The Magazine

Taken on Faith

No diplomatic recognition for religion.

Dec 8, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 12 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Nevertheless, Farr explains, this "humanitarian approach" leaves unchallenged the structures and habits of persecution. A report commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts earlier this year found that religious repression involves "a much larger cast of characters" and "much deeper, more extensive problems" than a decade ago. In countries such as Pakistan--another Muslim state with blasphemy laws--religious extremism is on the rise. Saudi Arabia, which makes no pretense to religious liberty, continues to succor the violent Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam. Iranian militancy, supported by a clerical Council of Guardians, speaks for itself. In each case, religious tyranny and terrorist activity go hand in hand.

Despite the blinding clarity of these facts, American efforts to support Muslim democrats remain anemic at best. The notion that the teachings and truth claims of Islam might provide the foundation for political reform still doesn't get much play in foreign policy circles. The National Endowment for Democracy promotes programs largely indifferent to the question of religious freedom. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report, the Iraq Study Group, and the RAND Corporation all betray the same weaknesses. Writes Farr:

The religious rationale for violence must be turned on its head. Mainstream Muslims who reject violence and coercion not in spite of Islam, but because of it, must move to the fore. Until that happens, U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its counter terrorism efforts around the world, are unlikely to succeed.

Here is a new kind of foreign policy realism--the realism that comes from understanding not only the threat of religious fanaticism, but also the reforming power of transcendent faith. The singular value of World of Faith and Freedom is that it grasps the genius of the American creed--religious belief as a strong ally of human rights and human reason--and defends its enduring relevance in an age of religious terror.

"To speak of the American founding is to speak of great things," writes Ellis Sandoz, "a great conspiracy of faith and reason." For the sake of national security, it's time America's political leaders and diplomats spoke of these great things again, openly and often.

Joseph Loconte, a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy, is working on a book about the history of religious freedom in the West.