On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., the University of Chicago’s Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Martha Nussbaum – appointed in both the Law School and Philosophy Department no less – will speak at the University of Chicago’s International House Assembly Hall on the topic of “The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age.”
Free and open to the public, the university’s publicity for the event reports, Prof. Nussbaum’s talk will address such pressing topics as:
[W]hat impulse prompted some newspapers to attribute the murder of 77 Norwegians to Islamic extremists, until it became evident that a right-wing Norwegian terrorist was the perpetrator? … Why did Switzerland, a country of four minarets, vote to ban those structures?” … and How did a proposed Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan ignite a fevered political debate across the United States?
In other words, why do otherwise seemingly rational people in Western democracies view radical Islamic extremists as threats to liberal democracy?
Perhaps it’s because they are.
A scant three weeks ago, on the American soil of a United States embassy in Libya, self-proclaimed Islamic militants murdered a U. S. ambassador and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Similar attacks took place the same day on U. S. interests in Egypt and elsewhere, in each case involving desecration of the U. S. flag and the hoisting in its place of a black al Qaeda banner. Eager for re-election on the strength of its suppose foreign policy achievements, the current administration pretended against all indications these were not terrorist attacks and sent its ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, on a tour of at least five Sunday morning talk shows to make that point, only later recanting after having already put its spin on events.
Two weeks later, under cover of diplomatic immunity in conjunction with the opening of a new session of the United Nations General Assembly, the so-called President of the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, traveled to New York City, not far from the ground zero of the September 11 attacks themselves. In a stirring speech, he once again called for the annihilation of the Jewish state of Israel while continuing to deny that the first Holocaust ever took place and denying that his country continues work feverishly to complete a nuclear weapon that will ensure the second.
In short, American academics, including the academic in the White House, bemoan “the new religious intolerance” – an alleged lack of respect among Western Christians, Jews, and even agnostics for the practitioners of an allegedly peaceful Islamic faith – while showing remarkably little concern for the “old” religious intolerance: the animus directed against well-meaning people of the Jewish faith that is so prevalent in Europe today, along with the Middle East, and that is slowly creeping inward on American shores, otherwise known as anti-Semitism. (Let us merely mention, but not discuss, the anti-Christian and anti-Catholic animus inherent in such NEA-sponsored “works of art” as the 1987’s “Piss Christ” now back on exhibit for a month at Manhattan’s Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery, and the 1999 exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art of a painting of Mary, mother of Jesus, overlaid with photos of buttocks and vaginas and smears of elephant dung.)
Contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution neither creates a right to religious freedom nor mandates a government free from religion. Rather, the Constitution in its entirety, read in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence, recognizes freedom of religion as an inherent, inalienable right of all humankind. The First Amendment simply guarantees that the United States government will neither prefer one religion to another nor prohibit the free exercise of any religion by the people. Article VI of the Constitution, rarely examined, further evidences this neutral and mutual respect for all religions in providing that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Yet both the intelligentsia and the State Department – not necessarily the same thing – seem to persist in insisting that the fault lies with Americans and with our culture of freedom – freedom of religion and freedom of expression foremost among them – and not those with those who seek to silence speech and to impose just one view of religion.
For the United States to survive on the world stage as a nation and as the last, best hope of democracy, both our professors and our President need to understand that the fault lies not in our freedoms or our exercise thereof, but in those who would take them away from us by force or by capitulation.
Like our founders, both our leaders and our citizens must stand up for the principles of our founding and reassert that we remain one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all – not just for vocal and violent minorities.