Choose sides in war

Ten years ago this morning, America saw what happens when a fundamentalist religious ideology takes root in a hate-filled mind.

Murder. Fear. Calamity. Destruction. The death of innocents. Chaos.

Such are the inevitable results when religion is perverted into a marriage with political goals, when mortals believe their God has commanded them to kill in his name. Suddenly, the inconceivable becomes desirable, and no one is safe.

Whether our enemies that September day hated us for our freedom (only in part, although they’re really not wild about the openness of a representative democracy) or for our presence in lands they consider holy, one thing is clear: Religion — or at the very least a perverted version of it — played a role in their murderous acts.

It’s not the first time. Since Emperor Constantine began to conquer by the symbol of the cross to the Crusades and the Inquisition, states have often made war on their enemies wearing the cloak of faith, ill-fitting though it may be.

Violence done in the name of the God who proclaimed “thou shalt do no murder,” and whose son demanded we love our enemies and do to others as we would have them do to us can only be justified by a disturbed mind. (Scholars are still arguing over how the same God who gave that commandment to the Israelites could later order them into genocidal war.) And, yes, religion is all too often used as an excuse by those who were already inclined to use violence to solve political differences.

In this country, we argue vociferously over the role of religion in public life. For some, religion and the state should be kept forever separate, for the preservation of both. For others, faith is a solid basis for public policy, and the public expressions thereof don’t offend.

But nearly all draw a bright line at killing. In this country, Christians, though regularly mocked (sometimes with justification, it must be said) do not commandeer airplanes full of innocents and deliberately fly them into occupied buildings to make a point.

Other faiths are not so forgiving: The mere drawing of the image of the Islamic prophet Muhammad has earned some artists death, or at least the threat thereof, from some adherents of Islam. We do ourselves a disservice if we fail to recognize this for what it is: barbarism.

In America, we strive to make room for people of all faiths, or of no faith at all, to live together equally before the law. We neither establish a state religion nor prohibit its exercise, as we’ve seen done in other nations. The system seems to work well generally, despite the sharp elbows occasionally thrown.

It was, in part, that system that was attacked on Sept. 11. The terrorists believed the innocent victims in the airplanes and in the buildings were merely infidels whose deaths did not matter. That kind of monstrosity is difficult to comprehend, but once grasped, the conclusion is clear. We can make no peace with that kind of oppression. Either secular democracy will win, or the violent perversion of religion will, at the price of the blood of many more innocents. Each person, and each country, must eventually choose a side, because the two ideologies are totally incompatible.

The question is often asked: How can we fight this new war, against an enemy with whom we cannot negotiate, since he believes God has blessed his crusade and has convinced his followers of the same? How do you defend yourself against an enemy for whom rationality and self-preservation have lost all meaning, who is ready and willing, even eager, to die for his cause?

The singular answer to that is perhaps the only easy one in this entire debate: You oblige him.

Steve Sebelius blogs at Follow him on Twitter at or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or

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