The attack in Paris killing cartoonists and kosher shoppers, the near miss in Belgium, and the continued virulence and success of ISIS' barbaric head-lopping march across Iraq are once again commanding the attention of the Americans and the people who wish democracy well around the world with claims that religion justifies violence, including both the violent censorship of speech and the silencing of speech in death. The specious religious justification is so frightfully wrong that it tends to render mere mortals speechless, and now, it seems to have momentarily confused the highly popular Pope Francis.
The return of terror's frame on all else is resented as much in Valletta, Malta as Venice, California, and is apparently as dumbfounding in the Vatican, Rome, Italy. Busy lives struggling to overcome the costs of a world economy drained for Cheney-esque and Douglas Firth-esque and Paul Wolfowitz-driven manipulation of facts to favor an unjustified war in Iraq don't like it; don't want it, and frankly, because of the undermining of President Obama's interntational faith-based initiatives are less prepared to handle it.
In America, not only is it bad news is, it is bad timing. We already had a good head of steam dealing with the uneasy relations between Black Americans and the police. Racial profiling exists as does the under appreciation of the courage of police dying in the line of duty. It would be naïve to not see discrimination; it is ungrateful in the extreme not to value more consistently the continuing willingness of police to risk their lives for our safety.
Perhaps, however, the ISIS flare-up in Paris and the fairness and effectiveness of law enforcement are more related than we think. ISIS, as the President has correctly articulated, "is not a state." ISIS is not a sovereign with which we are at war. ISIS commands no respect as a sovereign anywhere in the world, and deserves none. Likewise, ISIS is also undeserving of any treaty-based protections or privileges given foreign diplomats, and ISIS soldiers lack all incidents of an army warranting Geneva protections.
What is ISIS? A wanton, barbarous criminal conspiracy to wreak havoc on civil order that enjoys freedom of thought and religion in ways unfathomable to the closed mind of ISIS criminals.
In saying this, I do not disregard the papal desire to make sense of the Paris massacre, and violence provoked by intemperate, but nevertheless lawful speech. The Pope is certainly right that we need to exercise greater sensitivity toward religious beliefs different than our own. Unfortunately, the Pope neglected to mention that upon seeing a cartoon unkind or even blasphemous, religionists too have a moral obligation (this one backed up by the law as well) to not take the lives of others in retaliation.
The White House was likely delighted to let the popular Francis soak up some of the criticism of the terror-generated missteps that have swept the globe. Jim Fallows thoughtful explication of how misconceiving terror as war cost America and the free world dearly and inexcusably of the men and women lost in the fight, trillions in economic losses that have put the USA farther behind global competitors and punched holes in the EU budget process, and not to be overlooked, took the lives of thousands of innocents, many, if not most, peace-loving Muslim families who should have not been put in jeopardy. Relatedly, the misconstruction of international crime for warfare has stimulated ISIS recruitment and likely invited similar "warfare" to be launched into the workplaces and sports arenas of nations perceived as infidels in the flat, humorless two-dimensional Islamic fundamentalist way of describing their closed-minded, mischaracterization of world events. The United States remains on the target list, and whatever joy there was in pulling down the tyrannical Hussein or Gaddafi is little compensation.
The White House is trying to extricate itself from the war on terror flypaper by troop withdrawal and a whispered "mission accomplished." No disrespect intended to the men and women in uniform, but again as Fallows observes: the principle mission of the enlisted soldier has been to return home alive without lasting mental or physical disability; and for the top brass, a kind of sycophantic rise to the next star - that given the very expensive military failures cannot really be a matter of pride of accomplishment. If the admirals and generals are lucky, they will make it over the retirement line with high rank in hand before the field of battle they ostensibly secured is retaken by those understood to be "our enemy," however unclear and shifting that may be.
In the end, I'm not surprised White House did not send anyone to link arms with the millions of French men and women who came out to mourn the loss of their cartoonists. As I discuss in a new book soon to be released by the Oxford University Press on secularism and its incomplete compatibility with democracy, France has always been one of the most secular, if not anti-religious, nations in Europe. Its secularity, sadly, has not saved the nation from the hate-filled claims of fundamentalism. Unlike the French Republic in recent years, the EU overall has become highly tolerant of religious symbol; more so even than the US where our incorporating document, unlike that of the EU, makes explicit reliance upon a transcendent, Divine source as the guarantor of human right. President Hollande may believe Islamic belief compatible with democracy, but the European Court on Human Rights has issued opinion after opinion saying otherwise.
Prayer and preaching, and not awkward moments of silence, are the usual activities of demonstrations like that which attracted French men and women and the people of many other nationalities. In mourning the loss of their idealistic countrymen, no one reported that prayer was unwelcome at the awful scene where innocent life was butchered. Friends present recited and heard these prayers. I doubt these recited prayers changed France's secular perspective, but that perspective I am certain welcomed any prayers recited because they were the free, uncoerced expression of faith.
Those who murdered over a cartoon in Paris have demonstrated no acceptance of the sacred uniqueness of each human life anywhere else and that is the sine qua non of a legitimate faith worthy of both national and international protection.
Pope Francis defended freedom of speech and rightly said there are limits and that "you can't make a toy out of the religions of others." Francis defended freedom of expression as not only a fundamental human right but also as a duty to speak one's mind for the sake of the common good, but then added "without offending." The subjectivity of the qualifier in a world too little remembering the universal qualities of human nature as deduced in natural law invites the qualification to swallow the freedom.
Francis is correct that religious caricature is a right of expression protected under law. He is also right that the legal protection of a cartoon or other satire does not immunize from inquiring whether we are being insensitive and morally corrosive.
The infelicitous papal defense of freedom of speech is abetted by a failure to mention the increasing overstatement of religious freedom claims - as, for example, the Supreme Court's heightened protection of religious employers to the disadvantage to the nonreligious or differently-believing employees, and even the not fully appreciating the distinct possibility that the freedom of religion claim may be overstated. No right of religious exercise supplies justification for that which kills. If Francis were given the chance to elaborate, no doubt he would emphasize that it is far more sincerely Christian to turn the other cheek about religious insults, no matter how outrageous. (Can any insult cut deeper than that hurled at Christ on the Cross or that extracted from our Jewish brothers and sisters ripped from community to be disposed of in the chambers like refuse?)
Yet the Holy Father's endorsement of freedom of expression must not be misheard. Islamic fundamentalism stands outside the bounds of freedom and public order. Except for a few Mafia dons in the bootlegged 20s and 30s of the last century and the inexcusable horror and tragedy of the Shoah, nobody this side of the invention of the spring-gun has practiced barbarism on the scale of ISIS -- if indeed it is ISIS who turns out to be the perpetrator of the Parisian mayhem and murder (their "rival" al Qaeda is also claiming the ignominy). By the way, any reader capable of discerning the differences between the multiple strains of Islamic fundamentalist sentiments and explaining why how these differences warrant turning the entire Middle east into a cauldron of violence would be supplying all of us with a knowledge that has yet to be made manifest if it ever will - at least before final judgment. most learned and studied Imam, but that learning and study - even as it may be derived from religious source - cannot give a license to kill.
Too many times now when life has been taken by radical Islamists, it has been left to the world to say notwithstanding that we are not at "war" with Islam, with at best a murmured concurrence of Islam. This is insufficient to acknowledge that just as there is a moral limit to the freedom of expression, there is a preservation of life limit to religious belief and practice that cannot be omitted.
President Obama said this most eloquently in Cairo in 2009; so too, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quite explicit about never negotiating with violent extremists of any variety whether of religious claim or not. The President's initiative directed at advancing inter-faith understanding as a means of advancing inter-faith respect was prematurely abbreviated when opponents of the President within the Department convinced the Inspector General (IG) that the faith based efforts did not have presidential authority. The IG knew it lacked the legal authority to second-guess policy direction. The IG knew this because they were so instructed by Congress that didn't want or need more policy makers, but did have need for accountants who would keep the ledgers balanced. How did the IG know this? By legal opinion rendered by the very head of President Reagan and the senior President Bush. I signed that legal opinion which was the considered judgment of the Office of Legal Counsel and the Attorney General in 1989, and IG bridling or not, it remains undisturbed.
Nevertheless, disregarding the limits of their own authority, the IG willingly inserted itself into policy making at the invitation of the holdover State Department secularists whose strategic plan for a religiously-fractious Middle east simply leaves religion ought of it. The Kerry State Department has the able assistance of an academic, Shaun Casey, assisting with faith perspective in the various parts of the current Secretary of State's desire to make real progress in, say, Jerusalem where religious claims are intense and explanatory.
Had the President's early inter-faith diplomatic initiative not been abbreviated, it would have already taken root and it would have been building negotiation and intelligence capability as well as religious friendship and good will. Had we had an inter-faith diplomatic officer in embassy just as we have cultural and political officers how many clashes and deaths could have been avoided? Sometimes turf fights are only that; but sometimes they are consequential.
The papal reminder that speech may be lawful, but imprudent or insensitive, is unassailable. To be complete, however, the Pope cannot succumb to gauzy, subjectivity for no amount of "giving offense" can justify the use of religion as justification for thuggery and intimidation and murder carried out in its name.
At the same time, Islamic voices ought to explain to non-Muslims, how equality and freedom can be the watchwords of the faith in ways compatible with democracy. It is too late in the day to simply assert that Islamic fundamentalism is not an honest or accurate representation of Islam.