A question of linkage

Islam | Enemy at Home author Dinesh D'Souza and WORLD's Marvin Olasky, author of The Religions Next Door, debate how far Muslims and Christians can go to form alliances

Issue: "Endings & beginnings," Jan. 13, 2007

OLASKY: Your linkage of the domestic culture war and the war on terror makes sense, but I question your new book's proposal that American conservatives develop alliances with Islamic conservatives. I don't see any tendency among Islamic conservatives to uphold religious liberty-and how can we abandon Christians undergoing persecution so as to preserve our own comfort?

D'SOUZA: We in the West can help our Christian counterparts in Muslim countries if we work more closely with traditional Muslims to stem the influence of the radical Muslims. We could work to convince traditional Muslims to accept reciprocity with Christians: Both sides agree to allow conversion, and both sides agree to condemn public insults against monotheistic religions.

OLASKY: I agree with you that reciprocity agreements would be helpful, but do you see any willingness among orthodox Muslims to make that sort of deal? Doesn't Muslim theology oppose that, since the goal is to bring about peace by making the whole world submit to Allah, with Christians and Jews given at best dhimmi (second-class citizen) status?

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D'SOUZA: Traditional Muslims do believe in religious freedom, by which they mean the freedom to practice your religion (even in a state governed by Shariah) and the freedom to choose whether you want to convert to Islam or not. The Quran says there will be no compulsion in religion.

OLASKY: I have to disagree. That "no compulsion" verse (Sura 2:256) of the Quran is contradicted by later, violent verses such as Sura 9:5, which says "kill the unbelievers wherever you find them." The Muslim doctrine of abrogation resolves such contradictions by saying the later verse trumps the earlier one. Scholar Bat Ye'or's books about dhimmi status document a millennium's worth of harassment, and Christians in Muslim countries today often undergo severe persecution.

D'SOUZA: Historically Muslim empires have had no compunction about putting pagans to the sword or forcibly bringing them under Muslim rule, as the prophet Muhammad did to the Bedouins in the Arabian desert. By contrast, no Muslim empire has ever practiced the mass killing of Jews or Christians, and no Muslim regime has enforced mandatory conversion of Jews and Christians to Islam. No Muslim society issued anything like the decree that Ferdinand and Isabella issued to the Jews, essentially forcing them to choose between converting to Christianity, leaving the country, or being killed.

OLASKY: Disagree. One article in the Fall 2006 issue of The Intercollegiate Review began, "The existence of a Muslim kingdom in Medieval Spain where different races and religions lived harmoniously in multicultural tolerance is one of today's most widespread myths." Muslim dictators killed, enslaved, or expelled Christians from many areas. Muslims in Granada in 1066 "destroyed the entire Jewish community; thousands perished-more than those killed by mobs in the Rhineland at the beginning of the First Crusade three decades later."

D'SOUZA: The only strict violation of religious freedom that is intrinsic to Islam is the Quranic provision (supported by the Islamic tradition) that Muslims are not allowed to convert out of Islam. Today this is rarely enforced as long as the Muslim who stops practicing Islam is quiet about it. But states that aspire to be Islamic will sometimes make an example out of public renegades. Muslims are the hardest people in the world to convert, so this problem does not arise frequently.

OLASKY: It's hard to expect new converts to Christianity to be quiet about it. They're normally excited and concerned for family and friends; besides, evangelicals are called to evangelize. And the reason Muslims are so hard to convert is because they live in societies where free discussion of religion is not allowed; imams know that they would lose much of their power in conditions of liberty.

D'SOUZA: The problems for Christians arise when an Islamic state like Iran or Saudi Arabia permits Christianity but discriminates against it. Usually such policies are the result of pressure applied by the radical Muslims. Let's say you are right about the extent to which Christians are persecuted today in Muslim countries. What is the solution? To attack Islam and drive the traditional Muslims into the arms of the radical Muslims? To declare a "clash of civilizations" which will only make Christians more vulnerable as perceived stand-ins for the enemy?

OLASKY: Wouldn't secularist approaches, as in Turkey, increase the possibility for liberty?

D'SOUZA: No Muslim country is going the way of Turkey, and even Turkey has stopped going the way of Turkey.


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