Did we (Muslim and non-Muslims) do enough after 9/11 to heal the nation? If not, what should we have done? What more can we do now? John Mark Reynolds originally answered this question at Washington Post's On Faith page. Click here to read the continuing conversation.
The nation has not healed from the attacks on 9/11, because an act of war is not a wound or a disease. Terrorists attacked our nation and killed Americans on September eleventh motivated by a radical form of Islam. Until we win the war against terrorism and make radical forms of Islam as unattractive as we have made Nazi ideology, we will not have finished the job that 9/11 started.
Our nation needs justice tempered with mercy, not healing, if we are to put 9/11 in our past. Comparing the attacks on our nation to a "wound" has some value as an analogy, but it also risks masking hard truths in a culture easily enamored with pseudo-scientific or therapeutic solutions to hard problems.
Victory not therapy is the solution to the problem of 9/11. Radical Islam must be defeated and rooted out of the global community.
What does this mean? First, President Bush was right that no nation should be allowed to be a "safe haven" for terrorists. All Americans can be proud that we removed a brutal regime in Iraq and are well on the way to creating a state that is friendlier to United States goals. Second, President Obama is right that Afghanistan must not fall back into the hands of the Taliban.
Winning the military struggle globally will require continued sacrifice and patience on our part. Losing the war or conveying weakness as a nation will only increase the chances of our being attacked again. Ronald Reagan was right that nations find "peace through strength."
Of course, nations can act in ways individuals should not, by waging war, and individuals can win victories that nations cannot by securing lasting peace.
Our government can bring justice to the terrorists, but individual Americans should have mercy on those who oppose us where we can. We must continue our long tradition of private charity to nations that hate us. For American Christians especially, loving our enemies does not just make good policy sense, it is a command of Jesus Christ.
As in World War II, private citizens should mobilize American popular culture to attack radical Islam.
We have not done this because of a false and foolish moral equivalence in our popular culture. When a prominent Democratic activist writes a book comparing conservative Christians in America with the Taliban, he reveals a common assumption in some of our popular culture elites. What is this self-defeating assumption?
The assumption is that the problem with the Taliban is religion and that secularism is the cure. The way to combat this problem, so the argument goes, is to convince people to take their religion less seriously.
If we continue this strategy, then most of the world's population will decide that the cure almost is as bad as the disease. Humanity isn't going to ignore metaphysical realities just to protect the sensibilities of a tiny group of aging Western elitists and secularists. Instead, private citizens must do work our government cannot do by persuading the religious people of the world to join us in trusting God enough to defend Himself.
Forced submission to the will of God is useless. Mature religious people know if they are right, they have nothing to fear from freedom. Freedom will demonstrate that their ideas are good. America's Founders demonstrated that liberty does not have to mean libertine. A nation can protect its morals without resorting to state power.
Instead of "tolerance," private American citizens must openly battle false ideas within corrupt versions of Islam. Extremists exist in every group, religious or secular, but in Iran and North Korea extremists have power to kill and are using that power. On 9/11, religious extremists used their power to kill thousands.
We must tolerate a burned holy book, but we cannot tolerate burned humans.
We must give voice to Muslims who are opposed to the wicked deeds of the Taliban, but also to the victims of radical Islamic persecution. America should speak for and amplify the voices of the persecuted Copts of Egypt, the embattled Ecumenical Patriarch of Turkey, and the martyrs of Indonesia. We must not continue to tolerate and subsidize with our money Arabian potentates who give us cheap oil, but then run regimes that stink with human rights abuses. We must work for the global abolition of slavery, including in nations like Sudan where it is propped up by extremist religious ideology.
To people starving for real meaning, the religious extremists of Al Qaeda offer a stew more indebted to Marx than to the Koran. They offer different injustices as a solution to the injustices of colonialism. Regimes like those on the Arabian peninsula give money to extremists to cover up their own hypocrisy and lack of faith in anything other than the maintenance of the sybaritic lives of their tyrant rulers.
This opposition must pick effective means and those people who pick such means should receive publicity and support. The battle against false ideas is impeded when we focus on the margins of American society.
The tiny sect in Florida that will stupidly burn the Koran is a problem. They care more for making the paper than winning converts to their beliefs--and they have their reward. Our giving them this reward in undue attention is a bigger problem. The danger to our republic is not a fringe Christian group exercising their constitutional rights, but that it might cost American lives globally if they do.
Idiots are not going to disappear in a free society and it is even a sign of our healthy tolerance that they thrive on the margins. Fringe types like the Koran burning preacher in Florida or the Internet atheist PZ Myers (whose pleas for attention includes desecrating religious symbols over the past few years), will keep using their freedom poorly, but that is the cost of freedom. Myers and the Koran burning preacher would probably both agree that I am the idiot for not applauding their courageous stand for "reason" or "revelation."
Part of freedom is having the power to be an idiot and the government not having the power to stop you. Part of being a good person is tolerating as much idiotic behavior as you possibly can. Christianity shows its strength when it puts up with PZ Myers and popular Islam should learn to do the same with the fools in Florida.
Meanwhile, how can sane people make sure as few as possible of their children end up in Koran-burning parishes or radical mosques?
One solution to religious bigotry and extremism is more religious education. We need to allow government schools to teach about religion. Students should read both the Bible and the Koran in schools and discuss them. They should be exposed to as broad a range as possible of secular, pagan, and other philosophical and religious writings.
Such education should be done in the same way any text should be discussed. First, the discussion should begin in charity. Why do reasonable men and women base their lives on this text or the ideas in the text? Second, the discussions should allow skeptical questions. Is this book, or this philosophy, or this religion what it claims to be? Third, students should be introduced to scholars that continue in each faith tradition. Finally, students should be allowed to draw their own conclusions in consultation with their families and community.
Any religion that does not rejoice in open Socratic education is incompatible with American values and has removed itself from being part of the discussion.
9/11 will be "mere history" when we have done what we had to do after 12/7: the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American government must defeat the armed foe that attacked us regardless of the cost. Private citizens and companies must win the battle for global hearts by promoting American values in a manner compatible with natural religious sensibilities of most of the world's population.
We need better religion and philosophy, not less religion and philosophy.
This article published on September 10, 2010 on Crosswalk.com.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.