Liberalism creates spiritual vacuum —extremists like ISIS happily fill it…
(CUSA) – The dogmatically professed “separation of church and state” is music to the ears of those building a caliphate because they know that such nonsense is only used to suppress Christianity.
For this reason they have an ally in the policies and actions of the governments of Western democracies. —Ed.
Dear friends of Istituto Acton,
Judging from our governmental responses to ISIS, we in the West are spoiled rotten and stupid. The Obama administration first downplays the threat, then denies its religious motivations, and finally proposes jobs programs to defeat Islamist terror.
At least the Italians are taking ISIS more seriously, though they have neither the will nor the means to do anything about it.
Geographical proximity and invocations of “Rome” by ISIS are enough to capture Italy’s attention. This doesn’t mean it understands ISIS and its aims, which are both theological and political in nature, as this recent essay in The Atlantic explains.
Author Graeme Wood’s thesis is that Western governments have fundamentally confused Al-Qaeda and ISIS by ignoring the Koran-based legal and territorial objectives of the latter.
Should the Italians be preparing for war on their soil? That may be taking ISIS too literally. Wood writes:
Who ’Rome’ is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul.
We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.
The idea of a caliphate is, of course, very foreign to Western minds that dogmatically profess the separation of Church and State and think of religion as a private, individual matter.
The reason we think this way is due in part to the theological-political arrangements that followed Europe’s own wars of religion such as the Peace of Westphalia. Wood reports that ISIS views such arrangements as well as democratic elections and representation at the United Nations as “ideological suicide” and “acts of apostasy.”
Remarkably, ISIS is attracting Muslims living in the West to join its battle for medieval purity. Defeating ISIS therefore requires us to stop thinking like secular liberals and start taking the relationship between religion (in this case, Islam, even if President Obama likes to lecture us about Christianity as well) and politics seriously.
It will be up to Muslims to determine if and how Islamic theology and interpretation are compatible with liberal democracy (our friend Mustafa Akyol is one such Muslim), but the West also needs to understand the spiritual vacuum it has created and give fewer reasons for devout Muslims to identify with the extremists. Our present governments, however, seem to be bent on doing the opposite.
Even in tolerant Canada, where my former professor Clifford Orwin has stirred up controversy by defending the wearing of the niqab. On solely liberal grounds, he argues, liberal democracy ought to be hospitable to traditional religious beliefs and practices so long as they respect the rights of others.
The problem is that liberals – of the left and the right – demand “let’s all get naked,” as Orwin smartly puts it, and thus violate the religious freedom of traditional believers.
Orwin recognizes that religious dress is of lesser importance than Islamist terrorism and that the harping about the former takes attention away from fighting the latter. But there are a number of other social issues, especially regarding marriage, the family and homosexuality, where Western liberalism is placing itself at odds with traditional religious teachings.
It is difficult to see how the liberal and religious positions on these issues can coexist in any society. Perhaps the victory of liberalism is preferable to the clashes between religions that secularists are so keen to avoid, but religious impulses do not retreat so easily.
Reasonable religions and polities understand that sects and factions exist among them, despite our desire for unity and coherence among its members; the common good is easier to talk about than to realize. Serious people disagree, as they should, over matters worthy of life, death and eternal salvation, and they always will.
Liberalism introduced political institutions that were intended to channel such disagreements in healthy directions, with commerce playing a key role in promoting social peace among diverse groups.
So perhaps the Obama administration is right about jobs and prosperity as an antidote to ISIS after all. It would be more credible if it promoted economic and religious liberty at home as well.
Kishore Jayabalan is director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute’s Rome office. Reprinted with permission.