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THE DEAD FLIES IN PRESIDENT BUSH'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS
By John Campbell, LLM
"Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour." The words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, 10;1.
Or, as Christ said: "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish." Mathew 9;17.
Unfortunately, I believe the president's inauguration address has a dead fly or two in the ointment.
The dead flies are the president's references to "tolerance", "freedom" and "the words of the Koran", the latter being mixed with references to Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount.
I wish, just once, I would see some understanding that tolerance is a virtue, not a value, in the same way that patience is a virtue. Tolerance is a measure of a permissible deviation from a norm, a value. It is time we started defining what we will not tolerate, and define it by reference to our values, assuming that someone still knows what those are.
"Freedom" was the president's touchstone. But in the Judeo-Christian tradition, freedom is defined by obligations rather than rights, although that is hard to ascertain in today's rights obsessed political climate. The "Sinai", by which I take the president to mean the Ten Commandments and the Law of "Moses and the prophets" (Luke 16;24), as well as the "Sermon on the Mount", scream this out. Neither Moses nor Jesus set out a litany of "rights". They constantly admonished the observance of obligations.
The prime proponent of tolerance in a free "commonwealth" was John Locke in "A Letter Concerning Toleration" [published 1698]. "But those whose doctrine is peaceable and whose manners are pure and blameless ought to be on equal terms with their fellow subjects……. Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither pagan nor [Muslim], nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion."
And a further quote from Locke's 'letter' could sum up the president's whole speech: "For if men enter into seditious conspiracies, it is not religion [that] inspires them to it in their meetings, but their sufferings and oppressions that make them willing to ease themselves. Just and moderate governments are everywhere quiet, everywhere safe: but oppression raises ferments and makes men struggle to cast off an uneasy and tyrannical yoke."
Add to these observations by Locke the following, and the ointment is thoroughly reeking. Locke maintains that those who offend against the "doctrine of toleration" do so by the "unhappy circumstances of an oppressed or ill-settled liberty. These accusations would soon cease if the law of toleration were once so settled that all churches were obliged to lay down toleration as the foundation of their own liberty, and teach that liberty of conscience is every man's natural right, equally belonging to dissenters as to themselves; and that nobody ought to be compelled in matters of religion either by law or force."
Regrettably, these 17th century delusions are also the dead flies in the president's ointment for the War on Terror and Crusade against Tyranny.
The first delusions I have already identified: treating tolerance as a value rather than a virtue; the other, defining freedom by reference to rights rather than obligations.
The entire premise of the argument is flawed, and deluded. It predicates that all religions are intrinsically tolerant and that it is tyrannical government that inhibits the 'birth' of this virtue.
Even more disturbing in the president's address, more than Locke's letter, is the subliminal assumption that all religions are divinely inspired.
On the latter point, the president makes specific concession to "the words of the Koran". He says "God moves and chooses as He will."
On hearing that, all Muslims will have turned to Chapter 2;90 of the Koran: "Miserable is the price for which they [the Jews] have sold their souls, in that they deny (the revelation) which God has sent down [the Koran], in insolent envy that God "should send it to any of his servants he pleases." [my emphesis]
In this way, to borrow from Albert Schweitzers description of Kant, "behind a magnificent façade [the president] constructs a block of tenements."
The simple fact is, as verse 2;90 and many similar verses indicate, Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God as dictated to Mohammed. The Koran claims that the Jews falsified their scriptures (C46, 2;75 etc). It also says "woe to them that write The Book with their own hands and then say "This is from God""(2;79). On this basis the Koran puts a version of the Scriptures different from the Old and New Testaments; a version that prohibits absolutely any dissent. The only latitude is debate as to what exactly certain verses mean.
But the Koran requires more. It requires that Muslims "fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, Nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] Until they pay the Jizya [compensation], and feel themselves subdued." (9;29) And at 5;36 the Koran sets out some of the rules to apply to the fight against those who "wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land." It includes "execution [beheading under Islamic law], or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides .." as the disgrace in this world.
Accordingly, the Koran effectively prohibits what we affectionately call 'freedom of speech'. It does not invite, nor tolerate, what Locke advocates: "Any one may employ as many exhortations and arguments as he pleases, toward the promoting of another man's salvation."
That is why bibles are prohibited in so many Islamic countries, why women must be covered, why Christian aid workers are prohibited from evangelizing, why drink is banned and so on and so on.
What the president simply fails to understand is that Muslims do not see freedom in the way he sees it. They do not want to be free to reject the teachings of Islam. They want to be free to practice Islam to the full without "mischief through the land" brought about by democratic 'freedom' and 'tolerance' of non-Islamic religions and cultures and the 'decadence' they bring with them.
Now the president may have some secret insight that will overcome this great divide. But from my humble experience, I have found that debating with someone who has at his disposal the absolute truth as dictated by God himself quite a futile exercise.
The philosopher Alf Ross expressed this frustration in the context of 'justice': "to invoke justice [in support of an argument] is the same thing as banging the table: an emotional expression which turns one's demand into an absolute postulate. That is no proper way to mutual understanding. It is impossible to have a rational discussion with a man who mobilises 'justice', because he says nothing that can be argued for or against.
How much more difficult when God's actual words are mobilized?
I fear that the president has misidentified tyranny. It is a tyranny of the mind that he faces, the mind of masses. It may not be this president, but sooner or later someone is going to have to pour new wine into new bottles.
© 2005 - John Campbell - All Rights Reserved
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John Campbell was brought up in a crummy, soul-deadening, coal-mining town in South Africa called Witbank. He attended Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa studying accounting and economics eventually joining the regular Army. He eventually studied law at Leicester University, but ended up spending a year travelling in North Africa and Israel; on a bicycle.
He did continue his studies at Leeds University and earned a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree winning prizes for Jurisprudence and a thesis on International Law. Next was on to the School of Law at Trent University, Nottingham, to do the Solicitors Finals [Attorney Exams]. Following that was to Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, to do a Masters Degree in International Law (LLM). After working in the practice of law in London, Campbell eventually settled in Malaga, Spain. He is now working on a book about his travel experiences. It is provisionally titled "My Exodus and Wanderings in a Liberal Wilderness."
Tolerance is a measure of a permissible
deviation from a norm, a value. It is time we started defining what we
will not tolerate, and define it by reference to our values, assuming
that someone still knows what those are.