American Voters Are Not Stupid
The American voter is not stupid, contrary to what many of my fellow liberals are posting on social media. The voters know that ISIS is Islamic, and that the two towers were destroyed by Muslim terrorists, and that terrorist acts in Nice, Nairobi, Paris, Baghdad, Orlando, Brussels, Kabul, Manchester, and London were directed by Islamic extremists. These voters turn to the right and hear our Republican President, Donald Trump, proposing responses that may be unconstitutional, and contrary to American principles of religious tolerance. But from the left, they only hear a deafening silence. As President Trump says with relish, leaders on the left won’t even say the phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism.” Given the choice between an ostrich with its head in the sand and the hawk that is willing to go to extremes, the Trump voter knows which one at least sees the problem.
Discrimination against any religious or ethnic group is contrary to all that makes the United States what it is. We should never discriminate. But Islam itself is different from other religions, as many Muslim reformers will be the first to point out, particularly those who argue in Muslim states for equal rights for women. If the Democrats would openly recognize this, then free men and women who rightly fear Sharia might have a more sensible political place on which to land, other than to support a ban on Muslim immigration. And the apologists who speak to the violence and say, “This is not Islam,” paint the faith with the same broad brush as those who would discriminate against all Muslims.
When Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses, protesting the worldly excursions of the Catholic Church, on the door of All Saints Church, in Wittenberg, in 1517, he took the first step down a path that would eventually democratize all religious faiths in the West. Once there is a priesthood of believers and every individual had a personal path to divine wisdom, then a faith may no longer seek to govern others. If an individual must find his or her own way to God, it is a fundamental failure of faith to feel the need to force ones belief upon another. In Europe and the Americas, the Reformation has spread beyond Protestantism to the point where most Western Jews, Catholics, and even Muslims feel free to follow their hearts on religious matters, often in contradiction to what is the dogma of their creeds, and very few will seek to enforce their faith on their neighbor. Fundamentalist Islam is principally political, and worldly power is woven into its teachings and history. Muhammad was a religious leader, but also a general and a state-builder. Islam has yet to have its Protestant Reformation.
When candidate Donald Trump shrilly accused former President Obama of being afraid to even use the term “Islamic terrorist,” the former President’s answer-by-question was, “What good would it do?” And in fact, the American left generally avoids the topic entirely, presumably out of religious tolerance, and out of concern that such a discussion would play into the hands of the terrorist recruiters. While American troops are on the ground and American drones patrol the skies in Muslim countries, this second rationale appears disingenuous at best. The Democratic administration’s policy of killing Muslim terrorists with increased drone strikes will always fail, and will do more to help terrorist recruiting than simply discussing what makes Islam different. And open discussion of difficult topics is the hallmark of America’s crucial difference in the world. It is curious, that a “prior restraint” would be voluntarily assumed by an entire political party of the one nation that enshrines the expression of inconvenient truths as the primary right of its citizens, in the First Amendment. Islamic exceptionalism, which is also the title of a book by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, should be openly discussed at the highest levels for reasons that are strategic, political, and moral.
Martin Luther had the Pope, who excommunicated him. The Catholic Church then became the inadvertent broadcaster of Luther’s propositions and beliefs. When the most powerful institution in all of Europe engaged Luther in battle, it raised his arguments to its own level, and allowed his voice to be heard well beyond Wittenberg. That international open debate was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and the democratization of religion in the West. Outside of Ireland, in the last two hundred years there have been no armed religious conflicts in Europe or the Americas.
There is no equivalent to the Pope in Islam. Groups and individuals may protest the worldly excursions of the Islamists, their acts of religious war, and their oppression of women. This protesting point of view cannot gain a larger forum. But, Martin Luther’s argument remains practically irrefutable. If one believes that ones faith must be spread by edict, by law, or at the point of a sword, that is really an expression of a lack of faith. Individuals should find their way to faith because it is the divine truth, not because it has been legislated. Any possible reformation of Islam cannot begin to occur until this argument is broadly expressed and debated.
Whether or not openly discussing Islamic exceptionalism at national level might endanger American troops seems to do a disservice to those same troops, and speaks more to the proposition that they should not be over there in the first place. They are brave men and women. On the other hand, holding one’s tongue out of concern for the reaction the extremists might have aligns oneself with the party of cowardice, and stands contrary to the principles that founded the United States of America. A voice of international scope is needed to start the debate that may begin an Islamic reformation that could make tolerance, pluralism, and the individual’s right to find his or her own faith as common in Muslim societies as it is in the West. My candidate to begin this discussion, and to save the Democratic Party, by making it the party that stands up for religious tolerance, both at home and in the Muslim countries that do not practice it, is our former President, Barack Hussein Obama.
The question becomes this: When does the right to speak an uncomfortable truth become the responsibility to do so? Martin Luther did not have the foundation that Obama does, and had a great deal more to lose when he spoke out. We are all better off for his courage.
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, August 2016, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.”)