(7) QUESTION: What can, or what should, the United States do for religious freedom in Muslim countries and other places where there is no religious freedom?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question of the age. Can Islam tolerate religious diversity? I think what we’ve seen is that in overwhelmingly Islamic countries, the answer is, no, they can’t. Now that’s certainly in the Middle East the answer is, no, they can’t. Over the past 45-50 years, since the ascendency of oil has given resources to those who want to be more “orthodox” in their Muslim belief, we’ve seen that play out.
Now we’ve seen in other areas of the world, there may be more opportunities. Indonesia or southeast Asia potentially. But even there, the argument can be made that that element is growing and becoming more powerful within the Muslim world. And it’s very intolerant. And it’s intolerant because it’s endemic to the Islamic faith to be intolerant of other religions. That’s the history of Islam. That’s the teachings of the Prophet, to convert by force if necessary. And to treat people who differ from you and your faith, if you are in control, as second-class citizens.
That is unlike the modern Judeo-Christian world, or Christendom, or the West. I’ve spent a lot of time on this. I think it’s going to be very hard to get Islam to embrace modernity for many reasons. But one, and I think as big as any, are the issues we’ve just talked about. I think a lot of Muslims legitimately look at Christendom and say, “They are hedonistic and secular. This tolerance has resulted in an abandonment of faith.”
And they aren’t willing to sacrifice what they think, and I think, is a much more important thing – which is your eternal soul — for modern political reforms.
When I talk about that I’m not talking about the jihadis. I’m not talking about the folks who are leading this assault. I’m talking about your average, faithful Muslim who wants to be a faithful good Muslim who doesn’t want to kill people, but sees the West as corrupting. And sees the West as dangerous for them. And sees Hollywood and sees liberal academia, and sees what’s going on here, as something they don’t want as part of their culture.
And so when you say, “You’ve got to be more like us. You’ve got to be religiously tolerant.” That means introducing an element into society, which I would argue is not what Christendom is all about, is not what Christianity is all about. But it has become the Western culture, the dominant strand of Western culture, at least as purveyed by the elites of our culture, which is Hollywood or the mainstream media.
I’m sure you folks watch CNN, and you watch the mainstream media, and you watch what Hollywood comes out with, and that is the view that many of you will have of America. And it isn’t pretty from the standpoint of a person of faith, that this is what we want to expose ourselves to.
The jihadis have a very different point of view, and they use the culture as a way to motivate believers. But I think they have a much more fundamentalist view that irrespective of whether American culture is good or bad or whether Christendom is good or bad, it’s bad because it’s not what we believe.
I think the rest of the Islamic world, the “moderates” – that’s always a very tricky term in the Islamic world – can see the pluses and minuses of becoming Western, and the slippery slope that Europe has been on. Europe is dead. Western Europe is dead. There’s no faith. It’s gone, and I don’t see how it comes back. And I can’t imagine that a faithful Muslim would see that as a positive for their country. It would be anathema to them, that faith would disappear as it has in Europe.
The very people who don’t see this as a problem, who are just “Why don’t these folks just be like us?”, don’t understand that they’re the problem that makes it hard for them to be like us.