Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Containment Strategy and Military Legitimacy

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            President George W. Bush originated a U.S. strategy of military intervention in Islamic cultures to counter terrorism.  It has not worked.  Where U.S. or NATO forces have intervened, they have been perceived as infidels and the common enemy of all Muslims.  A new strategy of containment is necessary—one that will rely on Muslim indigenous forces as the “boots on the ground” that use lethal force to counter terrorism in Islamic cultures. 

            Islamic cultures in the Middle East and Africa are rife with sectarian and tribal conflict that is endemic to their culture and interwoven with virulent forms of fundamentalist Islam, or Islamism.  While President Obama has refused to acknowledge that ISIS is related to Islam, he has acknowledged that it is “a twisted ideology” that cannot be defeated on the battleground.  It can only be defeated by Muslims who undermine its legitimacy among young Muslims.   

            A containment strategy acknowledges that direct confrontation with a threat is not the best way to counter it, as was the case with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  The primary strategic objective was to build popular support for libertarian democracy and human rights in communist regimes.  The U.S. has a similar strategic objective in Islamic nations today, and to achieve it legitimacy (public perceptions of what is right) is the center of gravity in any conflict.

            The challenge for the U.S. is to reconcile Islamist standards of legitimacy with libertarian democracy, human rights and a secular rule of law.  That creates a daunting challenge for U.S. advisers and trainers in Islamic cultures.  They must report violations of fundamental human rights while respecting local standards of legitimacy that conflict with human rights in order to gain the trust and confidence of their Muslim counterparts.  It can be a mission impossible.   

            The Islamist standards of legitimacy that encumber U.S. advisers and trainers don’t apply to U.S. military strikes in which there is little contact with the local population.  Both direct action strikes and training and advisory missions are conducted by Special Operations Forces (SOF), but they require very different skills.  Direct action SOF warriors need only combat skills, while advisers and trainers must be diplomat-warriors to achieve mission success. 

            The diplomat-warriors of SOF must have language skills and knowledge of local culture and standards of Islamic law (shari’a) to navigate the treacherous human terrain of hostile Islamic cultures.  In many Islamic nations, apostasy and blasphemy laws preclude the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech, and women and non-Muslims are often denied equal treatment under the law.  This makes it a real challenge for SOF diplomat-warriors to promote fundamental human rights with Muslims whose religious laws deny those rights. 

            If the U.S. adopts a containment strategy for the Middle East and Africa, there will be no large deployments of U.S. combat forces to compromise legitimacy and undermine public support.  A relatively few SOF with cultural and language skills can keep a low profile as they advise and assist indigenous forces conduct military operations and promote fundamental human rights.  It is a strategy based on a politics of reconciliation with Muslims in Islamic cultures.

            Experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have been painful lessons learned in legitimacy for the U.S. military.  They have taught us that superior military force can never compensate for a lack of legitimacy when public support is essential to mission success.  That is especially true in Islamic cultures where shari’a shapes the standards of legitimacy, since it conflicts with libertarian concepts of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.

            The “twisted ideology” of ISIS is a radical form of Islamism that has motivated young Muslims to take up the cause of ISIS; and since it cannot be defeated on the battlefield, its ideology must be undermined by Muslims committed to make mainstream Islam a religion of peace and justice rather than one of violence and oppression.  Those moderate Muslims are our most important allies in defeating the threat of radical Islamism, and the presence of large deployments of U.S. combat forces only aids and abets Islamist terrorists.  It supports their propaganda that the infidels of the West are at war with Islam and justifies their Jihad (holy war).

            When public support is needed for U.S. strategic political objectives, military legitimacy requires that might must be considered right by those who are subjected to it.  When LBJ deployed U.S. Marines to Vietnam in 1965 he transformed what was then a U.S. advisory mission into a U.S. war and undermined U.S. military legitimacy in Vietnam.  President Bush made a similar strategic error when he invaded Iraq.  The military intervention created a political vacuum that the U.S. was unable to fill, making it another painful lesson in legitimacy. 

            A containment strategy that emphasizes military legitimacy can prevent such strategic errors in the future.  It is a strategy that emphasizes reconciliation rather than violent engagement with Islam, and it can undermine radical Islamism and promote lasting peace with justice.         


On religion, violence and military legitimacy, see

On Oppresso de liber: Where religion and military power intersect, see

On the causes of religious violence and how to combat them, see

On religious violence and the dilemma of freedom and democracy, see

On human rights and legitimacy in the SOF advisory and training mission, see Barnes,

Generally on military legitimacy, see Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, at

Generally on religion, legitimacy and the law: shari’a, democracy and human rights, see

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Freedoms of Religion and Speech: Essentials of Liberty in Law

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The freedoms of religion and speech are first among the freedoms of our Bill of Rights and also fundamental human rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  They are essentials of liberty in law for any government, but they are denied in Islamic nations where apostasy and blasphemy laws are enforced as part of Islamic Law, or shari’a.  In fundamentalist Islam, or Islamism, shari’a prohibits any secular law that conflicts with its dictates, and that includes libertarian human rights.

            There can be no liberty in law or peace and justice without the freedoms of religion and speech, and those freedoms are denied when shari’a functions like a constitution and preempts fundamental human rights, as it does in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.  But U.S. foreign policy has been ambivalent on that issue, proclaiming a policy to promote the freedoms of religion and speech while providing aid and assistance to nations that deny those freedoms. 

            On August 8, 2016, Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinkin presented the annual report on international religious freedom that affirms its primacy in U.S. foreign policy:
“Support for religious liberty guides the U.S. and our foreign policy every day.
…Our abiding commitment is affirmed by the priority we’ve given to defending and championing international religious freedom everywhere, but especially where it is under threat.  …When a government denies religious liberty, it turns citizens who have done nothing wrong into criminals, igniting tension that breeds contempt, hopelessness, alienation. Far from a vulnerability or weakness, religious pluralism shows respect for the beliefs of every citizen and gives each a tangible reason to contribute to the success of the entire society. That’s why no nation can fulfil its potential if its people are denied the right to freely choose and openly practice their faith.”

            President El Sissi of Egypt and Erdogan of Turkey have used apostasy and blasphemy laws to repress opposition to their authoritarian regimes, often in the name of security concerns.  Secretary Blinkin acknowledged that security is a concern with violent extremist groups, but cautioned:
“But security concerns are not a defensible reason to suppress peaceful religious activities, deny fair treatment to religious groups, apply collective punishments, or deny freedoms that are essential to religious practice, including those of association, assembly and expression.  We express this point not solely to defend the principle of religious freedom, but also because terrorists are quick to exploit evidence of discrimination in trying to rationalize their actions and attract new members.  Whatever the intent, repression tends to fuel terrorism, not stop it, which means that the denial of religious liberty is not only wrong but profoundly misguided and self-defeating.”

            The Executive Summary of the International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 cites the brutal enforcement of apostasy and blasphemy laws and vigilante actions that have been ignored in Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.  Egypt is not mentioned, perhaps for political reasons, but there have been numerous reports of similar abuses there.  It is obvious that U.S. foreign policy has failed to promote the freedoms of religion and speech in the Middle East.

            There is irony here.  While U.S. policy is to promote the freedoms of religion and speech where it is lacking abroad, at home fundamentalist believers have carried those freedoms to oppressive extremes.  They have demanded the right to discriminate against homosexuals, who they consider sinners, denying them equal protection of the law; and some have used religious freedom to fan the flames of religious hatred.  In the U.S., the abuse of the freedoms of religion and speech by some have undermined liberty in law for others.         

            The radical Islamist terrorists of ISIS thrive on Christian hypocrisy and moral decadence in libertarian democracies and attract disaffected young Muslims to their cause with the promise of religious purity through a strict shari’a that imposes the death penalty for insulting God (blasphemy) and betraying God/Allah by leaving Islam (apostasy).
            After the Arab Spring it appeared that Islam was becoming more compatible with libertarian democracy, but a continuous flow of young Muslims to ISIS and a trend toward Islamism by Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Iran have challenged that assumption.  The refugee crisis has made matters worse.  Public fear and anger over Muslim refugees has been exploited by populist demagogues to polarize religions.  The jury remains out on whether Islam will develop into a religion of freedom, justice and peace or one of oppressive religious laws and violence.

            New strategies are needed to reconcile Islam with libertarian democracy.  They have been hampered by an Administration that denies any connection between Islam and radical Islamist terrorism to placate Muslims who do not want to associate Islam with terrorism.  It is an example of political correctness hampering national security.  ISIS is an ideology based on a radical form of Islamism.  The ideology cannot be defeated by U.S. military force.  It must be denied legitimacy among young Muslims, and only Muslims can achieve that strategic objective.    

            Religions provide their believers with standards of legitimacy (what is right).  For a religion to be compatible with freedom and democracy, its standards of legitimacy must be considered voluntary moral standards rather than enforceable laws.  Judaism and Christianity abandoned enforcement of their religious laws after the Enlightenment (although Massachusetts still has a blasphemy law on its books), but Islamist regimes continue to enforce shari’a.  There can be no liberty in law in Islam until apostasy and blasphemy laws are no longer enforced.         

            The conflict between libertarian democracy and authoritarian Islamism is testimony to the pervasive and often perverse role of religion in our politics and law.  The reconciliation of competing religious ideologies requires that Jews, Christians and Muslims share the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves as a common word of faith.  We love our neighbors in other religions by sharing our freedoms of religion and speech with them.  That can reconcile religious differences and promote liberty in law, together with peace and justice.                

Notes and references:  

Liberty in law is borrowed from America the Beautiful (words by Katherine Lee Bates, 1904):
America! America! God mend thine every flaw.
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law. 

The Pew Research Center has confirmed the prevalence of apostasy and blasphemy laws throughout Islamic cultures in the Middle East and Africa, and that they are being enforced.  See  On key findings on Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, see

On religious freedom seriously lacking for three-fourths of the world’s population, see

The International Freedom of Religion Report for 2015 was released on August 8, 2016, and its Executive Summary is at   

An excerpt of the 2014 Report is provided in the Notes of related commentary on Freedom of Religion and Providing for the Common Good, at

On related commentary on Faith and Freedom that references The 2013 International Freedom of Religion Report, see

On abuses of the freedoms of religion and speech in the U.S., see Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech at

On trends in the law that expand the freedom of religion to give Christian fundamentalists a right to discriminate against others, see,
On related commentary on Religion, Human Rights and National Security, with references to President Obama’s ambiguity on human rights and his unwillingness to acknowledge any connection between ISIS and Islamism, and the problem of providing aid to Egypt’s oppressive government while ignoring human rights violations, see

On the contrast between human rights in libertarian democracies of the West and Islamic regimes in the East under shari’a, and the contrasting views of Islamic scholars on that topic, see Religion,Legitimacy and the Law: Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights (pp 6-17) at

On the causes of religious violence like that of ISIS, the role of shari’a, and ways to combat radical Islamist fundamentalism with libertarian human rights and the secular rule of law, see
On Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation, see

On The Greatest Commandment as a Common Word of Faith, see

On Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? see

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Need to Balance Competition with Cooperation in Politics and Religion

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            This past week it’s been hard to ignore the Olympics if you watch TV, especially if you watch NBC.  Once again, images from the swimming competition (Phelps and King) reminded us of just how obsessed we are with competition and winning, whether in sports, politics, social activities, business or entertainment—even in religion—and how competition shapes our culture.

            Competition is a contest between adversaries with only one winner.  It ranges from simple games to violent conflict, where winning is everything (there are no silver medals in war).  By way of contrast, cooperation requires the reconciliation of adversaries to achieve a common goal that benefits all involved.  There are no losers when adversaries are reconciled.

            It is human nature to compete rather than cooperate with others, so that competition is pervasive in social institutions that base their power on their popularity, such as those of politics and religion.  Even though Christian teachings promote cooperation through God’s reconciling love for all people, the history of Christianity has witnessed more competition than cooperation with other religions, and there has been fierce competition among the many denominations of Christianity as well.  The same is true for other exclusivist religions like Islam.

            Democratic politics are inherently competitive, especially during elections.  A politics of reconciliation may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s essential for a democracy to avoid partisan gridlock.  The U.S. Constitution protects fundamental civil rights from a tyranny of the majority and provides a balance of powers (e.g. the executive, legislative and judicial), but it doesn’t provide a remedy for gridlock in Congress.  Where there are two evenly matched political parties that cannot compromise on major issues, a third party is needed to prevent partisan gridlock.  

            Socialism involves the public ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution rather than private ownership, with all members sharing in the work and the products (Webster).  Socialism is theoretically based on cooperation, but in practice it involves competition for power that can be oppressive without a democratic process, and in pluralistic cultures like the U.S., democratic processes notoriously resist altruistic and egalitarian socialism. 

            Theocracy is an authoritarian form of government ruled by divine authority defined in a holy book and interpreted and enforced by religious officials.  When religions have comprehensive and immutable laws—as in ancient Judaism and in modern Islamism—there can be no libertarian democracy or human rights.  Theocratic government is strictly by the book—the holy book.  There is no room for innovation, whether through competition or cooperation.

            Islamism is a theocratic form of Islam that can have some of the attributes of democracy so long as they don’t challenge the sanctity of religious authority and law.  Islamic law (shari’a) functions like a constitution and prohibits fundamental human rights like the freedoms of religion and speech.  Without human rights, democracy in Islamic cultures produces a tyranny of the majority with oppressive religious laws, like those that criminalize apostasy and blasphemy.

            In the U.S. libertarian democracy has evolved in the other direction, with individual rights expanded at the expense of providing for the common good.  Fundamentalist Christians have pushed to expand the freedom of religion to allow them to discriminate against homosexuals (who they consider to be sinners), denying them the equal protection of the law.

            Unprincipled political demagogues have seized upon this and other divisive racial and religious issues to exploit the fear and anger of voters to motivate them to support their populist campaigns.  This election year has witnessed partisan competition on steroids, exemplified by the divisive and narcissistic nihilism of Donald Trump, and politics as usual by Hillary Clinton.

            Competition is deeply ingrained in our culture and should be balanced with cooperation and reconciliation to support a healthy democracy and promote better interfaith relations.  As globalization makes America more pluralistic in race and religion, it must balance the polarizing effect of competition with reconciliation and cooperation to maintain political stability and avoid religious conflict.

            The moral principles of religion and politics are woven together; exclusivist religions are as divisive and competitive as partisan politics.  They can be reconciled by the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—even those we would prefer to avoid—as we love ourselves.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike that can transcend the competition and conflict of exclusivist religious beliefs and partisan politics and reconcile us so that we can live together in peace in a world of increasing diversity. 

Notes and References to Related Commentary:

On the differing views of Islamic scholars on democracy and human rights under shari’a, see Religion, Legitimacy and the Law: Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights (pp 10-16) at                   

On Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery, see

On Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities, see

On The Greatest Commandment as a Common Word of Faith, see

On Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? see         

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
            There is a vast political and cultural divide between a fearful and angry white middle-class tribe in America known as WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants), who have long held political power, and those who challenge their right to rule, including Millennials and numerous minority groups in the Democrat Party.  Donald Trump successfully exploited the fears and anger of the WASPs, and they made him the standard bearer of the Republican Party. 

            Christianity in America, leavened by advances in knowledge and the reason of the Enlightenment, is the primary source of those moral values that have shaped American politics.  Donald Trump was an unlikely choice to lead a GOP that has long championed traditional values; but he exploited the fear and anger of WASPs with his celebrity status, personal wealth and a narcissistic and bullish charisma to subdue his opponents. 

            Even if Clinton defeats Trump in November, it will not bridge the political and cultural divide.  It will take a politics of reconciliation to do that, and while it does not require unanimity on issues, it does require a willingness to compromise—something missing in a political duopoly mired in gridlock.  Even if Democrats are sincere in seeking to unify America, they cannot do it by themselves.  Reconciliation requires two or more parties that can hold each other accountable.

            South Carolina illustrates the problem.  It was a one-party state under the Democrat Party until civil rights and the Republican Party gave S.C. voters a choice in the 1960s.  Today partisan roles are reversed, with Republicans ruling the political roost.  The majority of voters in S.C. are WASPs, whose misguided concepts of Christianity supported a separate but equal culture under the Democrat Party until the 1960s; and this year evangelical Christian WASPs voted to make Donald Trump—whose values are decidedly not Christian—the GOP nominee for President.

            Religion has always shaped the moral standards that govern our political preferences, so that if religion has a part in creating our political problems it must also be part of the solution.  The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  It is a moral imperative of faith that can help alleviate contentious religious and political differences and promote a politics of reconciliation. 

            God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church, mosque and in politics.  That is evident in how Donald Trump has used fear and anger to exacerbate racial and religious differences in his campaign.  If Trump is defeated in November, perhaps a new and enlightened Republican Party can arise Phoenix-like from the ashes; but unless that happens, issues of race and religion will require a third party to promote a politics of reconciliation with Democrats.

            An example of Trump’s belligerent and divisive campaign style was his response to the criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democrat convention.  Mr. Khan said that his son, a U.S. Army officer who was killed in Iraq, made a greater sacrifice to his country than Trump, who has never served his country.  Trump responded that he has served and sacrificed for his country by creating thousands of jobs, and then he questioned why Mrs. Khan stood silently by Mr. Khan at the convention, implying that her Muslim faith prohibited her from saying anything.

            Trump has demonized all Muslims based on the terrorism of radical Islamists, but we need to support moderate Muslims who can challenge the legitimacy of radical Islamism among young Muslims.  It doesn’t help that President Obama and Democrats have denied that ISIS is related to Islam in deference to Muslims who wish to disassociate their faith from it.  Before we can expect Muslims to challenge the legitimacy of the radical form of political Islam (Islamism) that motivates ISIS terrorism, our policymakers must recognize it as such.

            Christianity provides a useful analogy.  Christians don’t have to answer for modern Crusades or Inquisitions, but they do need to counter the fundamentalist form of Christianity that motivates the supporters of Donald Trump.  Progressive Christians must challenge the legitimacy of those evangelical Christians who have allowed fear and hate for Muslims to shape their politics, just as Muslims should challenge radical forms of fundamentalist Islamism within Islam.           

            It should be an embarrassment to Christians that some of their tribe made Donald Trump the leader of the Republican Party.  Christians who seek to follow the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor should disavow Trump and those who follow him, just as Muslims who share that common word of faith should disavow radical Islamism with its apostasy and blasphemy laws and discrimination against women and non-Muslims under Shari’a. 

            To bridge the political and cultural divide that threatens American democracy and promote libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law in Islamic cultures, Christians and Muslims must embrace the greatest commandment as a common word of faith.  It requires providing fundamental human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech, and balancing those individual rights with providing for the common good.       


On the evils of religious fundamentalism and how a politics of reconciliation can counter them, see

On the need for civil or human rights to provide liberty and justice for all, both in America and around the world, see

On balancing individual rights with collective responsibilities to provide for the common good, see

On the clash between Trump and the Khans as new signs of a cultural and political divide, see

Paul Krugman revealed his partisan bias in arguing that Trump is not a unique political phenomenon but that he represents a long-standing lack of patriotism on the part of Republicans compared to the patriotism and love of country of Democrats.  Krugman has also criticized Republicans who urge that “…the president must use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” when actual experts on terrorism agree that this would actually hurt national security, by helping to alienate peaceful Muslims?”  Krugman argues “…that the alienation isn’t a side effect they’re disregarding; it’s actually the point — it’s all about drawing a line between us (white Christians) and them (everyone else), and national security has nothing to do with it.” See

Professor Gary Gutting has asserted that Islam is a factor in ISIS or ISIL terrorism, opposing the view of President Obama and Krugman (above) who have denied any relationship between them.  Gutting related religious violence in both Christianity and Islam to the intolerance of religious exclusivism, and he urged Muslims, like Christians, to accept political restraints in promoting their religion [such as providing the freedoms of religion and speech].  See

In describing how to remain faithful amid an election that distorts religion, Father Joshua Whitfield rejected the argument that the evil of Hillary Clinton makes it a sin to vote for anyone other than Trump, and advocated the “politics of love” (expressed in the greatest commandment) as “the authentic alternative and the only viable third candidacy” to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  See

For Christians who need scriptural authority to decide how to vote, see 10 reasons you can’t be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump at