Imagine an American government official, interviewing an alien seeking admission to our country from, say, Syria:
U.S. official: “Will you support the United States Constitution?”
Syrian alien: “Well, sure, except that I believe the government should be overseen by a caliph, who must be Muslim and male, and who must rule in accordance with Islamic law, which no man-made law may contradict. None of this ‘We the People’ stuff; Allah is the sovereign. Non-Muslims should not be required to convert to Islam, of course, but they must submit to the authority of Islamic law – which requires them to live in the second-class status of dhimmitude and to pay a poll tax for that privilege.”
“I also believe women must be subservient to men, and that men are permitted to beat their wives if they are disobedient – especially if they refuse sex, in which they must engage on demand. There is no such thing as marital rape, and proving non-marital rape requires testimony from four male witnesses. Outside the home, a woman should cover herself in drab from head to toe. A woman’s testimony in court should be worth only half of a man’s, and her inheritance rights similarly discounted. Men should be able to marry up to four women – women, however, are limited to marrying one man.”
“Oh, and Muslims who renounce Islam should be put to death . . . as should homosexuals . . . and blasphemers . . . and adulterers – at least the ones we don’t let off with a mere scourging. The penalty for theft should be amputation of the right hand (for highway robbery, the left foot is also amputated); and for drinking alcohol, the offender is to be scourged with 40 stripes.”
“There are a few other odds and ends – you know, jihad and whatnot. But other than that, will I support the Constitution? Sure thing.”
U.S. official: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a second. That’s not supporting the Constitution. That would be destroying the Constitution.”
Syrian alien: “Yeah, maybe so. But it’s my religion.”
U.S. official: “Oh, your religion. Why didn’t you say so? I thought you were spouting some anti-American political ideology. But as long as you say it’s your religion, no problem. C’mon in!”
This conversation is impossible to imagine because . . . it would be honest. In the decades-long onslaught of radical Islam against the United States, honesty went out with the benighted notions that we should “know thine enemy” and, God forbid, train our national-security agents in that enemy’s ideology, methods, and objectives.
In our alternative universe, you are not supposed to remember that there is an American constitutional framework of liberty, popular sovereignty, and equality before the law.
You are not supposed to realize that aliens are expected to exhibit fidelity to this constitutional framework as a precondition to joining our society.
You are not supposed to know that there is an Islamic law, sharia, that has far more to do with governance, economics, warfare, civil rights, domestic relations, criminal prosecution, and fashion than it does with spiritual life.
And you are absolutely not supposed to grasp that sharia is antithetical to the Constitution, to the very foundational American principle that the people may make law for themselves, live as they see fit, and chart their own destiny.
You are not supposed to connect the dots and ask, “Well, how is it conceivable that any sharia-adherent alien could faithfully pledge allegiance to our Constitution?”
So, instead, we shrug our shoulders, mumble something about “freedom of religion,” and bury our heads back in the sand – as if the structure of government and the decision of which limb to smite for which larceny had anything to do with religion in a free society that rejects the establishment of any state religion and separates spiritual from political life.
Sharia is not religion. Sharia is a totalitarian societal structure and legal corpus that anti-American radicals seek to impose. Yes, their motivation for doing so is their interpretation of their religion – the fundamentalist, literalist construction of Islam. But that does not make sharia itself a matter of “religion” in the Western sense, even if vast numbers of Arab Muslims – for whom there is no cognizable separation of mosque and state – say otherwise. If Karl Marx had said, “The workers must control the means of production because God says so,” that would not have transmogrified the tyranny of Communism into the “freedom of religion.”
Two things flow from this.
The first involves immigration. As we’ve previously demonstrated, there is no constitutional prohibition against considering religion in deciding which aliens to allow into the United States – immigration is a privilege, not a right; and our Constitution is security for Americans, not a weapon for aliens to use against Americans.
Nevertheless, even if there were a constitutional bar against “religious tests,” sharia is not religion. There are no constitutional constraints against excluding aliens on grounds of anti-American political ideology. Excluding anti-Americans from America is common sense and was regarded as such for much of our history. In a time of radical Islamic threat to our national security, Donald Trump is right to propose that aliens from sharia-supremacist areas be carefully vetted for adherence to anti-constitutional principles.
Leftists – those notorious disciples of the Framers – claim this is unconstitutional. When shown it is not, they claim that it is against our “tradition” – being, you know, big fans of American tradition. When shown that this is not the case either, when shown that our history supports ideological exclusion of anti-Americans, leftists are down to claiming, “It is not who we are” – by which they always mean it is not who they are, and who they would force the rest of us to be.
A short lesson in how we got to be who “we” are. In the last decades of the Cold War, it became progressive dogma that the Soviet Union was forever, that it was an empire we could do business with, arrive at a modus vivendi with. The real evil, the Left decided, were the anti-Communists – it was their provocations against the Soviets, not the Soviets themselves, that could trigger Armageddon. Therefore, they reckoned, we needed to do away with all this overheated nonsense about how Communists seek the violent overthrow of the United States. That, to the Left, was just a bunch of ideological mumbo-jumbo that nobody ever really took seriously (even if Bill Ayers hadn’t gotten the memo).
One major consequence of this conventional wisdom was the campaign waged by leading Democrats to eliminate radical ideology as a basis for excluding aliens. They championed laws decreeing that “mere” radical ideology, in the absence of some provable connection to violent action, should not bar radicals from entering our country. Thus, the “principle” that America must not vet would-be immigrants for anti-Americanism is not derived from the U.S. Constitution, from our traditions, or from who “we” supposedly are. It stems from the Left’s conviction that Communist ideology was not a real threat to America.
Then, about 14 months after the Soviet Union collapsed, jihadists bombed the World Trade Center. They have been attacking us ever since. See, however you come out on the question of whether Communists really posed a violent threat to our national security, there cannot be such a question with respect to radical Islam. The front line of that movement is the mass murderers, not the professors. With radical Islam, the threat of violence is not an abstract academic proposition. It is our reality.
What’s more, we know from hard experience, and from observing Europe’s new reality, that the threat is not just the jihadists. Equally important are the sharia-supremacist ideologues who seek to forge autonomous enclaves where sharia becomes the de facto law, and where jihadist radicalization, recruitment, fundraising, and training have safe haven. Our legitimate worries are not limited to the trained jihadist who infiltrates today; they include the sharia supremacist who will get his hooks into young Muslims and turn them into the trained jihadists of tomorrow.
The second thing to consider is Islam. As Robert R. Reilly unfolded in his essential book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, there is an Islamic tradition of rational inquiry, deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, that has been overwhelmed for nearly a millennium by the fundamentalist tradition. The rationalists may be out-muscled, but they are not dormant. They are Muslims who embrace Western culture, reject the imposition of antiquated sharia as a system of law and governance, and challenge the premises and the aggression of the fundamentalists. They are Muslims who, I can attest, help us infiltrate terror cells and prevent attacks. They are Muslims who fight in our armed forces, work in our intelligence services, serve in our police departments, and thrive in our economy.
We do not have to exaggerate their numbers to recognize that these Muslims exist and that they are our allies – that they are part of us. To appreciate their value and their contributions to our society, we do not need to pretend that they typify Islam as it is lived in Syria, Saudi Arabia, or the no-go zones of Paris.
If we want to win the crucial ideological component of radical Islam’s war against us, we should be empowering these pro-Western Muslims rather than inviting the sharia-supremacist Muslim Brotherhood into our policy-making councils. Like protecting our nation, empowering pro-Western Muslims requires an immigration system that welcomes those who will support our Constitution, and turns away those who would sweep it aside.
A version of this piece also appeared on National Review Online.