Monday, June 13, 2016

Is Islam a Religion?

[author's note: the below is a summary of several posts I published in 2010]

During World War II, if the Emperor of Japan or Adolph Hitler had attempted to set up a recruitment office in the center of New York, the U.S. government would have had every right to shut it down. Whether the recruiters were motivated by Shinto or Nazism would not have made a difference, i.e., free speech was not an issue since these persons were actively engaged in an actual war with America.

So, at what point does a "religion" or any doctrine move beyond a mere body of abstract thought or ideas, deserving protection under the First Amendment, into a philosophical or legal area wherein a proper government has objective moral and legal grounds to prevent followers from pursuing recruitment, dissemination, assembly or political organization? To me, this is the essential question underlying the refugee crisis in Europe and the United States as well as the broader question of how to defend civilization from radical Islamists.  In this context, the question is whether Islam is a "religion" in the sense that it is meant within the Constitution or more broadly construed under the principle of individual rights, or whether it should be considered a "political movement" that is actively at war with America and/or the broader legal and cultural framework of western civilization.

Philosophically, faith is the acceptance of an idea in the absence of evidence and is the characteristic which distinguishes religion from science. The concept of "faith" is not relevant in a legal context, i.e., the essential epistemological foundation for a view point is not relevant. What is relevant is whether a body of thought or set of doctrines espoused by some organization can exist within a broad legal framework founded upon rational definitions of individual rights such as free speech, freedom of the press, property rights, and basic civil liberties. Whether or not a certain ideology takes issue with applications of these principles is not important. However, if an ideology by its nature opposes the very foundation of this framework AND its adherents actively seek to undermine the system through violent means, i.e., the initiation of physical force, the movement goes from the status of "religion" or "ideology" to an active enemy of civilization. Whether or not the state has formally declared war on such an ideology is not important as many instances of this type of organization could exist or spring up.

Although I am not an expert on Islam, from what I understand, there is very little separation between its doctrines and their manifestation in the political life of its adherents. It's followers advocate Sharia law which is a set of legal traditions that stand in complete and total opposition to western precepts of individual rights. Husbands can beat and rape their wives. Stonings and hangings are common to those who speak out against the religion or convert to another (apostasy). It is intolerant and hostile to non-believers in the most vile, racist, and violent ways imaginable. Its goal is the complete enslavement of mankind under a global caliphate, i.e., global theocracy, and it has killed tens of thousands in this effort.

Rather than be seen as a "religion of peace" with a few extremists tarnishing its essence, it should be seen as a global political and military force that seeks to spread throughout the world. If this movement were contained to other nations, I would argue as a matter of foreign policy that we have no interest in opposing it militarily. However, as this movement has repeatedly attacked western interests and made its motivations and goals crystal clear to anyone who will listen, the U.S. government should officially regard Islam as our ideological enemy and take any steps towards thwarting its spread within our borders and by supporting allied efforts to do the same.

Some argue that only some Muslims are "radicals" and it is a gross mischaracterization to regard Islam as a violent and evil political force. However, just as every Nazi was not a Hitler or Goebbels, and not every Japanese citizen was a kamikaze during World War II, this argument is not relevant. What is relevant is the actions of its most consistent advocates and its leadership alongside the inaction of its so-called silent majority. It is up to them to rise up and moderate or reform their "religion" in such a way that it can co-exist with the West while broadly respecting the basic principles of individual rights. If, by its very nature, it can not exist in this way, then we should not respect the rights of its followers as they do not respect ours.

What principles should be considered when identifying an objective threat? First, the ideology by its nature must be antithetical to the principles of individual rights and a constitutional republican form of government. Second, the ideology must be actively engaged in attempting to subvert or overthrow our government, i.e., advocating for or actually engaged in the use of force.

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion and did not present a threat to the United States until it received state sponsorship and became part of a nationalist movement which sought global domination and attacked the United States in 1941. Communism actually began as a religious movement in the centuries before Marx secularized it in the 19th century. Even then, it was still not a "threat" until it too received state sponsorship and it's followers made their goal military conquest and global domination. Once an ideology receives state or some form of organized sponsorship and actively seeks to overthrow western governments, it becomes a criminal enterprise. Any offshoot, whether it is actually sympathetic or not to the more radical leadership, is then fair game to be investigated by our government. Certainly, it should be a cardinal issue in determining immigration status.

During World War II, any organization sympathetic to the goals of the Japanese Empire or the Nazi's would have rightly been shut down or arrested by the U.S. government and treated as enemy combatants depending on the extent of their activities. Communism was merely a philosophy until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 followed by other movements which swept Europe and Asia, i.e., it was not a threat until it found state sponsorship and attained the goal of global domination, threatened our interests, or engaged in either outright or proxy wars with the United States. At that point, communist organizations which espoused this ideology ceased to be protected under the First Amendment, and became an objective threat to the existence of our government.

Many have said that the fact that there is not an obvious state sponsor of Islam and the fact that it seems to have many degrees of radicalism makes it more difficult to identify whom we are to fight.

First, once the proper principles are identified, the task becomes much easier. One needs to ascertain the state sponsors in terms of organization, finances, and training starting with the most radical first. Once these sponsors are crushed, the various offshoots become marginal, just as some random sympathetic Communist, Nazi, or Shinto organizations were neutered once the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the Japanese Empire fell. Until the time at which state sponsorship and a global threat is neutralized, anyone identifying themselves with Islam must be regarded with suspicion and there should be an objective legal framework for investigating any ties to more violent organizations as we did with Communists in the 1950's or the Japanese and Nazi's during World War II or British loyalists during the American Revolution. I would make the same argument against Catholics if the Vatican declared its goal to be world domination under the rule of the Pope and Vatican law and were to actively fund and train an army in this effort.

Second, I think the primary state sponsors of totalitarian Islam are obvious. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are the heart and soul of this movement. Rather than focus on rogue tribes hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, we should be confronting the elephant in the room - these countries and their countless financial and military allies which fund, train, and support radical Islamic groups throughout the world. While this occurs, Islamic organizations in the United States should not be treated as a protected "religion," but as sympathizers to America's enemies and since they identify with our legal and objective enemy, the burden of proof must be on them to show that they are not sympathetic or do not in any way directly aid and abet these global sponsors.

Third, because the freedom to speak and practice religion are sacred pillars of the American system, it is vital to objectively define and delimit the government's function as it relates to defense, i.e., define precisely when it is necessary for the state to use force in the protection and furtherance of individual rights. I have no illusion that the current American regime has any ability to fulfill this obligation, and I understand those who are concerned that such powers could be used as a precedent to persecute any political opponent of the state arbitrarily deemed to be "dangerous." I suggest the above as a blueprint precisely because the situation calls for a strictly objective formulation in order to delimit this use of force.

While one could debate the particulars related to the legal and practical application of the above principles, it is clear that this is the debate that should be taking place. For libertarians like Ron Paul to argue that Islam is only incidental to the 9/11 terrorist attacks or any of the various terrorist attacks against Western targets over the years or as incidental as their preference for "soccer," is a massive evasion. It is on exactly such grounds that anti "profilers" tells us that 90 year old grandma's are just as likely to be terrorists as young Muslim males leaving a madrassa run by the Taliban.

But why does Paul make such an error? Fundamentally, I believe it has to do with not grounding the concept of liberty in a more fundamental philosophic framework. To the libertarian politician, "liberty" is the fundamental concept by which all policy applications are evaluated. However, without a more fundamental basis, this concept becomes an out of context abstraction and it can not be properly applied except in the most trivial circumstances.

For example, objectively identifying threats and understanding what constitutes an act of coercion is essential to actual liberty, that is, the proper application of the principle of individual rights. If someone is walking around with a bomb and a bag of cash from the Iranian government, chanting "Death to America", could Paul not bring himself to usurp this man's "liberty" until he actually explodes the bomb? At what point should an organization be considered a criminal organization? At what point should another country be considered an objective threat? At what point should we declare war? Do they have to be in Manhattan harbor shooting at us before we take action? Of course, this is not a simple question and does involve a lot of legal philosophy, context, and evidence, but it should at least be clear that we should be debating these kinds of legal standards.

For Paul and others to simply dismiss these issues as "demagoguery" or a form of racism is not only wrong - it is suicidal.