Andrew McCarthy’s Guide for the Perplexed
Christianity at its core makes room for the secular realm (“render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”) in a way that Islam does not (everyone and everything always and everywhere is subject to the will of Allah). That difference is critical. It does not mean that we in the West deny the pertinence of religious and moral tenets for everyday life. As Andy puts it, “the fact that we separate church and state in the West does not mean our moral sense is without influence — indeed, profound influence — over how we conduct secular affairs. But in the West, we reject the notion that any religious belief system’s tenets should control those affairs. In the United States, we reject the establishment of a state religion — such official primacy would suffocate freedom of conscience, a bedrock of liberty.”
The operation of this fundamental moral economy works in a very different way in Islam. “By contrast,” Andy points out:
The foundation of Middle Eastern Islam is submission to Allah’s law, not individual liberty. This interpretation of Islam thus rejects a division between the secular and the spiritual. Its sharia system contemplates totalitarian control. That makes Islamist ideology (i.e., Islamic supremacism, or what is sometimes more elliptically called “political Islam”) just another totalitarian ideology, albeit one that happens to have a religious veneer.
There are thus two things to bear in mind:
- “Islamist ideology . . . [is] just another totalitarian ideology."
- Islam’s theological tenets “are every bit as deserving of the First Amendment’s guarantees as any other.”
The price of that guarantee, however, is assimilation:
Muslims must accept that, in America and the West, it is not Islam but our traditions — especially the separation of church and state — that set the parameters of religious liberty. This way, Islam, the religion, is protected, but Islamic supremacism, the totalitarian ideology, is not. The latter undeniably draws on Islamic scripture, but it is categorically akin to Communism or National Socialism, not to religious creeds.
It is often said that the first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem and having the courage to call it by its real name. We Western liberals have a difficult time doing that. We habitually extend to others the benefit of the doubt, the latitude of tolerance, the dispensation that assumes all are, at bottom, freedom-loving creatures with domestic concerns akin to our own.
This is dangerously naïve and wrongheaded. Exactly how wrongheaded can be summed up in a single word: sharia, i.e., Islamic law. They — hundreds of millions of Muslims — want it, we do not. Al-Qaeda wants to impose sharia the world over. But it is not just al-Qaeda. “Non-violent Islamists also want to impose sharia, “ as Andy notes, “that’s why they’re Islamists.” Moreover:
These reputedly non-violent Islamists are not a “small minority” — they may be a majority of the world’s Muslims, and they are certainly a majority of the Middle East’s Muslims. They are al-Qaeda’s ideological allies, and, truth be told, they’re not really all that non-violent: They generally disagree with al-Qaeda’s attacks on Muslims and on non-Muslim countries, but they are supportive of violence against what they take to be non-Muslim aggressors in what they consider Islamic territories. Indeed, the sharia to which they adhere requires financial support (zakat) for those fighting in Allah’s cause.
The bottom line? “Sharia is the tie that binds terrorists to all other Islamists.” We in the West will never get a handle on the problem of Islam — the problem that this deeply illiberal ideology poses for our civilization — until we acknowledge the true dimensions of the problem we’re dealing with. Neville Chamberlain thought that Hitler was a man he “could do business with.” He was wrong about that, with unfortunate consequences. Had he straight off acknowledged the true nature of the threat Hitler represented, he might have saved the world, and not least the Germans, a great deal of unpleasantness.
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