Shortly after 9/11, I attended a local prayer breakfast at which service club members, clergy and town officials gathered to consider the Pledge of Allegiance’s phrase “one Nation under God.”
As I reflected on that theme, it occurred to me that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts—the Taliban of Afghanistan—might also say their objective is “one Nation under God.” After all, they speak of the “nation of Islam” and call for an Islamic theocracy.
A theocracy, Mr. Webster tells us, is a state governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials—a monarch, council or junta—who are regarded as divinely guided. What distinguishes the Islamists’ version of nationhood from ours?
Although our Founders had a wide variety of denominational affiliations, they unanimously believed that Man is made in the living image of God. Furthermore, they said, the basis on which our nation stands is acknowledgment of God as the supreme authority for the conduct of our national life and our personal life. No less an anticlerical deist than Tom Paine said in the dark days of the Revolution that he was not so much of an infidel as to suppose that God “has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils…”
The Declaration of Independence, our founding document, has four references to deity. They are “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the World” and “divine Providence.” (John Adams also referred to God as the “Spirit of Liberty.”) Those phrases collectively declare that God is the mighty author of our being and the moral authority for our laws, and that we humans, by virtue of our spiritual nature derived from God, are created equal and are endowed with “certain unalienable rights.” The purpose of government, the Declaration says, is to ensure that those rights are not violated because each individual citizen is sacred, sovereign and equal in moral value to all others. Government, it adds, exists legitimately only when it has the consent of the governed.
Did bin Laden and the Taliban offer anything comparable? That’s a rhetorical question.
Look at Afghanistan under the Taliban, which hosted bin Laden. Where was the freedom we cherish—freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and the press, freedom to assemble and to travel, freedom to criticize the government, freedom to seek redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom to work as we wish, freedom of education, and so forth? The Taliban suppressed all that. Radio, TV and entertainment were forbidden except for government-approved forms. There were no minority parties campaigning for election because critics of the government were publicly executed.
As for other religions, Christians were persecuted and jailed for the “crime” of teaching about Christianity. Hindus were forced to wear a sign on their clothing to identify themselves as non-Muslim. Ancient Buddhist sculptures regarded by the world as art treasures were blown up.
Also look at the condition of women under Taliban rule. They had to be covered from head to foot, including their face; they were beaten on the street for showing even an ankle. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t go to school or work outside the home. Female teachers couldn’t teach. Even female doctors, whose medical services were badly needed, were forbidden to practice their profession. (Please note that this terrible treatment of women is not inherent in Islam, but was due to the twisted mentality of the Taliban.)
Noble-sounding words can be misused to disguise something totally opposite to their meaning. That is what the Taliban, bin Laden and their followers did. Their version of “one Nation under God” was a brutal totalitarian dictatorship—the antithesis of everything for which America stands (and, according to some Muslim scholars and clerics, the antithesis of what Islam stands for also).
(To be continued)