Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Evolution of Religious Freedom

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Evolution of Religious Freedom

Article excerpt


The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004, the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on November 7, 2004, and the bombings in London on July 7, 2005 were all carried out by devout Muslims who believed that their actions would gratify their god and earn them lavish rewards in the afterlife. These familiar and lamentable facts should be more than sufficient to establish the proposition that faith in Islam can be an important element in the motivations for horrific violence. Nevertheless, many people in the predominantly Christian societies that have been the victims of recent Islamist attacks believe that their conflict is not with Islam per se, but with Muslim extremists who have purportedly perverted the authentic doctrines of the Islamic faith. The popular wisdom holds that religious tolerance and religious moderation are the appropriate antidotes to religious extremism and religious fundamentalism. The popular wisdom is naive and mistaken. The deadly threat to civilization does not come from religious extremism or religious fundamentalism, but from religious faith itself, because religious faith is intrinsically intolerant. Furthermore, Christianity has the same potential for evil and injustice as Islam, and the Western world cripples itself in its war on Islam by failing to repudiate its own favorite brand of murderous superstition. The central doctrines of virtually all religions are fundamentally at odds with the core values of enlightened civilization (such as rational negotiation and social inclusiveness). Consequently, secular democratic nations should be less concerned with protecting freedom of religion and more concerned with guaranteeing freedom from religion.

The Scourge of Islam

For devout Muslims who have faith in the Koran, the future to which they aspire is one in which all nonbelievers ("infidels," in their pejorative jargon) have been converted to Islam, subjugated to a Muslim caliphate, or killed (Harris 2004:110). While some individual Muslims might be able to envision a world where other religions peacefully coexist with Islam, such broad-minded, secularly-influenced Muslims can find relatively little support in the Koran for their tolerant interpretations, nor can they offer any compelling faith-based arguments to dissuade their more literal-minded brethren from positions of intolerance. Regardless of the proportion of tolerant to intolerant Muslims in the world, two facts are clear: Islam is intolerant, and so are plenty of Muslims. That, as Sam Harris (2004:203) describes it in his powerful book The End of Faith, is the core of the problem:

"Life under the Taliban is, to a first approximation, what millions of Muslims around the world want to impose on the rest of us. They long to establish a society in which--when times are good--women will remain vanquished and invisible, and anyone given to spiritual, intellectual, or sexual freedom will be slaughtered before crowds of sullen, uneducated men. This, needless to say, is a vision of life worth resisting."

Granted, some Muslims have decried the murderous violence of their terrorist coreligionists, and they have claimed that Islam is actually a religion of peace. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Islam is a religion that celebrates ignorance and absurdity. It is a religion of misogyny and hatred towards homosexuals. Above all, it is a religion of violent intolerance towards non-Muslims. The evidence for these claims comes from a source that Muslims themselves affirm is absolutely authoritative: the Koran. Here, for example, is a sampling of what the Koran has to say about unbelievers (each quotation is followed by the chapter and verse citation):

"The curse of Allah is on disbelievers" (2:89). "For disbelievers is a shameful doom" (2:90). "Allah (Himself) is an enemy to the disbelievers" (2:98). …

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