Srdja Trifkovic’s call to exclude “Mecca from America” (“To Lose a War,” American Interest, November) brings to mind Protestant-nativist attempts to “exclude Rome from America” a century ago. Dr. Trifkovic’s reasons for excluding Islam from American society can be applied to the case of pre-Vatican II Catholicism in the United States. Anti-Catholic literature often expressed the fear that American Catholics would be more loyal to Rome than to their own country. The traditional Catholic support of a Catholic state and disavowal of democracy and the separation of Church and state bears much similarity to Islam’s fusing of “mosque and state.”
As sociologist José Casanova has noted, the perceived threat to Protestant culture caused by the number of Catholic immigrants arriving in the United States (much larger than the current influx of Muslims) was enough to instigate a few riots, a “know-nothing” movement, and the failure of Catholic Al Smith’s campaign. It wasn’t until Vatican II, with its support for religious freedom, and the candidacy of John F. Kennedy, who vowed not to take his cues from Rome, that the Catholic stigma began to dissolve. By the 1980’s, the situation had changed enough for Samuel Huntington to call the “third wave” of democratization in Latin America and parts of Asia a Catholic trend.
Dr. Trifkovic’s own Eastern Orthodox culture was viewed as essentially anti-Western in Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. Dr. Trifkovic has a similar essentialist view of Islam that doesn’t leave much room for developments and changes within the religion. It is not clear even today that many American Muslims’ acceptance of sharia necessarily translates into opposition to democracy and the distinction between sacred and secular.
But even if we grant that antidemocratic teachings have wide support today, the decentralized nature of Islam suggests that this can change. There are new models (in Indonesia, for example), movements, and groups that suggest Islam and democracy need not be opposed. The situation in Europe and the Middle East should not be viewed as the only models, particularly viewed from the vantage point of the United States and her history of assimilating and domesticating foreign and even threatening religions.
North Bellmore, NY
Dr. Trifkovic Replies:
Christians who belong to different traditions live harmoniously together not only in America but in Germany, Bohemia, and the Low Countries—the bloody religious battlefields of 350 years ago. By contrast, Muslims do not live harmoniously with Christians—or with any other non-Muslim group—anywhere in the world, and have never been able to do so, for reasons inherent in their ideology. Violent intolerance against us “infidels” is mandated by their holy book, exemplified by their “prophet,” and firmly rooted in 13 centuries of recorded history.
Until a leading Muslim figure takes his cue from JFK and assures non-Muslims that he unreservedly rejects sharia, jihad, and discrimination in every shape and form—Sura 9:5 included—and until his position is supported by the majority of the Muslim world, the “stigma” will be every bit as justified as that against Bolshevism or National Socialism.
My “essentialist view of Islam” is supported by experience. Attempts to reformulate the doctrine of jihad in particular are not new, but they have failed because they oppose centuries of orthodoxy. As Clement Huart pointed out back in 1907, “Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, . . . have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action.”
A century later, the willingness of a few to become what are objectively bad Muslims may be laudable in human terms, but it will do nothing to change the score. A reformed faith that would question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer.
Islam, in its eminently orthodox codification, threatens us and discriminates against us. We must do everything to keep the threat away from our shores.