There is also the problem of metaphorical speech. While issuing a proclamation that someone must be killed is clear enough, what do we make of a cry from a pulpit for ‘God to rain down his judgment on [some person or people]?’ Is that an actual call to violence? What if one asks for ‘lashes of fire’ (to use Amos’s example)? Some might view that as merely metaphorical language. Others may interpret it as an order for a hit. Would Amos suggest regulating religious speech beyond our current laws concerning incitement? If so, to prohibit metaphorical language that could be interpreted as a call to violence is to give the secular government the role of religious interpreter. This would not only degrade religious speech but also place the government in a no-win situation in which it would essentially have to decide which religious speech or metaphor is important to a religion and which is not. The true bad actors can always further hide their intentions in further coded or metaphorical language.
These concerns all make me wonder whether the regulation of religious speech in the interest of national security would be effective. But I am also concerned that it would actually be counter-productive. If terrorist recruiters feed on a sense of grievance, of ‘otherness,’ then we would ratify their arguments by outlawing people simply talking about God or religion in the way that they want. Even if each assessment was on a case-by-case (or metaphor-by-metaphor?) basis, given the risk of misinterpreting a religious tradition that one does not understand well, there is a real risk of over-regulation the U.S. government of Islamic religious speech and possibly ‘under-regulating’ ostensibly Christian speech. Each such slip-up either way could be a public relations bonanza for the al-Qaedas of the world. Better, perhaps, to leave theology to the theologians.”
One thing in particular that Chris says deserves emphatic reiteration, namely, “it is unclear…that the root cause of much of today’s supposedly religious terrorism is in fact religion.” Indeed, as I wrote in a comment to his remarks, precious few individuals seem able to appreciate this possibility. With respect to contemporary self-proclaimed jihadists, for instance, consider the argument of Graham E. Fuller in A World Without Islam (2010)* that “Probably no other region of the world has endured such intense and sustained intervention from the West than the Middle East.” The darker effects of this intervention, which do not hinge on the fact of Muslim identity as such, are deep and widespread: “The cumulative anger, frustration and radicalism that this history of intervention has produced are abundantly evident.” “Thus, to examine the vehicle [of resistance and violent response]—in this case, Islam—for flaws and problems, as if it were itself somehow the source of the resistance problem, is to utterly miss the point.” In other words, “Religion will always be invoked wherever it can to galvanize the public and to justify major campaigns, battles, and wars, especially in monotheistic cultures. But the causes, campaigns, battles, and wars are not about religion. Take away the religion, and there are still causes, campaigns, battles, and wars.”
*The title is in reference to an historical counterfactual thought-experiment. As Zachary Karabell explains in a review of the book, “Graham Fuller offers a forceful, erudite reminder that neither Islam nor religious fervor adequately explains the animosity between parts of the Muslim world and the United States. In fact, he posits that the fissures that currently exist might well have existed even if Islam never had, and he offers a wide-ranging, at times digressive but always illuminating look at the past centuries to support that contention.”
My select bibliography for terrorism.
Cross-posted at ReligiousLeftLaw.com