Islam is not a religion of peace. Far more of its adherents are sympathetic to its radical elements than the West is willing to admit, and we desperately need to begin talking honestly about the problem. But outright calls to “eradicate Islam in the West” raise serious concerns about religious liberty, imprecisely identify our enemy, and may actually undermine the battle against Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism.
First, the Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to “the free exercise” of religion, regardless of how odious any given set of religious ideals may be. Granted, this doesn’t mean that every conceivable religious action is constitutionally protected, and Islamic practices that violate individual liberty should be vigorously fought through the law. It doesn’t mean Islam’s legally protected aspects should be spared public scrutiny and criticism, either. But it does mean that Islam can never be fully “eradicated” as long as conservatives also uphold their fidelity to the Constitution. Do you have the right to use religious institutions to fund jihadist groups, coordinate terrorist attacks, oppress family members, or win preferential treatment for your religion in American law? No. Do you have the right to build houses of religious worship and education? Yes—even if you teach horrible things in them.
Second, regardless of Jeanette Pryor’s intentions, calling for the eradication of an entire religion does imply that every member of that religion is an enemy, as well, which should give us all pause. Regardless of whether or not they are practicing the truest interpretation of their faith, or what percentage of their faith they comprise, many peace-loving Muslims do exist. They don’t deserve to be lumped in with tyrants and savages, even unintentionally. Neither do courageous Muslim allies to liberty, like author Irshad Manji, Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri of the United Kingdom, or the majority of Iraqis who vote for secular rule and against Iran. We should be supporting their faction over the violent one, not speaking as if there is no divide within Islam.
Third, the people who still need their eyes opened about the jihadist threat aren’t on our side yet primarily because they bristle at the concept of discriminating against a particular religious or ethnic group. Those who can be convinced will be won over by precisely explaining what about the Islamic world is dangerous and anti-liberty, and clearly distinguishing what our objectives are and aren’t. Saying the entire religion is the modern equivalent of Nazism and needs to be destroyed does the exact opposite: it scares undecideds away by employing language that matches leftist caricatures of conservative opinion too close for comfort.
Jeanette is a tireless, effective voice in the defining global struggle of our generation, and her July 21 piece highlighted many uncomfortable truths about that struggle. But in a battle of ideas, we need to take care to ensure that our words are reinforcing, not undermining, our ideas.
Editor’s Note: David Swindle’s reply is available here.