The Magazine

Unfree to Be .  .  .

Religious liberty and human rights.

Jan 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 16 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Muslim-majority countries lead the world in violent religious persecution. During the first seven years of the 21st century, the two scholars note, there was violent religious persecution in every single Muslim-majority country with a population of more than two million, compared with 78 percent of Christian-majority countries and 86 percent of other countries. Furthermore, 46 percent of Muslim-majority countries have “the highest levels of persecution,” which Grim/Finke define as leading to the displacement or abuse of more than 1,000 persons because of their faith. Only 11 percent of Christian-majority countries fall into that category. Interestingly—and this is why Grim/Finke reject the surge-of-fundamentalism rationale offered by leftists—in 1945, a year in which some of the most egregious and lethal government restrictions on religious freedom in human history prevailed in the Christian-majority countries of Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, Muslim-majority countries had even higher levels of religious regulation than Christian-majority countries overall. And when those countries, which were largely under European colonial rule during World War II, won their independence during the postwar years, their levels of religious regulation soared still higher, while those in the Christian-majority West, determined not to repeat the Holocaust, declined. 

In other words, fundamentalism has always been the rule in Islamic-majority countries, its persistence masked in recent years by the secular-nationalist policies of their leaders.

The reason for this lies in the nature of Islam itself, Grim/Finke argue. The prophet Muhammad first and foremost “established a social order that was to be lived in conformity to the will of the one true God as revealed in the holy Quran,” they write. In the Dar al-Islam there is no distinction between religion and society, and religious apostasy is not only the gravest of sins against God but the gravest of sins against the social order, treason. Sharia law—the science of interpreting the Koran and sayings of Muhammad and applying them to social situations—is integral to Islam. Grim/Finke argue that the most significant religious clashes involving Muslims have taken place not along the fault lines between Islam and the West but within the Dar al-Islam itself, where theologically motivated factions jostle, often violently, to impose their competing visions of the “true” Islam and sharia upon their fellows. That means that victims of religious persecution and religious violence in Muslim-majority countries are likely to be other Muslims—and indeed, statistics show that Muslims are far more likely to be persecuted in Muslim-majority countries than they are in Christian-majority countries. As for Muslim-launched terrorist acts against the West, Grim/Finke argue that their true aim has been “to claim [the terrorists’ own] country for Islam.” Al Qaeda, for example, started out as a group of Wahhabi purists outraged by the decadence of the Saudi royal family and its hosting of infidel American troops on sacred soil.

Grim/Finke’s analysis of sharia’s centrality in Islamic society, and on the brutal internecine warfare that has characterized much of Muslim culture since the prophet’s death is shrewd—although their it’s-not-about-you breeziness regarding a stream of West-directed Islamic terrorism, especially the 9/11 massacre (which was neither the first nor the last Muslim attempt to blow apart a U.S. commercial airliner laden with passengers), stopped me short. Grim/Finke cite a 2000 survey by the First Amendment Center indicating that 73 percent of Americans believed that all religious groups are entitled to freedom of worship “regardless of how extreme their beliefs are.” They continue: “Only seven years later, however, the number agreeing dropped to 56 percent.”

I wonder why.

I am not advocating persecution of Muslims, or even making Muslim girls take off their headscarves as the French make them do; but there is something off-key about tut-tutting the Supreme Court for upholding the firing of two drug counselors—yes, drug counselors—after they tested positive for the cactus equivalent of LSD. Grim/Finke contend that the Smith ruling set America on a slippery slope to “tyranny of the majority” in religious matters. That seems a hyperbolic projection. For one thing, little harm was done by the ruling. Since the Native American Church is a real church dating to the early 20th century, believe it or not, not an invention of sixties hippies, both the Oregon legislature and Congress quickly amended the law to accommodate peyote use in Indian religious rites. For another, had the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, America would have been set on another kind of slippery slope: forced to condone polygamy (a bona fide practice of dissident Mormons and also, ahem, some Muslims) and even human sacrifice (a bona fide practice undoubtedly of some of the ancestors of the members of the Native American Church). Grim/Finke have little faith in American tolerance and American common sense.

Which leads to the second problem with Grim/Finke’s analysis. Like the leftists with whom they disagree on most other issues, Grim/Finke are strong proponents of religious multiculturalism. They write that “multiculturalism with religious pluralities does not lead to violence as Huntington suggests—the attempt to prevent multiculturalism and religious pluralities does.” Perhaps so. But how should a multiculturalism-friendly government respond when, say, its Muslim population agitates to be governed by sharia law, as Islam demands of its societies? In 2004 Canada’s Ontario province came within a hair’s breadth of turning over Islamic divorces and child-custody disputes to Muslim clerics in the name of multiculturalism; the transfer was stopped only after feminists pointed out that sharia is not a legal system that promotes anything resembling a Western concept of women’s rights.

Toward the end of The Price of Freedom Denied, Grim and Finke display a graph that correlates the religious freedom in given countries with a number of other freedoms, including gender equality—and also with lower poverty, economic freedom, and a higher percentage of GDP spent on public health. The graph is a picture of .  .  . the West. The good things shown in the graph, including religious liberty, exist because they are the products of values that are specifically Western, deriving from the West’s admittedly secularized Christian heritage.

If Western cultures are unwilling to stand up for those values, they will find themselves in a clash of civilizations that they will surely lose.

Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website.