With the start of a new administration, we have an opportunity to start to look at existing issues in a new light. Since I am not a holder of or a candidate for public office, I have the luxury of speaking plainly.
I want to start with President Obama’s Inaugural Address and, more specifically, about the war in Afghanistan. The Address contained a couple of passages relevant to that conflict.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
. . . for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
There are some who will argue that this is a contradiction. They hold that Islam is a religion that promotes the use of terror and the slaughtering of innocents, and are able to quote multiple passages in the Koran to support this interpretation.
Though there are other passages that can be interpreted as prohibiting the slaughter of innocents, when God commands people to do X in one instance, and prohibits people from doing X in another, it is left up to the reader to decide whether or not to do X. Whatever he decides, he can claim that he is doing God’s will.
I deny that there is a “Muslim World” per se. Instead, there are hundreds or thousands of Muslim cultures that share in some characteristics and differ in others. Among these hundreds of Islams there is one that is the most peaceful, and one that is the most violent, and a range of Islams in between.
I would be hard pressed to argue that there is any one thing that all of these Islams have in common. There is probably even an atheist Islam, just as there are atheist Jews and – cultural Islams in the same mold that Richard Dawkins talks about when he calls himself a cultural Christian.
In light of these facts, and in light of the quest for peace, there is an inescapable conclusion that people are seemingly extremely reluctant to admit out loud.
The quest for peace will necessarily involve a decision on the part of this administration and every other government in the world to promote some religions and to inhibit others. The war against terror is, at one level, a war against some Islams.
In other words, there are some Muslim worlds against which the United States cannot and will not “seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
There are some who read the First Amendment to the Constitution – the one that says that Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof – to mean that the government cannot get into the business of promoting some religions and inhibiting others.
This is nonsense.
The government has every right – it has a duty – to inhibit some religions. It has a duty to inhibit those religions that tell their people that God wants them to strap on bombs and kill innocent people.
The only way that this duty can be made compatible with a prohibition on laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion is if we define religion in such a way that nothing that commands such an act is defined as a religion. Yet, if we take this route, we can easily get to a conclusion where the First Amendment tolerates even so much as a national church. All we need to do is re-define religion so that only a given faith (e.g., Catholocism) counts as a religion, and all competitors are thus defined as “non-religious” (meaning “non-Catholic”).
The first Amendment then becomes a law that merely prohibits the government from passing laws against the free exercise of Catholicism, while permitting any restrictions one can imagine against other “non-religious” practices.
The point here is that these types of maneuvers are just playing with words. In the absence of these types of word games, we should be honest with is involved in this war on terror. It is a war against both religious and non-religious philosophies that practice certain forms of violence against innocents. It is, in part, a promise to pass laws and to use weapons to prohibit – to outlaw and to arrest those who promote and practice – certain varieties of Islam, Christianity, Judaism . . . and, yes, certain species of atheism.
There are some religions that simply do not deserve – and can never be granted – our respect.
I do not need to take the position of somebody like Sam Harris that this should be a war against Islam in all of its manifestations. In fact, I do not agree with Harris' position. Harris argument involves an unwarranted leap from what is true of "a religion" (the specific religion he uses as an example), and what is true of "religion", making his arguments invalid.
However, we do not need to make this leap to reach a similar conclusion. Even if our complaint is against "an Islam" and we refuse to make the hasty generalizations that Harris makes, it is still the case that there is just cause for a war against some Islams. Congress can and will pass laws prohibiting the free exercise of some religioius practices - such as the practices of flying airplanes into sky scrapers and blowing up busses and trains.