December 4th, 2015


Thinking about Islamic terrorism

During the reign of Good Queen Bess (1558-1603), Catholics were seen as posing a danger to the security of the State. One plot after another was discovered whose aim was to assassinate the Queen, overthrow the government, and re-establish Catholicism in England as the State religion. Various prominent Catholic leaders (Mary, Queen of Scots; the Pope; King Philip of Spain; the Jesuits) were involved. The Pope issued a bull depriving the Queen of her throne; he forgave -- in advance -- anyone who murdered her for the sake of religion.

Elizabeth's Privy Council wanted a much more severe policy against Catholics, as such. They saw everyone who identified as a Catholic or who refused to participate in the Church of England as a public danger. Who knew what support they might lend to spies and assassins? Who knew what might radicalize them from merely following their individual conscience to adopting the goals of those who claimed to speak for their entire religion?

The Queen herself showed great courage and restraint. She allowed heavy measures against known agitators. She particularly repressed Catholic priests -- especially Jesuits. No doubt many good and innocent men suffered for this, but we have to also allow for the real dangers she faced. But she steadfastly refused to give in to the fears of her Councillors. She thought that ordinary Catholic subjects would be as loyal as Protestant subjects, if given the chance. And they proved her right.

Nowadays, most people look back on the Elizabeth's reign and see only bigotry against inoffensive Catholics in her religious policy. They overlook the very real dangers faced by the English government in those days and in the next few generations. They know that Catholics today would never dream of overthrowing the government; therefore, they think that Catholics of those days would never dream of overthrowing that government. But they are reading their own situation back into history.

I bring this up because it seems relevant to me in our discussion of the dangers we face from Muslim extremists. I think, "we've been here before." Those who want to have all Muslims watched, or who merely express harsh views of Islam, are like the fearful people of Protestant England. There are grounds for their fears, but there are also reasons for not giving in to their fears. Queen Elizabeth would counsel us, I think, that the majority of our Muslim citizens are willing to be loyal to our country if we give them the chance.

But still, we have to recognize the danger. For it is a legitimate danger. Prominent Islamic authorities have issued fatwas against us. There are madrasas all over the world funded by Wahhabi extremists from Saudi Arabia. Jihad has gone from a particular organization to a free-form movement. You don't even have to leave home to be radicalized; you can be convinced of the morality of terrorist acts by those you discuss religion with on social media.

We have to walk a tightrope. We are going to have to name the enemy, without making enemies of our own people. We are going to have to take serious measures against that enemy, here and abroad. We are going to have to be careful about whom we let into the country, but not just that; we also need to be aware of who is talking with that enemy, even without leaving this country.

Our war with Islamic extremism will end when Islamic society changes, as England's war with Catholicism changed when Catholic powers gave up attempting to overthrow the English government. But until terrorism and jihad become unattractive to Muslims, we will have to be on our guard and active in breaking up the enemy's plans, not just passively and naively await the next attack.