I tried to write my immediate response to 9/11 within a week of it happening. The following essay is what came out. For all those who claim I have changed my mind or position on the fundamental issues at stake here, I hope they will do me the favor of reading the essay. I stand by every word of it. 9/11 was a call, in my mind, to defend the Enlightenment from the nihilistic forces of murderous theocratic fanaticism. What it demanded was a rediscovery of secularism and freedom in a war against the forces of Islamism and despotism. I still believe that those who instinctively responded to the attacks by blaming America were morally lost. But I equally believe that those who showed they were willing to throw away America's values in fighting Jihadism were wrong as well. And those who use religious extremism as a tool to get elected in America are pale reflections of the evil of Islamism - not the equivalent, as I have always insisted, but related. Christianism and Islamism are twin pincers against our freedom and against freely chosen, freely witnessed Christian and Muslim faith. Islamism is far more dangerous. But Islamism will never defeat America's core values. Christianism has already made a dent.
My essay, "This Is A Religious War" is below:
Perhaps the most admirable part of the response to the conflict that began on Sept. 11 has been a general reluctance to call it a religious war. Officials and commentators have rightly stressed that this is not a battle between the Muslim world and the West, that the murderers are not representative of Islam. President Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington to reinforce the point. At prayer meetings across the United States and throughout the world, Muslim leaders have been included alongside Christians, Jews and Buddhists.
The only problem with this otherwise laudable effort is that it doesn't hold up under inspection.
The religious dimension of this conflict is central to its meaning. The words of Osama bin Laden are saturated with religious argument and theological language. Whatever else the Taliban regime is in Afghanistan, it is fanatically religious. Although some Muslim leaders have criticized the terrorists, and even Saudi Arabia's rulers have distanced themselves from the militants, other Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere have not denounced these acts, have been conspicuously silent or have indeed celebrated them. The terrorists' strain of Islam is clearly not shared by most Muslims and is deeply unrepresentative of Islam's glorious, civilized and peaceful past. But it surely represents a part of Islam -- a radical, fundamentalist part -- that simply cannot be ignored or denied.
In that sense, this surely is a religious war -- but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity. This war even has far gentler echoes in America's own religious conflicts -- between newer, more virulent strands of Christian fundamentalism and mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism. These conflicts have ancient roots, but they seem to be gaining new force as modernity spreads and deepens. They are our new wars of religion -- and their victims are in all likelihood going to mount with each passing year.
(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty.)
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