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2005 July 24 Sunday
Full Religious Freedom Seen As Impossible

Christopher Caldwell argues that the Protestant framework for religious freedom does not work for all religions.

But how secure are these traditions in the first place? Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, a scholar of religion and law at the University of Chicago, has just published a smart – and in the present circumstances, sobering – little book called The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton University Press). Her argument implies we have overestimated the amount of real religious difference that even a tolerant democracy can handle. Freedom of religion can be called a “basic” right, but it is not one that goes without saying.

The Protestant Christian view of religion as a private voluntary affair is not shared by all or even most religions.

Most of the plaintiffs in the case were Catholics, with a scattering of Jews, and the judge was Protestant. That may or may not have been important. What was important was that the entire legal idiom in which cases like these get argued in America is a Protestant one. For the court’s purposes, writes Ms Sullivan, true religion “came to be understood as being private, voluntary, individual, textual, and believed. Public, coercive, communal, oral and enacted religion, on the other hand, was seen to be ‘false’.” Religions with a large role for ritual or community or sacred objects – such as American Catholicism in the 19th century or Islam today – are not always intelligible to this system.

Attorneys on both sides of the Warner case were uncomfortable talking about religion, and preferred to address the issues as if they were the same as those in free speech cases. Ms Sullivan notes that they often spoke of religious “views” and “expression”. But protecting expression or views or opinions cannot be the aspiration the American founding fathers had in mind when they included freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. It if were, then protecting freedom of speech would have been sufficient. The problem is that not all people understand religious freedom as freedom of speech about holy things. For many, religion is primarily a matter of allegiance and custom.

It is great that Ms. Sullivan has written this book. Far too many Protestants in the West and also non-believers who are descended from Protestants fail to grasp in other religions just how far religious authority is seen as extending into the public sphere and into politics. Even some Protestant denominations take positions that bring them into moral debates in the public sphere over what is a human life (e.g. on abortion and euthanasia) or what is protected speech (e.g. on pornography). But the political claims and demands by religious authorities in other religions go far beyond what we see today in the United States coming from the vast bulk of Protestant Christian sects.

Many Muslims believe they have religiously ordained duty and right to enforce public morals and public customs on a wide range of subjects.

Linked to the desire for increased political power are attempts by some radical Muslims to begin a process of Islamicizing British cities.

Last month, Muslim groups in Glasgow petitioned the City Council to ban an Italian restaurant from serving alcohol to diners seated at outside tables. Hospitals in Leicester considered banning Bibles from hospital wards to avoid offending Muslim patients. In Birmingham, a group called Muslims Against Advertising began a campaign of painting over billboards that they deemed offensive to Islam - targeting ads for Levi's jeans, perfume, and lingerie.

But these small campaigns are polarizing public opinion along ethnic and religious lines - and creating support for Britain's far-right groups, who present themselves as defenders of Britain's hard-won freedoms.

Iraq is serving as yet another demonstration of how religious beliefs can very directly conflict with beliefs in individual rights. The editorial writers of the New York Times are shocked that majority rule in Iraq is creating an atmosphere where religious beliefs about morality are superceding Western ideas about individual rights.

Most chilling of all are the prospects for Iraqi women. As things now stand, their rights are about to be set back by nearly 50 years because of new family law provisions inserted into a draft of the constitution at the behest of the ruling Shiite religious parties. These would make Koranic law, called Shariah, the supreme authority on marriage, divorce and inheritance issues. Even secular women from Shiite families would be stripped of their right to choose their own husbands, inherit property on the same basis as men and seek court protection if their husbands tire of them and decide to declare them divorced.

Less severe laws would be imposed on Sunni women, but only because the draft constitution also embraces the divisive idea of having separate systems of family law in the same country. That is not only offensive, but also impractical in a country where Sunnis and Shiites have been marrying each other for generations.

The elected Iraq Shia leaders are busy stripping many rights from Iraqi women which they had under fairly secular and thoroughly undemocratic dictator Saddam Hussein. The idea that democracy operates to defend individual freedom is obviously false. Whether democracy supports individual rights depends very much on the beliefs and preferences of the majority. In Iraq's case Saddam Hussein was a defender of the individual rights of Iraqi women while effectively by their actions George W. Bush and the neocons have made themselves the enemies of Iraqi women's rights. they can protest that this was not their intent. But the result was predictable.

Perhaps the editorial writers of the New York Times are carping at Bush partly for partisan reasons and partly out of frustrattion. If they think Bush can do anything to stop the decay in rights for women in Iraq they are quite mistaken.

There is a lesson here for Americans and Westerners: Just who is allowed to move to a society and who makes the babies determines what rights will be recognized and protected and whether a society's government will even consider rights protection a top priority. If a society contains enough people who do not recognize, say, a right of women to walk around bareheaded and if the opponents of such a right feel strongly enough about it then women will be forced to cover up or risk rape, kidnapping, beating, and dousing with acid.

The ideological Libertarian Open Borders argument assumes that the vast bulk of immigrants are economic actors but not political actors - or at least not political actors who differ from the existing population in any way that affects rights. However, this assumption is so obviously wrong as shown by empirical evidence in this world that to believe it requires an act of faith even greater than the faith required to believe religions. The belief in political ideologies requires a greater act of faith than the faith required to believe in supernaturally oriented religions because some religious beliefs are not disprovable in this world. Though evidence against many elements of religious beliefs exist in this world as well.

Update: Muslims in Britain To some Muslims Islam is beautiful and violent.

"Some of the people tell you Islam is a religion of peace because they think that then you'll want to convert," says Dublin-born convert Khalid Kelly, who soaks up Abu Osama's sidewalk sermon. "But you cannot possibly say Islam is a religion of peace; jihad is not an internal struggle."


"All we want to talk about is how beautiful Islam is," says an Iraqi immigrant, who, like others standing here, mingles lyrical spirituality with a blunt advocacy of violence. "Zarqawi is showing the way," he says, referring to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the radical faction of foreign fighters in Iraq.

Like many, his dedication to Islam arose from a messy flirtation with a Western lifestyle, including drinking and taking drugs. "When reality hits you, you come back to Islam," he says. "If you read the Koran, you see that Allah gave us the right to terrorize the enemy."

His disillusionment with Britain became complete when he was sacked from his IT job "for telling a kafir [unbeliever, or non-Muslim] woman to cover up." Ironically, only Abu Osama dons religious garb. The others wear jeans and shirts. Kelly would look at home in an Irish pub.

Muslims in Western countries are more likely to become radicalized than Muslims in Muslim countries. There's a lesson there for anyone who wants to see it: Keep Muslims in Muslim countries. Don't let them come to the West.

Update II: You can read the first chapter of Sullivan's book online.

Religious freedom and the legal disestablishment of religion, as political ideas, find their origin in the early modern period in Europe.11 With other markers of modernity identified by scholars--the rise of the nation state, the maturing of an international market, the invention of modern warfare, the advent of printing and literacy, the emergence of a middle class, among others--a new relationship of religion to political governance was created with the breakup of the monopoly of the Roman Church.12 For perhaps the first time since Constantine, religious affiliation in Europe began to be detached again from political identity. National and religious identity no longer necessarily went hand in hand. To be sure, at first, new national religious establishments were created to take the place of the continental monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church, but over the centuries religion was both consciously and unconsciously remodeled to accommodate the new secular political order and new ideas of citizenship. Religion was thereby politically and legally divided into modern and antimodern, long before the reappearance of "fundamentalism" in the 1970s.13 The precondition for political participation by religion increasingly became cooperation with liberal theories and forms of governance.14

As a result, the modern religio-political arrangement has been largely, although not exclusively, indebted, theologically and phenomenologically, to protestant reflection and culture.15 Particularly in its American manifestation. "Protestant" is here spelled with a small "p." I use "protestant" not in a narrow churchy sense, but rather loosely to describe a set of political ideas and cultural practices that emerged in early modern Europe in and after the Reformation; that is, I refer to "protestant," as opposed to "catholic," models of church/state relations. (According to this use, Protestants can be "catholic" and Catholics can be "protestant.") Religion--"true" religion some would say--on this modern protestant reading, came to be understood as being private, voluntary, individual, textual, and believed. Public, coercive, communal, oral, and enacted religion, on the other hand, was seen to be "false." The second kind of religion, iconically represented historically in the United States, for the most part by the Roman Catholic Church (and by Islam today), was, and perhaps still is, the religion of most of the world. Indeed, from a contemporary academic perspective, that religion with which many religion scholars are most concerned has been carefully and systematically excluded, both rhetorically and legally, from modern public space. Crudely speaking, it is the first kind--the modern protestant kind--that is "free." The other kind is closely regulated by law. It is not incidental that most of the plaintiffs in the Warner case, the case considered in this book, are Catholic.

This book, to reiterate, is about the impossibility of religious freedom. Not the impossibility of societies in which persons are free to believe what they want and to associate themselves freely with others who believe in similar ways. Or in which persons are free to speak of religious matters openly and freely. Or in which government is prohibited from disfavoring one group of citizens for invidious reasons. These are rights that belong to all peoples. What is arguably impossible is justly enforcing laws granting persons rights that are defined with respect to their religious beliefs or practices. Forsaking religious freedom as a legally enforced right might enable greater equality among persons and greater clarity and self-determination for religious individuals and communities. Such a change would end discrimination against those who do not self-identify as religious or whose religion is disfavored. It might also force religious groups to fend for themselves politically, economically, and philosophically in a new world of radical normative pluralism.16

If someone has a right to do something because they believe a particular religion then it has to follow that someone else who does not believe that religion then does not have that right. For example, if a certain type of headstone can be placed on a grave only if one is religious then suddenly all the non-believers don't have headstone choices that believers have. Well, how can that be the case in a society where everyone is equal before the law?

Update III: Some people argue that the British Muslim bombers are unrepresentative of British Muslims. But if even a small percentage of British Muslims support terrorism that creates huge security problems and more attacks will take place. 100,000 British Muslims think the London tube and bus bombers are fully justified.

YouGov sought to gauge the character of the Muslim community's response to the events of July 7. As the figures in the chart show, 88 per cent of British Muslims clearly have no intention of trying to justify the bus and Tube murders.

However, six per cent insist that the bombings were, on the contrary, fully justified.

Six per cent may seem a small proportion but in absolute numbers it amounts to about 100,000 individuals who, if not prepared to carry out terrorist acts, are ready to support those who do.

Moreover, the proportion of YouGov's respondents who, while not condoning the London attacks, have some sympathy with the feelings and motives of those who carried them out is considerably larger - 24 per cent.

A fifth of British Muslims feel little or no loyalty toward Britain.

For example, YouGov asked respondents how loyal they feel towards Britain. As the figures in the chart show, the great majority say they feel "very loyal" (46 per cent) or "fairly loyal" (33 per cent) but nearly one British Muslim in five, 18 per cent, feels little loyalty towards this country or none at all.

If these findings are accurate, and they probably are, well over 100,000 British Muslims feel no loyalty whatsoever towards this country.

The proportion of men who say they feel no loyalty to Britain is more than three times the proportion of women saying the same.

A third of British Muslims want to see a collapse of Western civilization.

However, nearly a third of British Muslims, 32 per cent, are far more censorious, believing that "Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end".

An earlier poll from January 2005 found that most British Muslims favor the introduction of Sharia courts in Britain.

The special poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61 per cent wanted Islamic courts - operating on sharia principles – "so long as the penalties did not contravene British law". A major part of civil cases in this country deal with family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritance.

Right after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 4 in 10 British Muslims said Osama Bin Laden is justified to wage holy war against the United States.

Of course, Muslims are as entitled to question or criticise the bombing campaign as are Labour MPs such as Paul Marsden or George Galloway. But their opinions call into question their very identification as British citizens. Mohammed Abdullah, a 22-year-old accountant from Luton, told The Times: "We don't perceive ourselves as British Muslims. We are Muslims who live in Britain. All Muslims in Britain view supporting the jihad as a religious duty."

Other Muslims insist these views are unrepresentative. But are they? A Sunday Times survey has found that four out of 10 British Muslims believe Osama Bin Laden is justified in mounting his war against the United States. A similar number say that Britons who choose to fight alongside the Taliban are right to do so. In another opinion poll, conducted for the Asian radio station Sunrise, 98% of London Muslims under 45 said they would not fight for Britain, while 48% said they would take up arms for Bin Laden.

When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City his actions elicited very little support among the American public. Muslim support for terrorist attacks is orders of magnitude greater than that of other groups in the United States or Britain.

Update IV: For an explanation of why bombers struck Britain and also a great essay on the historical accomplishments of the British people see Anothony Browne's article from The Spectator entitledThe Left’s war on Britishness (requires free registration which is worth your time).

A more pressing question, however, is: why Britain? Not why was Britain attacked, because the list of countries targeted by Islamist terrorism is growing so fast it will soon be quicker to list those unaffected. But rather: why did Britain become the first country in the developed world to produce its own suicide bombers? Why is Britain just about the only country in the world to have produced suicide bombers who sought to kill not another people but their fellow citizens? Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland were all part of the war on Iraq, and have not produced suicide bombers. The US and Spain had to import their terrorists. For those who think that Muslims in Britain are particularly oppressed and poor, try visiting Muslims in France or Italy.

For all our concern about Islam, Britain is one of the least Islamic countries in Western Europe. There are more Muslims, as a percentage of the population, in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. It is true that Britain, more cursed with political correctness than most, has shown a joyfully optimistic tolerance of Islamic extremists. The BBC, the Guardian and the Metropolitan Police promote groups like the Muslim Association of Britain, even though it openly supports terrorism (just not in Britain).

No, the real answer to why Britain spawned people fuelled with maniacal hate for their country is that Britain hates itself. In hating Britain, these British suicide bombers were as British as a police warning for flying the union flag.

Britain’s self-loathing is deep, pervasive and lethally dangerous. We get bombed, and we say it’s all our own fault. Schools refuse to teach history that risks making pupils proud, and use it instead as a means of instilling liberal guilt. The government and the BBC gush over ‘the other’, but recoil at the merest hint of British culture. The only thing we are licensed to be proud of is London’s internationalism — in other words, that there is little British left about it.

Read the whole thing.

Update V: Over on the Gene Expression blog see Razib's reaction to Sullivan's argument. Also, on the subject of how problematic it is to define what is part of a particular religion see Razib's The "concept" of a "religion".

By Randall Parker    2005 July 24 05:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (30)
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