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religious tests vs ideological test

Reader comment on item: Smoking Out Islamists via Extreme Vetting

Submitted by Erich Wieger (United States), Jan 30, 2017 at 20:38

Dear Dr. Pipes

I would suggest that before deciding on questions to be asked, that the political ideology of Islamist supremicism be explicitly distinguished from Islam's specifically religious commitments, in constitutionally unassailable policy briefs. This distinction could be called a fiction by some serious Muslims or serious critics of Islam, who both look for an integrated authentic Islam of political order and religion; but fiction or not, it is a necessary distinction for political clarity and for freedom of religion issues. It is a sticky issue: by doing so is one giving a religious judgment? But comprehensive political commitments such as Islamic supremicism must be classified as anti-constitutional political goals, not as religion. Has this been done?

Without making this distinction, Mitch McConnell's warning that in the United States we do not use religious tests will go unheeded, and otherwise useful questioning will be overturned in the courts for crossing the line .

Critiquing a few diagnostic questions as purely religious, nor political:

As a theologically conservative Christian, I may hold to the doctrine that those outside of Christ are eternally lost. A Muslim may have a very roughly parallel eschatology--non Muslims are the Infidel destined for the Fire. Asking a question about the eternal destiny of the unbeliever, or who he unbeliever is, as the list of questions in your article asks (questions 8 and 63), does not help to identify the ideology of Islamism, any more than in the Christian's case, it would identify a Christian theocratic political ideology.

It is a legitimate religious posture to declare the invalidity of dogma contrary to the Word of God as one's community believes it. It is unconstitutional to deny the legal rights to practice and preach those contrary dogmas. Questions used to vet entry to the US need to focus on the latter, not the former state of mind. Asking if other religions are "valid" is therefore invalid (questions 58, 59).

Similarly a conservative Christian community may believe in particularly modest feminine attire, like my Mennonite friends or my Ethiopian Orthodox neighbors. I think the questions in your list focuses on who and how these strictures are enforced. That gets more to the ideology of political power in society, and the forceful suppression of women. The focus might be sharpened so as not to run afoul of your introductory remarks that hijab is not an indicator of Islamic supremicism. Question 29 needs clarification. Is "right" there a legal right, or does the devout woman believe it is right to dress however she pleases? Religious "right" is different from legal rights.

It would be distressing to the religious feeling of many Christians, Muslims or Jews if one of their children would become homosexual--an issue one of the questions probes (question 41). That says nothing about theocratic ideology nor about acknowledging the equal legal rights of homosexuals, which is the issue at stake. The sacredness of gender and sex is a legitimate religious concern that does not need to be an indicator of an oppressive political ideology or domestic violence. The question is what do to the devout do when they are grieved by the behavior of family, neighbors, or fellow-citizens. "How would you respond?" is a good question only if the answer allows for a range of responses other than violence or coercion. Similarly questions about a family member marrying "outside the faith" need to be asked in order to look out for violent or coercive responses, not merely disapproval or grief. The latter is fairly normal religious feeling, the former is a crime.

The prospect of those being interviewed engaging in self-misrepresentation is huge, as you indicate. The danger of consular and border control officials developing an institutional culture of inquisition to ferret out reality is real--does this program create the institutional culture we want? Rather than repeated probing interviews comparing responses to records of previous responses, as the inquisitors used to do, perhaps a program of better human and ciber intelligence on Islamic supremicist networks coupled with security investigations of doubtful applicants, would allow for screening at the front end. Then the dance of multiple interviews would be superfluous.

As per your introductory comments, I would not, as CAIR alleges US customs and border control has done, ask about prayer rugs, praying five times a day, or carrying a Quran in one's luggage. These are not indicators of Islamist political committments. Adherence to known ideologues of Islamic supremicism and connections to such networks are much better indicators. Dangerous individuals are not likely to confess those connections. The key is intelligence work.

Warm regards

Erich Wieger

Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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