Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why Are These People Our Allies?

One of the foundational principles of my philosophy is the inseparability of the freedoms, including but not limited to liberty of thought, speech, religion, press, self defense, private property, travel, assembly, and the use of the secret ballot. Violate or eliminate any, and the others are at risk, and must be employed to restore those violated.

And I would greatly prefer a foreign policy which allied us with those who agreed with our esteem of those freedoms, rather than with those whose economic or military interests align with our current strategy. Label me a foreign policy idealist, and tar me with the neocon brush if you will, but this diplomatic strategy by which we strike alliances with those who share only a passing acquaintance with the principles we hold most dear can lead only to eventual betrayal, by one party or another, with ourselves the likely loser.

And so I was somewhat off-put to read at MEMRI:

Muhammad Al-Munajid: "Some of these heretics say: 'Islam is not the private property of anyone.' So what do they want? They say: 'No sect has a monopoly on Islam.' So what do they want? They say: 'We want to issue rulings.' Someone who is ignorant, who does not know any Arabic, or who has no knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence wants to issue rulings?!
OK, not so bad so far, right? A cleric wants control of his own religion. It's to be expected, as that is what religions do. So what got under my fingernails?

Al-Munajid is a Saudi, and speaks on behalf of the official religion of Saudi Arabia. The edicts of his mouth are backed by the full weight of law, which is backed, if we are honest with ourselves, by the full power of the United States.

"The problem is that they want to open a debate on whether Islam is true or not, and on whether Judaism and Christianity are false or not. In other words, they want to open up everything for debate. Now they want to open up all issues for debate. That's it.

"It begins with freedom of thought, it continues with freedom of speech, and it ends up with freedom of belief. So where's the conspiracy? They say: Let's have freedom of thought in Islam. Well, what do they want?

"They say: I think, therefore I want to express my thoughts. I want to express myself, I want to talk and say, for example, that there are loopholes in Islam, or that Christianity is the truth.

"Then they will talk about freedom of belief, and say that anyone is entitled to believe in whatever he wants... If you want to become an apostate - go ahead. You like Buddhism? Leave Islam, and join Buddhism. No problem. That's what freedom of belief is all about. They want freedom of everything. What they want is very dangerous.

That is what happens when a religion is made official. An official religion cements in place the authority of those who adhere to it most zealously over those who merely tolerate it or agree not to fight against it, setting up an alternate power structure to that underpinned by the ballot box.

Does that mean that the government should persecute religion? Quite the contrary, for Al-Munajid's words would be even more galling spoken in favor of atheism or some enshrined scientific dogma as for any other more traditional religion.

Rather, the government must remain agnostic, completely ignoring the religious beliefs of its citizens. It should no more praise one religion over another than it should ignore what would otherwise be illegal performed under religious auspices.

By supporting the government of Saudi Arabia, we add for the citizens of that country the fear of fire from the sky to that of being stoned in the street for exercising the rights for which our forefathers went to soldiers' graves.

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