Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            If a religious nation takes freedom and democracy for granted, it does so at its peril.  Before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 opened the door of a religious world to the secular libertarian values of the Enlightenment, the Christian church opposed freedom and democracy with the oppressive dictates of the divine right to rule.  And political Islam, or Islamism, continues to dictate religious and political oppression in Islamic cultures today.        

            De oppresso liberto liberate from oppression—is from the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 61:1-2), and Jesus cited that passage in speaking of his own mission (Luke 14:16-21).  But it would be 1,800 years before political freedom and democracy defined politics, and then only in part of the world.  And today religious fundamentalists still consider God the absolute sovereign, with their ancient scriptures and laws the immutable word of God that defines truth in religion and politics.

            The Enlightenment introduced the social contract theory that supports the sovereignty of man over God, with democracy and libertarian human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech.  Those libertarian priorities are provided in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights and represent our foundational values, and they are shared with Europeans.  But most Muslims in Islamic nations favor the imposition of Islamic laws (shari’a) that deny fundamental freedoms.

            Why is that important?  Because when religion dictates politics, it threatens the political status quo in an increasingly pluralistic world.  And as long as Islam enforces apostasy and blasphemy laws that oppose the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech, Muslims will be suspect in libertarian democracies.  Such conflicting religious and political concepts of freedom and human rights can only lead to more religious discrimination, hatred and violence.

            Rana Elmir has noted the plight of Muslim women who wear the distinctive hijab in America and Europe.  They are treated as both villains and victims--villains as Muslims who are associated with radical Islamist terrorism, and victims as Muslim women.  Civil rights laws can protect Muslim women against unlawful discrimination, but not against prejudice and hate. 

            One way to minimize the problem is for Muslim women to forego wearing the hijab, but the long-range solution is for Islam to evolve into a progressive religion of peace and justice compatible with libertarian values.  Muslims can make that happen by treating shari’a as a voluntary code of morality rather than enforcing it as law in Islamic cultures. 

            Freedom and democracy cannot coexist with oppressive and immutable religious laws.  When mainstream Islam embraces democracy, along with human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech and the rule of secular law, it will undermine the legitimacy of Islamist terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIS and change the image of Islam worldwide; but polls indicate that most Muslims in Islamic nations continue to favor shari’a as their rule of law.

            There is no danger of Islam undermining freedom in libertarian democracies.  Judaism and Christianity have conformed their religious doctrines to democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law, and most Muslims in libertarian democracies prefer freedom and democracy to the enforcement of shari’a.  But democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law remain constrained in Islamic nations where shari’a is the rule of law. 

            Globalization has made the world smaller and more pluralistic, and Islam is projected to gain influence as the world’s largest religion by the end of the century.  And until mainstream Islam embraces those fundamental freedoms at the foundation of libertarian democracy there will be continuing religious conflict that fosters religious discrimination and threatens world peace.

            What can we do about the problem?  Only Muslims can determine the future of Islam, but the rest of us can encourage and support progressive Muslims who are promoting a form of Islam compatible with human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech.  To that end Americans need to remind their leaders that our foreign policy is supposed to promote human rights and religious freedom overseas, even if we ignore it in practice.

            The evolution of religion and politics will continue to shape the projection of freedom and democracy in the world for the foreseeable future—for good or bad.  For good, if mainstream Islam evolves to be compatible with libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law; or for bad, if Islamism continues to promote exclusivist religious doctrines and enforce oppressive religious laws, like those that make apostasy and blasphemy crimes.

Notes and References:

The Pew Research Center has confirmed that the apostasy and blasphemy laws prevalent in Islamic nations in the Middle East and Africa are being enforced.  See   On key findings on Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, including their support for shari’a, see

For excerpts of the International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 that affirm that religious freedom is an objective of U.S. foreign policy, see the freedoms of religion and speech as essentials of liberty in law, at

For related commentary, see Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man’s Law not God’s Law, at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The fabric of America’s democracy is coming apart at the seams.  Contentious identity politics have polarized an electorate that has forgotten its responsibility to protect the fabric of democracy.  Today’s America has fragmented into hostile partisan minorities—one being the remnants of a former middle-class white majority that has taken refuge in a radicalized GOP. 

            America is experiencing a crisis in its political morality.  While 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians, most of them have supported Donald Trump, who represents the antithesis of Christian moral values.  It seems that America has lost its moral compass, and it will take a revival to restore legitimacy to its politics.

            America’s politicians unanimously proclaim America the greatest nation on earth, with no need to repent.  I must dissent.  Our culture exemplifies a lust for power, materialism and hedonism.  Our obsession with competition and disdain for cooperation have corrupted our culture and politics.  Both candidates for President exemplify a lack the virtues and integrity needed for that high office.  They provide irrefutable evidence of the need for a moral revival.

            America the Beautiful is a patriotic hymn that reminds us that we need to be reconciled and redeemed as the nation God would have us to be: America! America! God mend thine every flaw.  Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.  We need to acknowledge the moral corruption of our politics.  We cannot blame God for that.  In our democracy we must accept personal responsibility for the quality of our politics if we expect to retain our liberty in law.

            Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the members of Congress who share their partisan politics are not the cause of our moral decadence and corruption—they merely reflect it.  We enabled their ascent to political power, and without a moral revival America will continue its moral decline.  What can we do to restore moral legitimacy to our corrupt political process?            
            We must first acknowledge our unrealistic political expectations.  We expect unlimited freedom and the opportunity to achieve our many wants, with a strong military to protect our national security interests overseas and law enforcement to protect us at home.  We expect quality education, health care and generous social security—all with low taxes and a balanced budget.  We expect too much from too little investment in our nation—and that’s a moral issue.    

             A moral revival should be based on the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Jesus lamented the moral corruption of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago (see Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35).  The remedy for us today is the same as it was for the ancient Jews.  We must repent and experience a moral revival in order to balance our love for ourselves with the love for others—all others, even those we would rather ignore.

            We can start with economics.  Americans might be considered as the rich and the rest.  The rich are getting richer by exploiting the rest in a shrinking middle class, and politicians have long pandered to the rich and relied on their contributions to stay in office.  A moral revival in politics must address the evil of the rich buying political influence and power and focus on restoring a healthy middle class and helping the poor.  That will be a daunting challenge.

            The rest of us are complicit in the demise of our democracy.  We have elected politicians who lack moral integrity in exchange for their promises of lower taxes and more benefits, and we have demanded more rights for ourselves at the expense of the rights of others.  Fundamentalist Christians have claimed the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals, whom they consider sinners, and to desecrate other religions.  It may be legal to burn the Qur’an, but it’s not moral.

            A coalition of minorities now has more political influence than the shrinking white majority, and racial discrimination continues to be a clarion call to address the inequities and violence of a black subculture in urban areas.  It is the most divisive issue of identity politics.  The problems are real and there is a legitimate need to curtail police brutality, but anti-police and anti-American rhetoric and hostility to promote racial justice do more harm than good.

            We are a nation divided by contentious identity issues.  Political reconciliation in an increasingly pluralistic nation will require balancing our individual wants and rights with our obligation to provide for the common good.  That will require elected officials of moral integrity and trust, and our two-party duopoly has failed to provide them.  Additional political parties are needed to provide the choices that are necessary to restore legitimacy to our politics.

            A moral revival of our politics will require subordinating identity politics to a revitalized sense of patriotism that can reconcile us and redeem our great experiment in democracy.  That will require protecting our shrinking middle class from further exploitation by the rich, and rejecting the further polarization of our politics by issues of race, religion and sexual preference.

            If this moral revival sounds religious, that’s because it is.  Most Americans are religious, and their faith provides them with moral standards of legitimacy based on loving others as they love themselves.  For Americans to be true to their faith, they need to apply its moral principles to their politics.  In that sense we need to mix our religion and our politics to restore legitimacy to our politics.  That will enable us to be reconciled and redeemed as America the Beautiful.              

Notes and References:

On The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation, see

On Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America, see

On morality, politics and economic issues, see Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice at;
also, Liberation from Economic Oppression: A Human Right or a Moral Obligation of Faith? at, God, Money and Politics at, and Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics, at

The greatest commandment not only summarizes the Christian moral ethic, it is also a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  See The Greatest Commandment as a Common Word of Faith at

For an example of a call for a moral revival in politics in the context of a liberal agenda, see Higher Ground Moral Declaration at  The political objectives advocated are ideals that should invite healthy political debate, but that is not likely in the current polarized and hostile partisan political environment.           

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man's Law, not God's Law

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The fundamental rights of individual freedom, or liberty in law, are a matter of man’s law, not God’s law; and freedom is at the heart of religious conflict today.  Islam grew out of Judaism, and there are many similarities in their holy scriptures.  Both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an emphasize obedience to God’s laws, and the laws themselves are quite similar, reflecting their common Semitic heritage.  But the holy books do not mention individual freedom. 

            Jesus was a Jew who emphasized love over law as God’s standard of righteousness.  That enabled Christianity to embrace those concepts of liberty in law that originated in the Enlightenment and were grounded in secular natural law rather than ancient holy laws.  The human rights that protect our liberty in law are consistent with the teachings of Jesus as summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, and that is considered a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

            Political Islam, or Islamism, is prevalent in Islamic cultures today.  It represents the political sovereignty of God over man and demands submission to Islamic law, or shari’a, which denies the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws.  Until the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, the Christian world also denied liberty in law and enforced blasphemy laws with the divine right to rule.  

            In the 17th century the political sovereignty of God in the Western world was superseded by the concept of secular sovereignty and international law introduced by Hugo Grotius in his On the Law of War and Peace (1625).  Those revolutionary innovations paved the way for the libertarian ideals of the Enlightenment that included the social contract theory of democracy and a secular rule of law that emphasized human rights.

            Recognizing the political sovereignty of man over God does not deny the ultimate sovereignty of God—only the enforcement of God’s law.  For there to be liberty in law religious standards of legitimacy must be considered voluntary moral standards rather than obligatory standards of law that are enforced by government.  Fundamentalist religions that impose their religious laws on others deny liberty in law.

            Today libertarian democracies emphasize human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech while Islamist nations deny those fundamental freedoms with shari’a.  But in America the freedom of religion has been distorted by fundamentalist Christians who claim their freedom of religion allows them to violate laws that conflict with their beliefs, and have used religious freedom to fan the flames of religious hatred.  Liberty in law reveals the moral quality of a nation’s religion, and in the U.S. it has often revealed human depravity and decadence.

            In domestic U.S. politics liberty in law has emphasized individual rights and wants to the detriment of providing for the common good, and in a healthy democracy there must be a balance between the two.  The lust for power, greed and disengenuity have come to characterize our politics, so that it is little wonder that Muslims are not impressed with libertarian democracy. 

            The enforcement of apostasy and blasphemy laws in Islamist regimes reflects a coercive and often hypocritical picture of moral purity.  It also fosters violence since radical Islamist terrorists could not survive if Muslims were free to change their religion and criticize fundamentalist forms of Islamism.  That makes promoting liberty in law in Islamic nations, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech, a matter of national security; and the first sign of progress will be the elimination of apostasy and blasphemy laws. 

            Islam is expected to surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by the end of the century.  But even if democracy remains the preferred form of governance, submission to God’s law is likely to prevail in Islamic cultures.  Egypt and Pakistan are examples of what Islamic democracy is likely to look like in the future.  Both are U.S. allies that receive U.S. aid, but both continue to deny the freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws.

            This presents a daunting challenge for religious leaders who favor libertarian democracy over oppressive theocracy.  E. J. Dionne, Jr. has asked, In todays’ troubling times, where are our faith leaders? Dionne believes that “religion has been subsumed by politics,” and considered by liberals in the U.S. to be “on the right end of politics;” and that because the media focuses on the most extreme examples of religion, the more moderate forms of religion are largely ignored.

            Religion can restore a sense of morality to politics so long as religious fundamentalists do not impose their sacred standards of legitimacy to deny our liberty in law.  We need to remember the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves—including those of other religions.  The question is which paradigm of religion and politics best represents our love for our neighbors—that of individual freedom or submission to oppressive religious laws?  The answer is as self-evident as the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. .

Notes and references:

Liberty in law is 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.

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

On The Freedoms of Religion and Speech as Essentials of Liberty in Law, see

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

On trends in the law that expand the freedom of religion to give Christian fundamentalists a right to discriminate against others, see

On a mother’s claim that her religious freedom justified beating her son with a hanger, 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 need to balance individual rights with providing for the common good, see

On the need to consider religious rules as voluntary moral standards rather than laws, see

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Diplomat-Warrior: A Military Capability for Reconciliation and Peace

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 3, 2016

            With the end of the Cold War in 1991 the forces of globalization began to reshape the world’s threat environment.  It began with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which initiated a U.S. response with Desert Shield/Storm—the first invasion of Iraq under President Bush, the elder.  It was successful in liberating Kuwait, but the later humanitarian assistance mission into Somalia by President Clinton was aborted after Blackhawk Down.  Then came 9/11.  It put the threat of Islamist terrorism into sharper focus—one that demanded an immediate military response.

            After two major invasions in the Middle East (euphemistically referred to as military interventions), first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, it now seems clear that a containment strategy is needed to replace one of military intervention.  The military capabilities needed for a containment strategy are unique since their primary mission is indirect.  It is to advise and assist indigenous (Muslim) security forces, and requires that U.S. advisers and trainers have the cultural and religious background and language capabilities needed to gain the trust and confidence of their counterparts while keeping a low profile in a hostile cultural environment.

            The diplomat-warrior is required to bridge the chasm between the diplomat corps of the State Department (DOS) and the military corps of the Defense Department (DOD).  To bridge that formidable interagency gap the diplomat-warrior must have attributes unique to military personnel.  Among existing military personnel, those attributes of Civil Affairs (CA) personnel most closely correspond to the diplomat-warrior; but the CA mission relates to local civilians, and does not include advising and training indigenous military personnel.

            The capability for diplomat-warriors could be a mix of CA and Army Special Forces (SF) personnel, since both are Special Operations Forces (SOF) within the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).  In fact, integrated CA and SF teams were commonplace in regional Special Action Forces that predated Geographical Combatant Commands and the creation of USSOCOM in 1986.  But since then turf wars within DOD have made the status of CA—whether it is a conventional or unconventional force—ambiguous.  It’s time to clarify that ambiguity and match military capabilities with the missions of a containment strategy.

            Conflicting bureaucratic cultures in DOD and DOS represent a daunting challenge for the diplomat-warrior.  Within DOD, the cult of the warrior prevails.  The direct action missions of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s Seals are given priority within USSOCOM, but those super-warriors are unsuited for the indirect action missions of diplomat-warriors who must understand a foreign culture, speak its language and build the trust and confidence of indigenous forces to achieve their political objectives.  Too much emphasis on direct action missions within USSOCOM can undermine the support needed for the indirect missions of the diplomat-warrior.     

            Then there is the age-old friction between DOS and DOD personnel to further complicate matters.  Interagency conflict often jeopardized mission success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Diplomat-warriors must operate within the realms of both DOS and DOD to achieve U.S. political objectives, so that interagency bureaucratic conflicts must be reconciled to avoid jeopardizing mission success.

            Overcoming U.S. bureaucratic dysfunctions is only the beginning.  The primary challenge for the diplomat-warrior in the Middle East and Africa is a complex and shifting environment of conflicting national, ethnic, religious and tribal interests that defies peace in the region.  In the past only oppressive dictators like Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Bashar al-Assad of Syria were able to maintain any semblance of order in the region.     

            The success of a U.S. containment strategy in such a volatile region requires diplomat-warriors who can navigate the hostile human terrain to promote political reconciliation among those seeking to divide and conquer their many—and constantly shifting—enemies.  The objective must begin with creating a semblance of order out of chaos and anarchy within realistic boundaries; and it must be based on Islamic principles and law (shari’a) that embrace fundamental freedoms that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech.

            Promoting reconciliation and peace in such a divided and violent environment requires a mix of religion and politics that may seem anathema to most Americans, but is the norm for most Muslims.  The beginning point should be the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor—with our neighbors including those of other religions.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and it can be the foundation for a politics of reconciliation and peace in Islamic cultures since it supports the fundamental human rights essential for liberty in law.

            Islam is a religious and political ideology that can bring reconciliation, peace and justice to Islamic cultures, but only if shari’a embraces fundamental human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech.  That can happen if Muslims in Islamic nations acknowledge the greatest commandment to be at the foundation of shari’a; and the first evidence of that will be the elimination of apostasy and blasphemy laws that are now so prevalent in Islamic nations.   

Notes and references:

On the need for the diplomat warrior whenever public support is a political objective of U.S. military operations, see The Diplomat Warrior, Military Review, May 1990, pp 55-63, at; see also Civil Affairs: Diplomat-Warriors in Contemporary Conflict, Special Warfare, Winter 1991, at  Generally, on the background and role of the diplomat warrior and concepts of legitimacy in U.S. policy and strategy, see Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, chapters 5 & 6, at

For a more recent article on diplomat-warriors in Islamic cultures since 9/11, see Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, Special Warfare, Jan.-Mar. 2013, pp 42-47, at

On the relationship of the greatest commandment to liberty in law, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech, see