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Teddy Bear Totalitarianism

Back to 7th century Arabia.

11:00 PM, Dec 4, 2007 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Indeed, the pattern is depressingly familiar. Militant Islamic states not only criminalize vast realms of ordinary human activity. As scholar Paul Marshall describes it, virtually all areas of civic and political life--the judicial system, the role of women, educational systems, the media, religious freedom--are forced into the imagined model of seventh-century Arabia. It is an environment made ripe for terrorist recruits. "The adoption of extreme shari'a by a state should be viewed as inimical to American foreign policy interests. It is the most serious ideological challenge of our time," writes Marshall in Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law. "Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the rise of extreme shari'a states is widely ignored in the West."

The disease of jihadi Islam is becoming harder to ignore with each passing outbreak. Two years ago the publication of Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad sparked global protests, riots, and lethal violence. A speech last year by Pope Benedict critical of Islamic militancy led to more protests and dozens of deaths. When a London policy group published a study into hate speech being peddled by British mosques, the Muslim Council of Britain instigated a backlash of vitriol and charges of Islamophobia.

"For almost two decades we've allowed the message of political Islam to breed unchallenged within the British Muslim community, preaching separation and confrontation," writes Shiraz Maher, a former member of the militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the Sunday Times. "Our indifference has allowed Islamism to become the dominant political discourse among young British Muslims."

Fortunately, voices of protest like those of Shiraz Maher are being raised more frequently within the Islamic community. Like the long struggle for religious freedom in the West, many are openly condemning militant clerics for confusing religious zeal with an insatiable lust for power. In this, they might take a cue from an earlier generation of dissenters. "All persecution rises out of an impatience of Spirit, which makes a man less able to bear contradiction," wrote Gilbert Burnet in his 1688 work, The Case of Compulsion in Matters of Religion. Burnet joined John Locke and an inner circle of Protestant dissidents to challenge the theology of repression in their own day. At great personal risk, they produced sermons, tracts, pamphlets, books--anything to make the case for freedom of thought and conscience.

"There is a tyranny in most men's nature, which makes them desire to subdue all others by the strength of their understandings," Burnet said, "and such men have an implacable hatred to all that do not render themselves to their reasons, and think that they are affronted when other men refuse to submit to them."

The tyrannies and hatreds located in human nature have not changed much over the centuries. Yet radical Islam seems to draw from them a special, diabolical strength--as even a stuffed teddy bear, if it were able, could now attest.

Joe Loconte is a commentator on religion for National Public Radio and the editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.