During this weekend’s Democratic presidential debate, the Republican presidential candidates went on the attack, criticizing the Democrats for not being willing to say definitively whether we were at war with “radical Islam.” As I’ve written before, I think that the Democrats – as presidential candidates – gave appropriately nuanced responses.
But it goes beyond that. The fact is that I don’t trust the Republicans presidential candidates to properly combat Islamic terrorism. Why? Because I believe their instinct is to turn it into a religious war.
See, I don’t think we’re engaged in an apocalyptic showdown between Islam and Christianity. Instead, I see a minority and reactionary sect of Islam on one side and almost the entire rest of the world on the other side. That includes moderate Muslims, as well as powerful countries and peoples that aren’t actively involved in the conflict right now (and frankly, matter more for the long-term future of geo-politics), like China.
But, seemingly, Republican don’t see it that way. In Foreign Policy magazine, James Bamford has a profile of the chief foreign policy advisor of Ben Carson, one of the leading Republican presidential candidates. According to this advisor, Robert Dees:
“Trying to appease the Muslim religion by saying [it is] a peace-loving religion is problematic. I think they need to show us. Rather than speak of peace, they need to demonstrate peace, and they need to demonstrate how their religion does not lead people to a final end state of violence and oppression.”
Okay. From a guy who also says this:
“My greatest pleasure has been being a private in the Lord’s army.”
And in a PowerPoint presentation said:
“JESUS was the ultimate Resilient Warrior & Leader,”
So, the Jesus of peace. Out. Gun-totin’ Jesus. In.
Hard data are hard to come by, but think for a moment: how many Christians subscribe this aggressive version of Jesus? Maybe about the same number of Islamic radicals? And how are moderate Muslims supposed to feel, when the senior policy advisors of one of the leading candidates of the two big American political parties has this kind of history? I don’t think they would be comforted. This goes directly to whether we can win the battle for hearts and minds – whether we can win over moderate Muslims. If we can’t do that, I think the battle against radical Islam is lost.
By the way, why do we see Islamic radicals running wild, while explicitly radical Christians from the U.S. aren’t committing atrocities in a similar fashion? It’s because the Christian radicals are hemmed in by the robust and secular political institutions of the U.S. and Europe, which require them to advocate and justify their war-like ways in standard foreign policy terms, undermining their religious content.
We need societies free of intractable religious strife, where people can come together – no matter what their religion or worldview – to define their common purpose. It is the only hope for the future. And this is, by the way, how the founding fathers saw the world. It is the source of the First Amendment. It’s the right way to approach the world. It’s worth defending. And you can do that with your vote.