Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Islam and the First Amendment

Ten years ago, distinguished scholar Bernard Lewis wrote a book entitled, What Went Wrong?

Its subject was: what went wrong with Islam? How did Islamic cultures lose out in the clash of modern civilizations?

Lewis offered a deceptively simple answer: Islamic cultures have failed to thrive in the modern world because they do not separate church (or mosque) and state.

Where Christianity directs its adherents to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to render unto God that which is God's, Islam sees no barrier, no wall, no separation: it believes that everything belongs to Allah.

Of course, other cultures and religions do not have the First Amendment. Muslims seem distinct because they demand  respect for their religion while systematically disrespecting everyone else's.

It's not just that Islam refuses to separate the sacred from the profane; in far too many places it refuses to compromise, to assimilate or to live in harmony with other faiths or other cultural values.

Other religions seek to proselytize the teachings of their deity. Islam believes that it must impose itself on those who do not believe in its god.

Without making reference to Lewis or to the Biblical principle Stanley Fish addresses the topic in his New York Time blog.

Trying to explain why true believing Muslims have no use for the First Amendment, Fish does not go back to the Bible. He quotes a more recent source, the great British philosopher John Locke.

In Fish’s words:

In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke is eloquent when he explains how this parceling out of the world into two distinct spheres — a private sphere and a public sphere — will put an end to the violence that is likely to occur when religious imperatives stray from their proper home in the heart and the chapel (or mosque or synagogue) and insist on ordering every aspect of life. If church and state will “each of them contain itself within its own bounds, the one attending to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth, the other to the salvation of souls, it is impossible that any discord should have happened between them.”

Evidently, the people who are burning American property and murdering American citizens do not see things this way.

Fish explains:

It hardly needs pointing out that the protesters in Libya and Egypt won’t say that — not, however, because they don’t understand the First Amendment or the firewall that should separate religion from civil life or the distinction between one’s identity as a citizen and one’s identity as a believer or the difference between words and blows, but because they reject all four and, indeed, regard them as evil. In their eyes, a religion that confines itself to the heart and chapel, and is thus exercised intermittently while the day’s business gets done, is no religion at all. True religion does not relax its hold when you leave the house of worship; it commands your allegiance at all times and in all places. And the “you” whose allegiance it commands is not divided into a public “you” and a private “you”; it is the same at home as it is when abroad in the world.

Here Fish seems to be channeling the mind of Islamic militants and offering their rationale for terror. He is trying to show why they reject liberal democratic values.

But, if Islamists believe that theirs is the only real religion and that all other religions are inferior to theirs, doesn’t this mean that they are blaspheming other religions?

Again, they are demanding a level of respect that they refuse to offer.

Islamists seek global hegemony for their faith. They want to subjugate everyone, to force the peoples of the world to submit to the authority of their prophet.

Muslims do not see themselves as having lost out in the modern world. They seem willing to suffer the indignity of poverty and a lower standard of living because they believe that they are making a sacrifice for the great glory of their religion.

Every time a Western leader denounces the liberal values that are intrinsic to his culture and expresses sympathy for their faith, they feel vindicated. 

This tells us that Muslim nations are not likely to transform themselves into liberal democracies any time soon. Anyone who believed that the overthrow of tyrants would lead to a new era of Islamic freedom was sorely out of touch with reality.

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