The Fall of
Constantinople and the Fall of the Twin Towers The Muslim World and the West
By Lamin Sanneh
Europe Haunted: At a crucial crossroad in relations with Islam, the West has
been weighing its options on the future of interfaith understanding, as Pope
Benedict XVI's Regensburg comments on 12 September, 2006, show.
In the address which was on a completely different subject, the pope digressed
to cite the uncomplimentary remarks of a medieval Byzantine emperor about how
Islam originated in holy war, adding that, unlike Christianity, Islam has
failed to embrace reason.
The ensuing violent Muslim reaction surprised the pope and the world but
mobilized Muslim moderates and radicals alike, from allies in Morocco, Turkey,
and Afghanistan, to opponents in Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza.
It was as if the spirit of Islam had once again and for a poignant moment
eluded an uncomprehending West. The offense of the pope was his perceived
personal attack on Muhammad as the perpetrator of jihád and on Islam as a religion
The pope was also faulted for overlooking Islam's facilitating role in the
European enlightenment. His sidetrack remark soon assumed centerstage. Yet the
violent reaction shows how cultural estrangement makes it easy to telescope the
polemical sentiments of a 14th century Byzantine potentate about Muhammad and
jihád to ignite a raging global protest movement that took lives and destroyed
It showed people how much work religions still need to do to promote a culture
of peace and reasonableness, and to make violent reaction to perceived or
gratuitous insult unworthy of religion and of respect between and among
It prompts questions such as: How should ecumenical statesmanship rise to the
unresolved challenge of Islam and the West? To what extent have 9/11 and the
"war on terror" left the West captive to the legacy of the Crusades?
Haunted by the ghost of the past, can the West lead the Muslim world in its
contest with radical Islam?
The Boomerang: One way forward is to revise, for example, deep set ideas about
the Crusades, which were, we may recall, a double-edged sword: they were far
more damaging for the Latin West than for the Muslim world, which may explain
why contemporary Muslim historians - Ibn Khaldún pre-eminent among them - paid
them little attention. Of far greater strategic consequence for the Islamic
world was the Mongol invasion in 1253 which sounded the death knell for the
It sent shock waves through the Islamic world and beyond, and contributed in no
small measure to the demise of the Crusades. Told that if he spilled the blood
of the caliph the world would be darkened and an earthquake would engulf the
Mongols, Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Chingis Khan (1167-1227), placed the
caliph and his sons in sacks and ordered his horsemen to trample them to death.
Thus ended the 'Abbásid empire and its claim to the mantle of the orthodox
cause. Hulagu Khan next turned his attention to Mamluk Egypt, a rich prize in
the campaign to expand the Mongol empire. In the Spring of 1260, he sent the
Sultan al-Muzaffar Sayf al-Din Qutuz of Cairo a boastful letter directing him
to surrender with immediate effect or else face swift annihilation.
Hulagu warned the sultan; "You should think of what happened to other
countries...and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast
empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have
conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the
terror of our armies...Fortresses will not detain us, nor arms stop us. Your
prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched
by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe...Resist and
you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques
and reveal the weakness of your God, and then we will kill your children and
your old men together." (David W. Tschanz, "History's Hinge: 'Ain
Jalut," Saudi Aramco World, July/August, 2007, 26.)
Hulagu's boast had the backing of his 300,000-strong army. Egypt escaped
because the Mongol invaders were sidetracked by developments elsewhere. In the
West, however, the Crusades dominated society and scholarship, and for good
reason. When Pope Urban II announced the idea of the crusades in November,
1095, it was, according to one school of history, primarily to try to establish
his authority against secular forces in Germany, France, and England that were
challenging papal supremacy in the church, rather than because of an anti-Muslim
The pope's offer of plenary indulgence for the crusades was part of his
strategy to mobilize the popular will against obstructive rulers like Henry IV
and Philip of France. In that regard, Peter the Hermit embodied the triumph of
the popular imagination over the political challenge to papal authority, a
challenge that ultimately undermined the goal of recovery of the holy land.
The crusade of King Louis of France in 1270 to Tunis, for example, was a split
drive against the Byzantines in one direction, and the Muslims in another. It
ended in disaster. When in 1390 the Duke of Bourbon led a crusade that attacked
Mahdia, the Tunisian capital, he was bogged down in a fruitless siege. He
extricated his forces only under a truce negotiated by the Genoese.
For reward the Genoese used the occasion to bolster their trading influence in
the Mediterranean, showing how the notion of holy war hatched secular ambition.
The career of Frederick II of Sicily illustrates further the ambiguities of the
crusades. He undertook the crusade but largely in order to secure respect and
recognition from Sultan al-Kamil, a respected rival, who had asked for
Frederick's help against his estranged brother, al-Mu'azzam. Frederick's
alliance with the sultan opened a cultural corridor of deepening Islamic
influence upon Sicily. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem served as a prototype
for his pleasure palace in Sicily, the Castel del Monte.
The Dome of the Rock became a prominent motif in Renaissance art, such as in
Perusino's work and in Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin. The women of
Frederick's palace traveled in covered palanquins attended by eunuchs in the
style of Muslim ladies. Frederick adopted the art of falconry he learned from
Fakhr al-Dín bin al-Shaykh, the sultan's ambassador to his court. In fact,
among Frederick's crusaders were a number of Muslim soldiers - just to show how
undogmatic was his idea of the Crusades.
There was the additional fact that Frederick II turned his weapons against the
forces of the pope who was compelled to rescind his order of excommunication
against Frederick. Accused even by otherwise amenable Muslim scholars of making
a sport of Christianity, Frederick II wagered liberally with Muslim powers of
the Mediterranean world, including sending embassies to the Assassin
headquarters in Syria and gifts for the head of the Ismá'ílís at Alamut who
were allied with Richard the Lionhearted.
It was at Richard's behest that the Assassins murdered Conrad of Montferrat.
All that gave Frederick's crusade a deserving eclectic reputation rather than
the stigma of interfaith bigotry. Indeed, Frederick II was far more a problem
for the cohesion of the Christian world than he was for Muslim hegemony.
Accordingly, he attracted for the second time the penalty of excommunication
from Pope Gregory II, and for the second time to little effect.
The Muslim reality made excommunication a feeble instrument of policy. It is,
thus, implausible to view the Crusades as an anti-Islamic hysteria. The
Crusaders in Syria, for example, were a motley crowd of adventurers whose roots
were in peasant society. Appropriately, they were quartered in castles and
barracks where their contacts were with local peasant farmers and artisans
rather than with the educated classes. Scarcely seeing them as a threat,
Muslims derided these Christian crusaders for their inferior cultural
standards, and preserved their memory, not in elevated prose, but in
condescending hum-drum anecdotes.
One such anecdote mocks the crusaders' ideas and procedures of justice, noting
how the crusaders employed the crude procedure of trial by duel and by water.
The intended contrast with existing magisterial Islamic works on law and
jurisprudence could not be more stark. There was only one known scholarly work
that the crusaders brought with them out of Syria, and that was the medical
treatise of al-Majúsi of Antioch.
By contrast, the Crusades in Europe were more consequential. When in 1207
Innocent III declared a crusade against fellow Christians in France, the result
was the repeated devastation of the productive agricultural provinces of the
South of France, accompanied by staged burnings of heretics. This Christian
fitnah lasted for more than a century, with new outbreaks of persecution being
reported between the years 1304 and 1312. The sack and capture of Byzantium in
1204 belonged with this intra-Christian conflict and had little in it of an
Then beginning in 1347 the Black Plague struck Europe. In the few years between
1347 and 1352 the plague carried off some 60% of the adult population aged
between 20 and 60. John of Reading, a monk of Westminster, wrote that the
plague "left hardly enough people alive to give the dead a decent burial;
instead they dug broad, deep pits and buried the bodies together, and reducing
everyone to the same level, threw them into the ground." A vast pool of
orphan poor flooded the cities now turned into ghost towns.
It created what historians have called the chimney effect. Europe had scarcely
recovered from the effects of the plague when another bubonic plague struck in
1361, carrying off up to a third of the population in some places.
The combined effect of two major plagues in a decade and a half disrupted
Western culture in irreversible ways. Europe's population in 1402 was a third
what it was a century earlier. The church dominated the middle ages to the same
extent that the church in turn bore the brunt of these natural disasters.
The spiritual heirs of Saladin in the Ottoman Empire may be forgiven for
thinking this was as good a time as any to pick on Europe. It is not hard to
imagine how bewildering Islam's growing confidence appeared to the leaders of
Austria and Hungary on one side, and of Spain and Portugal on the other.
The best Europe could do was to decline contest and to choose to bypass the
Muslim world, and thus to postpone issues of intercultural encounter. While
Constantinople was under siege by the forces of Sultan Bajazet, the Western
leaders undertook an impetuous campaign to take all the lands of the Turks up
to Persia. Such victory would "deliver Jerusalem out of the hands of the
Sultan and the enemies of God," the leaders claimed.
Crossing the Danube the crusaders encountered the Muslims at Nicopolis where
the Christian army was destroyed, with large numbers of prisoners, including
most of the Western leaders, taken captive. The most important prisoners were
held for ransom, while the mass of the remaining captives were massacred.
The flame of the crusades was virtually extinguished there, leaving the sultan
free to resume the siege of Constantinople. Only the ironic intervention of
Tamarlane saved the city. In 1402 he defeated and captured the Ottoman sultan.
Yet the Turks never abandoned their goal of taking Constantinople. In the
circumstances, the Christians decided in a foolhardy move to break the truce
they signed with Sultan Murad in 1443, and crossed the Danube once more to
engage the Muslims. They met with ignominious defeat. In November 1444, King
Ladislas of Hungary and the cardinal-legate were killed, and with them any
remaining hopes of success. His enemies pacified and with extensive and
meticulous military preparations, Sultan Mohammed II, son of Murad, commenced
in 1451 the final drive against the city now exposed by a castle built on a
hill dominating the Bosporus above the city. Destroying the surrounding country
to cut off food supplies, with an army of 15,000 strong encamped at the base of
the city, Mohammed II set in train in April, 1453 the battering that
foreshadowed the end.
The gallantry of the defenders proved too little, too late. On May 28 on the
eve of the sultan's greatest assault, the Byzantine forces gathered in St.
Sophia for prayer, but their prayers were not answered. At dawn on May 29 the
12,000 strong Janissary corps surged forward to overrun the city.
The Empire of the East had fallen, and Constantinople, the city of the Caesars
now became the capital of the Ottomans, with the whole of southeastern Europe
at their beckoning. Latin Christendom lost its cohesion at this time. The Feast
of the Pheasant held at Lille in 1454 served as an official statement of
Europe's exhausted cultural impulse. The Knights of the Golden Fleece attended
a tourney in which a spectacle was enacted to show the plight of Christian
Europe before rising Islam.
A huge man dressed as a Saracen of Granada led an elephant on whose back was
installed a lady in a little castellated palanquin. The lady represented the
church in captivity to the Muslims. She addressed the noble and gallant
company, declaiming in verse the plight of the church since the fall of
Constantinople, and appealing to knightly honor to defend the faith. After an
interval of more elaborate rituals followed by hearty applause, the knights took
an oath to undertake a crusade once more against Islam. The oath was only for
theatrical effect, however, for nothing came of it.
At the time England was worn down by the Wars of the Roses; Frederick III's
grip on the Empire was precarious at best; under Louis XI France was still
recovering from its long struggle with England; the kingdoms of the Iberian
peninsula had unfinished business to attend to in North Africa, while the
Italian powers were preoccupied with the struggle between Venice and Milan. Repeated
papal attempts to unite and galvanize Europe in the circumstances failed.
The Venetians broke ranks with the Christian West to broker in 1464 an alliance
with the Ottoman Empire to preserve their interests as a Levantine power. At
the threat of French invasion in 1494 Alexander VI corresponded with Bayazid II
(ruled 1481-1512) to seek a pact that would protect Naples and ultimately
Turkey. At various times Hungary, France, Genoa, Naples and the Empire had
negotiated or concluded treaties with the Ottomans.
It led Charles VIII to distrust his fellow European leaders and to open direct
negotiations with Bayazid II. By the time Pope Calixitus ascended the throne of
St. Peter in 1455 there were left only the tattered shreds of the girdle of the
crusades. Tellingly, the Mongols had turned from scourge to devout Muslim
converts, thus denying Europe the alliance they sought as a counterweight to
Islamic power. Calixitus' successor, Pius II, tried to revive the cause and
convened an ambitious council in June, 1459. When he appeared in person on June
1, 1459, at Mantua, however, the pope found not a single European prince or
envoy present. His address was eloquent and stirring, but his audience was
incredulous and silent.
He was reduced to bemoaning the fact of who was not present rather than
acknowledging who was. Competing with St. Louis for the title of the "Last
Crusader," the pope went on at St. Peter's in June, 1464, to declare a
crusade and to offer himself personally to lead it. He reckoned heroic personal
example might rouse an indolent Christendom where papal erudition failed.
Those who subsequently assembled at Ancona had begun to disperse by the time
the pope arrived, and within a month he died. It was at this stage that Prince
Henry the Navigator of Portugal launched the maritime explorations to the take
the crusades in a new direction and out of its Mediterranean crucible. The
Crusades ended where they began - in European self-assertion. Beyond Cultural
Impasse: Ottoman power that accomplished the fall of Constantinople challenged
contemporary Europeans to reassess the terms of intercultural encounter.
John of Segovia stepped forward in 1453 to argue about the danger and futility
of confronting Islam in a military contest in the otherwise wholly defensible
effort to assert Christianity's credentials as a world religion. Islam was
equipped with a tradition of Holy War, while Christianity was not, he
contended. Calling attention to the Crusades, John of Segovia said that a
military and territorial contest with Islam revealed Christianity's weakness
and left Islam entrenched in its strongholds.
Missions to Islam, he argued, were futile: whether as proclamation or as silent
witness, missions were in conflict with Islam's political reflex of cuius regio
eius religio. Furthermore, Islam's territorial claims offered little room for
Christian missions. Missions would be allowed only on territory reconquered
from Islam, and since John of Segovia rejected war, he excluded reconquest.
The remaining option was dialogue, what John of Segovia called
"conference." With that call John of Segovia let stand Islam and
Christianity as valid religions, however much they understood themselves in
radically different terms. In other words the fall of Constantinople was not
the collapse of mutual trust but an argument for it. Nicholas of Cusa
(1401-1464), the German cardinal who was very much at the center of
reconciliation efforts with the Greek church, echoed John of Segovia's views.
He believed that the destructive wars between Christians and Muslims were a
challenge the Christian world could afford to do without and could not now
ignore. He promoted the idea that Christians were more likely to have an
influence on Islam from the inkpot than from the barrel of a gun. At the
request of Pius II he wrote in 1461 a study on dialogue with Islam called,
Cribratio Alchoran (Scrutiny of the Qur'án), to which he brought a rare spirit
of generosity, showing where the Gospels and the Qur'án were in agreement. He
proposed "one religion in a plurality of religious rites."
Nicholas was perceptive in his view that it was similarity and common ground,
rather than difference and variety, which explained why Muslims and Christians
felt so intolerant of each other. His novel approach drew attention to the
issue of the one and the many, of one God and the many practices by which
religious people sought a path to God. Truth is one, and Muslims and Christians
demonstrated that by the practices they observed separately. In Nicholas's formulation,
acknowledgment of difference should be by virtue of the truth that God is one,
not by evading that truth or denying diverse practices on account of it.
Difference should be an asset in diversity, and diversity should embrace the
celebration of difference lest diversity beget the intolerance it set out to
remedy. That was one implication of the theological work of Nicholas of Cusa.
In that light, Christian truth-claims and the West can be affirmed without
denying other religions and cultures. According to Nicholas of Cusa, there is
one salvation history even though by their diversity religions orient their
fallible followers to salvation with varying success.
Thus, Christ's perfection is the model God holds before us without dispensing
with the demands of daily discipleship. Nicholas says that the fundamental
operations of the religious life are perfectly manifested in Christ, and in
affirming their faith in Christ Christians also share a deep and inviolable
bond with all religions. The difference is that Christ is not our achievement
In the document called Nostra Aetate of Vatican II many of these dialogue
themes found explicit support and affirmation. One cannot help feeling that the
intervening centuries were something of a tunnel period during which the
Western world and the Muslim world converged scarcely at all. Colonial rule,
for its turn, bequeathed a complex baggage: domination on the heels of
The Ottoman caliphate dissolved only for Muslim nation states to emerge and to
accede to undreamt of wealth, thanks to Western technology, banking, and
security. It is true that the West was one civilization the Muslim world had
encountered and not defeated, but that seems a trivial point of political
vanity compared to the boon the Muslim world reaped from the West, from the
accoutrements of a modern economy to nuclear technology.
Thanks to the security canopy the West has set up, even weak Muslim states can
claim their place on the world stage as the equals of the West. Not many groups
enjoyed that kind of free range while under caliphal rule. That is why 9/11
came as a shock not only to Americans but to much of the leadership of the
Muslim world. The attacks flew in the face of reality. In spite of endemic
problems of poverty, illiteracy, and political corruption the Muslim world has
long ceased to be a foreign dominion.
The knee-jerk reaction of the progressive and nay-saying classes in the West
that the attacks were just retribution for the sins of the past, including
Western backing for Israeli occupation of Palestine seems implausible. Critics
have called for the West to make overdue restitution to assuage the simmering
anger of Muslims. While not completely fanciful this analysis borders on the
willful given the onesidedness of the radical agenda and given the imperial and
jihád dimensions of historical Islam. The analysis also makes light of the
sanctions in Islamic law against attacks on innocent life. Why this wide chasm
between Muslim notions of social order and the pro forma explanations of
The centuries-long gap in sustained intellectual engagement with the Islamic
world may explain why we lost contact with witnesses like John of Segovia and
Nicholas of Cusa, while meanwhile the tide of secularization estranged the West
from its own religious heritage. The West's reigning secular worldview creates
a blind spot in dealings with a politically awakened Islam, and leads to the
schizoid view that political Islam can be explained by political factors
without reference to religious values. We are genuinely confounded by Islam as
a "worldly" religion that is concerned as much with the economic,
legal, and social order as with divine injunctions, and so we repair to worldly
expedience to dump the inconvenient religious baggage. In Afghanistan, Iraq,
and the Palestinian territories the U.S. has pushed for the establishment of
democratic regimes without much attention to religion even though religious
forces have seized the political high ground.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, the respective constitutions carry riders
to the effect that nothing in them shall be contrary to the Qur'an. One must
assume that because the Qur'an referred to here has remained a closed book to
the West, the West has taken little notice, preferring instead to linger in a
state of sublime indifference.
Religious Crucible In looking for a way out of the impasse I donned a number of
different hats to see what kind of bridge-building might offer the best chance
for a breakthrough. Few of the alibis seem to work: Clausewitz and the military
solution, Machiavelli and political intrigue, Adam Smith and economic
incentives, Marx and class solidarity, Weber and the capitalist option, Dewey
and pragmatic compromise, Jefferson and secular liberalism, and, my favorite,
Madison and democratic pluralism.
I concluded that I needed to face a different direction toward Muslim religious
thought in order to grasp the nature of the challenge. In other words, I began
to retrace the path of John of Segovia and Nicholas of Cusa. They faced the
shock of the fall of Constantinople not by rushing forward into a
crusade-for-our-time call to arms but by cultivating the art of cultural
They should be required reading for national leaders dealing with the shock of
the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The problem, however, is
that those names appear nowhere in the standard liberal arts curriculum.
Consequently they are as foreign to educated Americans as snow is in Timbuktu.
Yet the stakes could not be higher and more urgent for us. Radicals bypass the
intellectual conception of God and faith that the theologians have formulated
and instead opt for downplaying personal conviction as validation. One submits,
or one rebels, pure and simple. For the radicals a Muslim cannot be an agnostic
in the Western sense both because "Allah" is not a subject of
self-understanding and because Islam is not a speculative system.
A radical view of submission does not allow for the possibility that one might
find religion unconvincing. One may convert to Islam but not leave it, at least
not innocently. In their primal impulse religious radicals do not know our
modern crown of thorns, to amend Lawrence of Arabia. They do not understand our
metaphysical difficulties, our introspective questionings. They know only truth
and untruth, belief and unbelief, "without our hesitating retinue of finer
shades...Their thoughts [are] at ease only in extremes.
They [inhabit] superlatives by choice." A cast-iron view of submission
does not allow any wiggle room for doubt or hesitation, let alone for dissent.
There have been no large-scale lapses or recessions from the faith, no receding
of the tide at source. The Islamic stream has flowed in progressive waves with
a ripple effect radiating from Mecca and Medina, the source.
It has then spread out from there in all directions. In contrast, Christianity
has moved in patterns of recession and expansion, with a dip here met with a
bounce there. Christianity has no counterpart to the Mecca of Muslims or the
Arabic of revelation, and has no equivalent to the Muslim pilgrimage.
Christianity knows pilgrimage as religious tourism in all but name, whereas in
Islam it is a territorial, universal rite. Unlike Muslims, Christians do not
pray or worship in the language of the founder of their religion.
The Bible is not the Koran, and, except in metaphor, Bethlehem, the birthplace
of Jesus, is a city without name or honor among Christians. Islam nurtures a
sense of religious, social and political community but without making normative
a deeply existential sense of personal choice in the matter.
Faith is as much a birthright as it is a public injunction. There is not here
the idea of a sacramental enactment of personal salvation. Islam does not look
to motives or to the heart for proof of redemption from sin. Its originating
territorial base in Mecca and Medina, subject to no alien power, continues to
serve its values of global public obligation and personal allegiance.
The sense of divine efficacy in history, that society implements what God
reveals and commands, what the first Muslims called jihád fí-sabíl li-lláh,
'holy war in the way of God,' (Koran 4:76, 91f, 94f; 9: 5, 29, 36, 41, 122; 47:
4) is demonstrated by the successful establishment of the early Muslim
community in Medina, and that achievement has inspired the fundamentalists to
attempt, as an act of historical faithfulness, a replication of that triumph
for their age and time.
The vision of God under such a dispensation is in terms of public enforcement
of the code and of the superiority of the Ummah, the faith community.
The national state must serve the interests of the ummah on the grounds that
the instruments of national life are derivative from the divine injunction
about the social order. All of this baffles the West. Islam is so close and yet
so remote. Its proximity seems to defy familiarity.
Even the radical cause remains shrouded in mystery from the extreme techniques
of bloodshed it employs, mixing the harsh tools of terrorism with moral idea of
martyrdom to intimidate and confound. At the point where the West imagines that
it has grasped the doctrines of Islam, and has found significant common ground
for dialogue, it is met with an impenetrable wall of radical objection.
When the West makes concessions to bypass religion as an obstacle it arouses
the suspicion that the West merely wishes to suppress religion and to promote
in its place a secular agenda. Yet, not being satisfied with a merely
individual choice in the matter, the radicals themselves have demanded secular
power as a religious prerogative. The radicals ignore what experience shows,
namely, that secular power may more easily corrupt itself as a religious
prerogative. Religion would become an adjunct of power, not the rule of
It is here that Madison's groundbreaking perspective on separation of church
and state, and, by implication, of the distinction between the sacred and
secular, may offer a way out of this impasse by ceding the religious ground
without stripping it of public merit entirely. In that perspective it is
inappropriate to employ the political instrument, with its skewed
"secular" view of truth, to enforce religious compliance, with its springs
in individual conscience, and that should resonate with the case of the
radicals about wishing to make religion count in public life in terms of its
fruits without neglecting its roots in the religious sphere.
Madison affirmed in 1784 that the free exercise of religion according to the
dictates of conscience would be destroyed if religion became an engine of civil
policy, saying the infringement of religious freedom is not just an offence
against the state, it is an offence against God. There are sound pragmatic
reasons for religious tolerance, such as fostering civility, forbearance,
cooperation, and mutual trust, but there are even sounder religious ones,
Madison argues, saying at its roots Christianity existed and flourished against
every opposition from the state rather than by dependence on the state.
Early Christianity made itself count in the public sphere by offering a
peaceful alternative to state dogma. This led Madison to the view that the
early Christian idea of faith as a matter of conscience is important for
democratic life, too. Says he, all are to be considered as retaining an equal
right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of
While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace the religion which we
believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose
minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this
freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man (emphasis in
original). The Christian religion both existed and flourished, not only without
the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.
Christianity was not invented by human policy and so could not depend for its
veracity on human justification. That, says Madison, demonstrates the innate
excellence of religion, making religion worthy of the free assent of men and
women, and of life in a democratic society.
These views parallel those of John Locke a century earlier. Surprisingly, this
benign view of tolerance is anticipated in the injunction of the Koran to the
effect that "there is no compulsion in religion" (2: 256) as well as
in an important stream of classical Islamic jurisprudence. All of this is by
way of saying that the Founding Fathers were prescient in intending never to
suppress religion in public life or in our dealings with the rest of the world.
The notion so popular today that religion is a constitutional entitlement is
far from what they had in mind. They never intended to say that religion is a
right granted by the state but, rather, that the state should be barred from
enforcing religion either by establishment or by co-option, and there is no
reason, therefore, why today a religiously perplexed or culturally impoverished
West should not retrieve its intellectual heritage in the cause of disarming
the radicals, and also why it should not initiate, in an organized fashion, a
global inter-cultural engagement on its core values.