproar. Republicans condemned the idea immediately, suggesting that it is overreach. Democrats got the vapors, using it as yet another opportunity to demogogue the issue and paint all GOP candidates (who had just rejected Trump's idea) with a Trump brush.

It might be worth taking a deep breath, stepping back from hyperventilation, and considering the core issue—immigration from predominantly Muslim countries (e.g., Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq) with heavy levels of sympathy (based on reliable polling) for Islamist thought.

Andrew McCarthy comments on the underlying problem:
Some Muslims come to the United States to practice their religion peacefully, and assimilate into the Western tradition of tolerance of other people’s liberties, including religious liberty — a tradition alien to the theocratic societies in which they grew up. Others come here to champion sharia, Islam’s authoritarian societal framework and legal code, resisting assimilation into our pluralistic society.

Since we want to both honor religious liberty and preserve the Constitution that enshrines and protects it, we have a dilemma.

The assumption that is central to this dilemma — the one that Trump has stumbled on and that Washington refuses to examine — is that Islam is merely a religion. If that’s true, then it is likely that religious liberty will trump constitutional and national-security concerns. How, after all, can a mere religion be a threat to a constitutional system dedicated to religious liberty?

But Islam is no mere religion.
One often hears the phrase "political Islam" when there is an attempt to make a distinction between the religious elements of Islam and its other pivotal elements. But the religious elements cannot be easily extracted from an "ideological system that governs all human affairs, from political, economic, and military matters to interpersonal relations and even hygiene." (McCarthy) To be a good Muslim, the entire system must be adopted. The only question is one of emphasis—does a Muslim person take the dictates that lead to Sharia Law literally, or is moderation applied?

McCarthy continues:
Our constitutional principle of religious liberty is derived from the Western concept that the spiritual realm should be separate from civic and political life. The concept flows from the New Testament injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.

Crucially, the interpretation of Islam that is mainstream in most Muslim-majority countries does not accept a division between mosque and state. In fact, to invoke “mosque” as the equivalent of “church” in referring to a division between spiritual and political life is itself a misleading projection of Western principles onto Islamic society. A mosque is not merely a house of worship. It does not separate politics from religion any more than Islam as a whole does. There is a reason why many of the fiery political protests that turn riotous in the Middle East occur on Fridays — the Muslim Sabbath, on which people pour out of the mosques with ears still burning from the imam’s sermon.

The lack of separation between spiritual and civic life is not the only problem with Islam. Sharia is counter-constitutional in its most basic elements — beginning with the elementary belief that people do not have a right to govern themselves freely. Islam, instead, requires adherence to sharia and rejection of all law that contradicts it. So we start with fundamental incompatibility, before we ever get to other aspects of sharia: its systematic discrimination against non-Muslims and women; its denial of religious liberty, free speech, economic freedom, privacy rights, due process, and protection from cruel and unusual punishments; and its endorsement of violent jihad in furtherance of protecting and expanding the territory it governs.
I honestly believe that Donald Trump doesn't have the intellect or the interest to understand these subtle but very important issues. But at some level, his latest controversy could be used as a catalyst for an important discussion about the nature of Islam and whether there might be reasons to carefully vet any Muslim that arrives at our borders from countries with broad support for "political Islam" (a.k.a. Sharia law).

The pull between Islam as a religion and Islam as an ideology continue in the Muslim world, and it may never be adequately resolved. Islam as an ideology is inherently antithetical to our constitutional democracy.

McCarthy addresses this when he writes:
For [some] Muslims, Islam is, in effect, merely a religion, and as such it deserves our Constitution’s protections.

For other Muslims, however, Islam is a political program with a religious veneer. It does not merit the liberty protections our law accords to religion. It undermines our Constitution and threatens our security. Its anti-assimilationist dictates create a breeding ground for violent jihad.

If we continue mindlessly treating Islam as if it were merely a religion, if we continue ignoring the salient differences between constitutional and sharia principles — thoughtlessly assuming these antithetical systems are compatible — we will never have a sensible immigration policy.
Advocating open Muslim immigration is a form of mindless moral preening that refuses to examine the potential threat of political Islam. If we don't establish some mechanism for dealing with immigrants who support political Islam, the threat of terror will be only a small subset of the long-term threats we may face.