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Why Do Religious Extremists Hate America? Muslims & Christians Agree...

America is Too Secular, Shouldn't Separate Religious & Secular Authority

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Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman

In the past I’ve been critical of right-wing extremists who claim that Muslim radicals abroad hate America because people “abuse” their freedoms and, therefore, America needs to become less free. There may be a kernel of truth to this perspective, though: America’s separation of church and state, and of religion and culture, outrages those who believe their religion should define everything.

In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman writes about the American experiences of Sayyid Qutb, an ideological founder of modern Islamic extremism:

Freedom in a liberal society seemed to Qutb no freedom at all. That kind of freedom was merely one more expression of the hideous schizophrenia — the giant error that places the material world over here, and God over there. Qutb considered that, in a liberal society, religion has been reduced to a set of rituals and a private morality, quite as if the individual human heart were the final arbiter of moral behavior. But the human heart is not the final arbiter. The final arbiter is God.

What’s remarkable about this is the simple fact that none of Qutb’s critiques are the least bit unique to Islam. This paragraph could be rewritten by substituting the name of any major leader of the Christian Right for Qutb’s and I don’t think anyone would find it objectionable or misleading. It’s certain that no one would recognize it as being about an Egyptian who helped develop the ideology behind Islamic extremism back in the 1950s and 1960s rather than about a Christian today.

For fundamentalists, one of the primarily religious values is the sovereignty of God: God created everything and has absolute rights to it all. The problem with modern, secular society is that it violates this sovereignty by creating new rules which override the wishes of God.

There is something else to consider as well: not only would the above be easy to attribute to members of the Christian Right today, but few would regard this perspective as itself objectionable, radical, or extremist. It’s become the “mainstream” view of conservative evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and other religious conservatives in America today. The starting premises that lie behind the ideology of Islamic extremism and terrorism are accepted without a second thought by conservative Christians today.

This should be enough to give anyone a chill down their spine; conservative Christians themselves, though, should be the first to find this troubling. They should worry about whether they have been led to accept beliefs which could have terrible implications down the road. They should take a step back and reconsider their opposition to liberalism and the liberal democratic state:

American hypocrisy exercised him; but only slightly. His deepest quarrel was not with America’s failure to uphold its principles. His quarrel was with the principles. He opposed the United States because it was a liberal society, and not because it failed to be a liberal society.

The truly dangerous element in American life was not capitalism, or foreign policy, or racism, or the exploitation of women. The truly dangerous part lay in the separation of Church and State. The dangerous part was the laxity of religious standards and convictions — the laxity that, by implication, left in doubt the existence of only one God, the laxity that descended from two thousand years of ecclesiastical deviation and error. This was not a political criticism. This was theological... [emphasis added]

For someone like Sayyid Qutb, secularism undermines religious values and must be eliminated. Secularism leads to atheism, and that is perhaps the worst thing that can happen to either a person or a society. Qutb’s stated goals are much the same as the stated goals of Western invaders of the Middle East, including America. Qutb, though, is often cited as a symbol of what Western powers regard as the problem in the Middle East. Qutb’s followers are not treated like colleagues in the cause of advancing liberty; instead, they are the enemies. Qutb and his followers are the “Islamo-fascists” leading the “war on terrorism” against America and the West.

Unfortunately, too many people are willful and refuse to follow God’s laws. They vote to create their own laws, but these laws merely reflect the will of men rather than the will of God. Does any of this sound familiar? It should: it’s very similar to the criticisms made by the Christian Right about America. One difference, though, is that the Christian Right thinks that it has a potential majority backing for enacting God’s laws over society.

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