March 03, 2017
How does this compare to the position of Muslims today in the USA and Europe? In important respects our Muslims are in a much happier position than 16th- and 17th-century English Catholics. They are free to practice their faith; there are mosques in every city and large town. They are not victims of persecution. They suffer no civil disabilities. They have the vote and can engage in the democratic political process. They enjoy equality before the law. They enjoy freedoms in the West that are, or may be, denied to Christians in Muslim countries. By and large they are accepted by almost all of us as fellow citizens.
Nevertheless, some rebel. They constitute a minority, a very small one. They reject the civilization that is offered to them. They resent, and are enflamed by, Western policy in the Middle East, by wars made against their “Muslim brothers.” They see themselves as soldiers of Islam, defenders of the Islamic faith”and, like extremist Catholics in Elizabethan England, they engage in terrorist activity. Most Muslims deplore this, for good and humane reasons. But a handful will sympathize with those who turn to violence; it is, sadly, natural that they should do so, for it is difficult entirely and wholeheartedly to condemn those who act in the name of the faith that you practice.
Now, as the security services tell us, we may be entering a new and more dangerous phase. The defeat of ISIS will see radicalized men and women returning to the countries of which they are citizens. They will return angry and bitter, seeking revenge. They constitute a problem, a serious problem, but we should recognize that it is essentially a problem that is within the capacity of the security services to address.
The greater danger is that we overreact: view all Muslims as potential terrorists, enemies of the people, and despair of the policies of integration that we have for the most part pursued effectively. This would be the surest way of swelling the number of the disaffected, the surest way of turning the passively discontented into activists and terrorists. It would also be a betrayal of our own values, originally Christian, then codified by the Enlightenment, which found expression in the American Constitution and the French Revolutionary commitment to liberty, equality, fraternity. The most important of these in this time of troubles is the last: fraternity, the recognition that we are all brothers or, if you prefer, all God’s children.