After 9/11, some American Muslims searched their souls and publicly reflected that they had been too careless in their speech. Apparently it had never crossed their minds that constant fiery condemnations of godless, immoral America might prompt some to wish the destruction of so great an evil. But if American Muslims seem sobered, in parts of the western world others are actually emboldened. In England, for example, the radical Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed recently defended the terrorists who murdered more than 300 women and children in a school in Beslan, Russia, and argued that a similar hostage-taking in Britain would be justified. The same Sheikh organizes a gathering every September 11 to celebrate the "magnificent 19" hijackers. He has even issued a fatwa justifying the assassination of Prime Minister Tony Blair and is reportedly working for the day when "Our Muslim brothers from abroad will come…and conquer here and then we will live under Islam in dignity."
Such talk used to be called sedition, and the good Sheikh's brazenness is breathtaking and very troubling. Perhaps even more troubling is the flaccid response to it. British authorities, we are told, are reduced to "mouse-trapping" men like Bakri with "immigration violations in hopes of making a deportation case stick." The United States has adopted tougher measures, but even here powerful currents press in the other direction. Our ideas of religious freedom, due process, freedom of the press, and the legitimacy of dissent, among other things, all work to protect speech, especially when it is made in the name of religion. Add multiculturalism, with its almost absolute love of diversity, and it begins to seem that nothing can be done about the Sheikh Bakris in our midst.
But in the face of a resolute and audacious enemy doing its utmost to destroy the West, "mouse-trapping" may be a fatal half-measure. Nor can we afford to hide behind habitual standards of free speech in the hope that bad things won't happen. Fortunately, the great western arguments for religious toleration suggest a more muscular response. For while defending religious freedom those arguments also show us how to protect it from those who would use freedom in order to destroy it. They worked in the seventeenth century when Catholics and Protestants sought converts by the sword. There is no reason why they can't work now when the West faces a similar threat.
As everyone knows, the classic western view is that the statethe body with a monopoly on the use of forcemust tolerate any one of any faith who obeys the laws, no matter how much he or she differs from the majority or from the politically powerful in matters of religion. This means that the state is obligated to treat individuals of all faiths (including Islam) equally, as citizens in good standing, which is in fact what all western governments do. It also means that the state must use its power to protect its citizens from all other forms of religious persecution, whether the persecutors are individuals or groups. For example, just as the state cannot give unemployment benefits only to Baptists, so it cannot permit Christians to cheat Muslims (or Muslims Christians) or allow a Hindu temple to seize an apostate member's home.
Toleration then imposes on the state important duties toward believers. But in the western approach, toleration is a two way street. It is not a free pass to say or do anything at all in the name of religion. The Branch Davidians couldn't abuse children and Klansmen can't claim that it is their religion to lynch Black men. The reason is that protecting the lives of citizens is one of the basic functions of the state, and no believer can legitimately claim that he deserves the protection of toleration while he is undermining the very state that offers that protection.
In other words, just as toleration imposes duties on the state, it also imposes duties on the members of the various sects and religions. Whether as individuals or as organized bodies (church, mosque, synagogue, etc.), believers must earn the right to be tolerated. At the broadest level, they earn that right by refraining from doing anything that undermines the kind of society that protects religious freedom. Locke traces the fundamental principle of such societies to a distinction between civil interests and the interest of men's souls, which is the root of his distinction between church and state: the church has authority over matters pertaining to the salvation of souls, while the state has authority over civil interests, or "life, liberty, health, and indolency of body, and the possessions of outward things, such as Money, Lands, Houses, Furniture, and the like."
The sphere of the state thus encompasses everything pertaining to the body and outward possessionsthat is, anything that can be threatened or protected by the use of force. But the jurisdiction of the state is also limited to these matters and means, and it must therefore acknowledge that it lacks the authority to satisfy those spiritual needs of the soul that bear on salvation. The state understood in this way must tolerate or permit differences of religion. Interestingly, it was on this basis that Locke may have been the first philosopher in a Christian country to argue openly for the toleration of Muslims. The Lockean argument is also the theoretical basis of James Madison's argument (in Federalist 10) that multiplying the number of sects is the best way of containing the most harmful consequences of religious faction.
In order to merit toleration, then, believers must support a particular kind of societythe kind that protects religious freedom. If the basis of such a society is the distinction between church and state, then any religion that denied this distinction would have no legitimate claim to be tolerated. If some branch of Islam does not support that distinction, it is essentially hostile to the kind of open society we value and cannot be tolerated. If it does support that distinction, it deserves toleration. The most important means we have to know the truth is through the speech of its adherents: they must tell us plainly and publicly where they stand.
It was Locke's view that most people do not risk their lives, liberties, and possessions for religion. If they do, it is probably because their leaders urged them to it by teaching that their faith requires this sacrifice. And for this reason, religious leaders incur a special duty with regard to toleration. It is not enough for them simply to refrain from attacking the basic presuppositions of a free society; they must also positively advocate them. As Locke put it, in addition to "abstain[ing] from Violence and Rapine, and all manner of Persecution," every teacher of religion is "obliged also to admonish his Hearers of the Duties of Peace, and Good-will towards all men; as well towards the Erroneous as the Orthodox; towards those that differ from them in Faith and Worship, as well as towards those that agree with them therein." Or again, teachers of religion must "industriously" exhort all men "to Charity, Meekness, and Toleration" and "diligently endeavour to allay and temper all that Heat, and unreasonable averseness of mind, which either any mans fiery Zeal for his own Sect, or the Craft of others, has kindled against Dissenters." In other words, the teachers of religion (whether called Pastor or Priest, Rabbi, Sheikh, Imam, or Ayatollah) are specially obligated to explain and defend the principles of toleration to all men, but especially and above all, to their own followers. To them they must speak in a way that calms the passions that often animate religious disputes. And they must make clear that good-will is owed not only to the orthodox, but to everyone, dissenters and the erroneous included.
Locke was also aware that men sometimes speak in a kind of code. Some of his contemporaries, for example, argued that faith need not be kept with heretics (a view whose Islamic parallels are the arts of taqiyya and kitman, according to which you never owe the truth to unbelievers). Locke explains that because each church defines for itself who is and who is not a heretic, this argument means that the church is claiming for itself the right to determine which promises should be kept and which may be broken. This claim would be fatal to good political order and so those who advance it cannot be tolerated. More generally stated, the problem is any claim that religious principles or practices ought to determine one's political rights and privileges (other examples: religious tests for political office and different tax rates for believers and unbelievers). As Locke put it, those "who attribute unto the Faithful, Religious and Orthodox, that is, in plain terms, unto themselves, any peculiar Privilege of Power above other Mortals, in Civil Concernments…have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate; as neither those that will not own and teach the Duty of tolerating All men in matters of meer Religion." Such men cannot be tolerated because their claim of special privileges or their (related) refusal to teach toleration shows that they are ready upon any "occasion to seize the Government, and possess themselves of the Estates and Fortunes of their Fellow-Subjects; [they] only ask leave to be tolerated by the Magistrate so long until they find themselves strong enough to effect it." We ought not tolerate the intolerant because it makes no sense to tolerate someone so that he can prepare to subjugate you.
But how can we address this problem without adopting dictatorial methods and loosing the very freedoms we would protect? According to Locke, the answer is quite simple: tolerate any religious group whose leaders are known for teaching toleration and for disavowing special privileges for the orthodox (i.e., themselves). To take an example from our time, it is not enough for a cleric to say, as many do, that "Islam is a religion of peace." That may be true, but when radical Muslims say this they almost always mean that there will be peace only after the whole world is converted to Islam; and in that peace Muslims will have privileges denied to non-Muslims (this is the concept of dhimmitude). "Islam is a religion of peace"if that is all that is saidis exactly the sort of ambiguous phrase that Locke warns can be a sign that the speaker must not be tolerated. But to deserve toleration, all the clerics need to do is to become known for teaching their followers that the meaning of this phrase is that Islam is a religion that accepts the distinction of Mosque and state, and that it advocates good-will to all men, whether they are good Muslims (the orthodox), dissenters, or non-Muslims. In short, any clergyman deserves toleration who is known for teaching his own followers that they have a duty of tolerating all men in matters of religion.
Talk of earning and deserving toleration may seem harsh or even un-American. It might seem, for instance, to clash with that "spirit of liberality and philanthropy" which led President Washington to declare in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport that Americans no longer speak of toleration "as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…." But it is of course also not Locke's view that toleration is an indulgence granted by one class of people to another: as we have seen, it is not any particular class of people, but the state, that is, the properly constituted government, that tolerates. Moreover, Washington goes on to explain why Americans no longer speak of toleration as an indulgence: "for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." Washington, no less than Locke, "requires" something of those who would enjoy the advantages provided by government in America. Individuals must demean themselves as good citizens, and what can that mean if not to support the fundamental principles of the American form of government? And I think all would agree that those principles include the rejection of religious tests for office and equal treatment under the law for allin short, an affirmation of the distinction between church and state. In other words, Washington's statement is in perfect accord with the Lockean view.
Insisting on speech in favor of toleration as the price of being tolerated is neither uncharitable nor a form of persecution. It is simply what is necessary to preserve the freedoms we cherish. No doubt, someone will argue that Islam is a whole way of life that includes not just religious faith, but laws and social and even political arrangements. If that is true, it cannot be made compatible with a free society based on the separation of church and state, and the sooner we recognize that the better. But if it is not true, then it is the business of the teachers of Islam to persuade their co-religionistsand let the rest of us see that they are diligently so doingthat their beliefs are compatible with a free society. Non-Muslims in the broader society ought certainly to act when Muslims point out threats to their civil rights; but they, in turn, would immeasurably advance the cause of those very rights if they made evident their whole hearted support for the principles upon which the protection of civil rights rest.
In the past lovers of liberty in the West had to listen carefully to what various Christian sects were saying about religion and politics. That is still important. But in the modern world, most Christian churches have reconciled themselves with toleration and contort themselves to be ecumenical, and it is what some Islamic clerics are saying that most demands our vigilance. That, at least, is what toleration requires. The real question is not so much whether Muslims in the West are willing to accept and teach the duties of tolerationif the wider society expects it, they will probably complybut whether the West itself still understands and has the will to defend its own principles.