Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Islam and freedom 

A very minor controversy about the choice of words in the Inaugural speech, when the President noted the "edifice of character" is "sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, and the words of the Koran."

In one corner of the ring
David Gelernter of the "Weekly Standard":

"Come off it! Which words? Name one! Is there a single sentence, phrase, idea in the Koran that has made any difference to this nation whatsoever? I'm not knocking the Koran; pluralism is wonderful. The problem is that at this moment, no listener in the whole world could possibly have believed that the president was serious."
In the other corner, James Taranto of the "Opinion Journal":

"It's true enough that Islam has played little or no role in the history of Americanism, but the president meant not to give a history lesson but to shape history.

"America finds itself at war with the exponents of a particular form of Islam, a strain that is, as Gelernter puts it, 'a religion of death, a religion that rejoices in slaughter.' The world has some two billion Muslims, the vast majority of whom are not radicals; and a religious crusade to convert them to Christianity (or Judaism, or atheism) simply is not an option. The only way to defeat the radical Islamists is to establish an accommodation between Islam and democracy--to assimilate the Islamic world into the modern world...

"When President Bush cited the Koran in his speech, he wasn't engaging in ahistorical, feel-good multiculturalism. He was delivering a message to civilized Muslims everywhere: You need not forsake your religion to live in freedom. If instead we were to assume, as Zarqawi does, that democracy and liberty are the exclusive province of Jews, Christians and other 'infidels,' we would thereby condemn the Muslim world to unending tyranny--and ourselves to unending terror."
Indeed, the best way to underline the point that "you need not forsake your religion to live in freedom" is to say something like this: indeed, many millions of Muslims who live in countries like the United States or Australia are living examples that democracy and freedom are not incompatible with Islam. These people live, work, and vote just like their non-Muslim neighbors do, enjoying the same rights and partaking in the same bounty of liberty and prosperity - but they also continue to have faith, pray, fast, give alms and go on the pilgrimage. They are no less Muslim than their brothers and sisters who live in Cairo, Karachi or Jakarta. Their lives are a vocal testimony to the lie Al Zarqawi, bin Laden and their ugly vision.

A caveat, or two, less I be accused of naivete: while a majority of Muslims living in the US or Australia are happy as productive and faithful citizens of their new homes, there is of course a dissident minority who would like to see democratic governments replaced with the rule of sharia. I also purposefully restrict myself to Muslims living within the "new worlds", as the situation in Europe is, for variety, of reasons more complicated.


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