Fundamentalist religions, and solutions that are worse than the problems

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Fundamentalist religions, and solutions that are worse than the problems

Most of us find it difficult to understand the mentality of fundamentalist religions. A reasoned approach to this may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia’s discussion of the Inquisition ( in which they note:

By this term is usually meant a special ecclesiastical institution for combating or suppressing heresy. Its characteristic mark seems to be the bestowal on special judges of judicial powers in matters of faith, and this by supreme ecclesiastical authority, not temporal or for individual cases, but as a universal and permanent office. Moderns experience difficulty in understanding this institution, because they have, to no small extent, lost sight of two facts.

On the one hand they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment; on the other they no longer see in the Church a society perfect and sovereign, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith. Before the religious revolution of the sixteenth century these views were still common to all Christians; that orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost seemed self-evident.

It is this closeness to fundamentalist beliefs that allowed popular American television evangelists to place the blame legally and morally for the terrorist actions of the criminals, yet note that from a theological point of view America’s “secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord’s [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture … the result is not good.”

If there is theological precedent – including Christian precedent – for fundamentalist beliefs and behaviors, might there not be some First Amendment protection for the actions of the criminals? Clearly not! It has been well-established that while religious belief may be sacrosanct, criminal action still remains criminal.

However, this does suggest that treating this incident as a crime, with society needing redress from a criminal act perpetrated by a criminal, might be more appropriate than legitimizing the action by considering it an act of war by what must be by definition considered a quasi-legitimate, albeit evil, power.

Let us look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

On the positive side of war is the immediate emotional gratification. Many have expressed the view that what they want to see is a lot of dead bodies, and that, as we have seen from the long history of the Balkans, is much more easily achieved through war than through law. On the down side, we will end up with an awfully lot of innocent people dying, including a lot more Americans, mostly young.

The down side of law is that we don’t have the satisfaction of blood-lust. The up side of law is that we can just as easily win the battle by being, as New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani said, better than they are. It also means that we can deal with the perpetrators with a minimum loss of additional life: If we can identify and locate those responsible, we will surely be able to extract them to the United States for trial with far fewer casualties than would otherwise occur. In addition, by taking a legal, surgical approach, we do not run the additional risk of creating yet more martyrs and giving enemies additional ammunition. We saw this in Panama when capturing Noriega and bringing him to the US for trial: Far fewer people died or were injured than had we bombed Panama back into the Stone Age.

By taking the approach of going after individuals, we have the added benefit of not needing to sustain a wide and draining military action, although it will mean that additional resources going to the intelligence community, which may or may not be capable of using them effectively without a sea change in thinking and organization.

In addition, thinking of this as a criminal action reduces the tendency we have already seen:

• Senator John McCain says we need to “trade some freedom for security,” which means, of course, the bad guys diminish our society and win.

• Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) has called for a global prohibition on encryption products without backdoors for government surveillance, ignoring the fact that Bin Laden has removed himself from technology, and that his followers are capable of doing so.

• Along the same lines, ISPs who were reluctant to cooperate with the FBI’s invasive Carnivore program are now rushing to comply.

• The Senate has voted to increase the FBI’s authority to tap the phones of anyone suspected of terrorism.

• Travel regulators have prohibited even small pocket knives. In only slight exaggeration, one wag noted that “All pointy things are banned from airplanes including service knives, really pointy forks, booze, sharp crackers, sharp cheddar cheese, women with those really long nails, and anyone with an opinion. Square meals are banned because of the corners.”

The reaction of reducing liberty is not a particularly new phenomenon in the face of crisis. Indeed many have spoken on this subject:

• “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin, reply of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the Governor, November 11, 1755

• “Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.” Mr. Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Opinion in Olmstead vs. U.S., 1928

• “But we know that freedom cannot be served by the devices of the tyrant. As it is an ancient truth that freedom cannot be legislated into existence, so it is no less obvious that freedom cannot be censored into existence. And any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

• “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.” William Pitt

• “I would advise persisting in our struggle for liberty, though it were revealed that 999 men were to perish, and only one of a thousand to survive and retain his liberty. One such freeman must possess more virtue, and enjoy more happiness, than a thousand slaves.” Samuel Adams – 1774

As an example of the fuzzy-thinking that has already appeared, many have been blaming the incident on poor airport passenger screening, talking about the slovenly practices that would allow the criminals to get on the plane with knives. There is a certain charm to the scenario of these people, dedicated to the point of willing suicide, and having spent millions of dollars and fifty to a hundred man-years of planning, arriving at the airport and saying, “Uh-oh, they have new metal detectors! I guess we should call it off and go home,” I don’t think this is terribly realistic on two levels:

First, there is no particular need to take weapons through passenger security. After all, the concession stands are manned by, and planes between flights virtually swarm with low-level janitors, caterers, and others who are frequently fairly-transient minimum wage immigrants with no significant background checks. Any of these could easily put anything needed on board.

Second, it avoids asking the hard question of why any sane criminal would hijack a number of airplanes using knives and box cutters rather than guns. After all, wouldn’t you assume that in an operation of this magnitude they would want to assure success, something that one would not assume to be possible using knives and box-cutters?

I believe the answer can be found in the 28 May 1998 interview with Osama Bin Laden by ABC’s John Miller, which Bin Laden said,

“We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions. We rely on Allah.”

In effect, many believe the criminals did not use guns because they did not feel it was necessary: They simply did not believe that Americans, unlikely to fight back, warranted the extra effort.

As one might expect, the gun enthusiasts (as do many pilots, apparently) believe that we should allow pilots – and qualified civilians, of course –to carry guns. Those who believe that prevention of this type of crime is best left to the more-competent hands of the government feel that not only should no weapons be allowed, no carry-on luggage at all should be allowed.

We have also seen an increase in both anti-Islamic feelings and in anti- Semitic feelings. Neither is helpful: They go against our core beliefs as Americans. The first is not self-serving, in that this is a time in which we need as much trust and co-operation as possible from Islam to help combat criminal activity. Secondly, and more important to preservation of our national values, is that history has taught us – think of the internment of the

Americans of Japanese extraction in World War II – that such panic reactions diminish us as a nation.

This last is a hard point. It must be remembered that the Taliban is, in some measure, an American creation. Throughout our history we have found it expedient to observe the old Chinese saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in designing and carrying out our foreign policy aims. Osama bin Laden was one of many US beneficiaries in its proxy war against Moscow begun in the 70s. When Bin Laden created Al Qaeda (The Base) in 1988, with US knowledge, Washington was confident that this would never affect us directly.

As with so many similar assessments in recent years, we saw on September 11th that Washington was wrong.

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