Human Rights in Traditionalist Islam: Legal, Political, Economic, and Spiritual Perspectives

The vaunted clash of civilizations has grown into a Fourth World War of demonization against Islam. The newest strategy is to single out Islam’s essential values, deny that they exist, and assert that their absence constitutes the Islamic threat. This article shows the common identity of classical American and classical Islamic thought so that Muslims, Christians, and Jews can unite against religious extremism. Muslim jurisprudents developed the world’s most sophisticated code of human responsibilities and rights. This is now being revived as the common heritage of western civilization based on the premise that justice reflects a truth higher than man-made positivist law and on the corollary that the task of religion is to translate transcendent truth into the transcendent law of compassionate justice.

The Challenge of Islamophobic Disinformation

Islamophobia has been rampant for more than a millennium. The newest twist has been the assertion that human rights do not – and cannot – exist in Islam. Such claims have become ever more sophisticated, which is why an equal sophistication is needed to address them. The most extreme and sophisticated example of patronizing intolerance in contemporary America, because it most starkly illustrates the reversal of truth and falsehood, was Michael Novak’s seminal article “The Faith of the Founding” in the April 2003 issue of First Things, America’s leading journal on religion in public life. Its founder, Bishop Richard John Neuhaus, a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, changed the environment in Washington with his enormously influential book, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Eerdmans: 1984). This journal and its elite pundits are today the world’s most influential force in shaping policy toward the role of religion, including Islam.

Novak’s article represents an entirely new approach to Islam because it is based not on generalizing from the actions of extremist Muslims, but on denying the fundamentals of Islam as a religion. The newest strategy is to single out Islam’s essential truths, deny that they exist, and assert that their absence constitutes the Islamic threat. This sophisticated strategy may be more effective over the long run than the simplistic claims of Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham that Muslims are bandits programmed by their vicious cult to kill infidels, meaning anyone opposing their plans of global conquest. “Only Judaism and Christianity,” writes Novak

have a doctrine of God as Spirit and Truth,Who created the world in order to invite these creatures endowed with intelligence and conscience to enter into friendship with Him. Only the Jewish and Christian God made human beings free, halts the power of Caesar at the boundaries of the human soul, and has commissioned human beings to build civilizations worthy of the liberty He has endowed in them.

Novak contends that even though some Muslims may be good, Islam is inherently bad because it does not recognize a direct relationship of the person with God and therefore can have no conception of human rights or of a government limited by the recognition of God’s sovereignty. He rejects as a fraud precisely all that Muslims have always said are the central teachings of their faith. By thus portraying Islam as inimical to America’s very foundation, this scion of the Neocon intellectual elite casts Islam as a mortal threat to everything good in the world.

This kind of extremism is dangerous, because it constitutes an ideological aggression that is far worse than the simple invasion and attempted occupation of another people’s land with the stated aim of saving the world from chaos. This intellectual and spiritual aggression denies the possibility of pluralism, regards diversity as problematic, and views tolerance only as a tactic in a war-to-the-finish against evil. This is precisely the kind of aggression that stokes the fires of extremism among its targeted victims and necessarily leads the most alienated among them to respond, in desperation, with the tools of terrorism.

The temptation to define another person’s religion in defense of one’s own is universal and is the substance of classical debate and apologetics. However, usurping the right to define another person’s religion is the most egregious form of all human rights violations. Furthermore, it is counterproductive, because to interpret another religion as inherently extremist plays into the hands of extremists in that religion by legitimizing their own perversions. A far better global strategy would be to support those in every religion who are trying to marginalize the hijackers in each religion by preserving the traditionalist understanding mutually shared by all of them.

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