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Inconvenient Truths and Foundational Freedoms

Believing the U.S. unworthy of its superpower status, President Barack Obama hit the foreign policy “reset” button.  Unfortunately, it reset us back to the Carter years and a weaker, less respected America around the world.  In the last few weeks, in addition to the murder of our diplomats in Libya, there have been protests against the U.S. at more than 50 of our embassies and consulates around the world.

It has been disturbing to see how many countries, including our so-called allies, have citizens who show no fear about invading and destroying U.S. diplomatic posts.  Yet this behavior continues because they believe there are no consequences; they act with impunity. They are doing this because they can.

While it may be virtuous to “speak softly,” at times, it is foolhardy to think appeasing radical Islamists will produce a better world.  Four years into his presidency, President Obama told the Muslim world at the U.N. General Assembly this week that we will limit our freedom of speech if you limit yours.

He said: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.’ Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.”

Mr. President, Americans are not asking the Muslim world not to make fun of Jesus, we are asking the world to stand for human dignity and the universal values of freedom of conscience, of religion, and of speech.

Radical Islamists are not friends of freedom.  While we encourage respect for other religions, freedom of religion must sometimes include things that some would find offensive. For example, even though Islam is a missionary religion many in the majority Muslim world find it offensive when other religions are missionary as well.

In much of the world and, particularly in the Majority Muslim world, there are repeated attacks on human dignity, and freedom of conscience and religion. Let’s call them the ABCD’s of religious oppression: Laws on apostasy, blasphemy, anti-conversion, and anti-defamation.  In many Muslim countries the only freedom of conscience as it relates to something as foundational as one’s faith, is the freedom to become a Muslim.

Under apostasy and anti-conversion laws choosing anything other than Islam makes you a “Kafir” or unbeliever and thus a “legitimate” target for persecution or even death.

This is an unacceptable form of oppression which truly would merit peaceful protests around the world.  This offensive tenet is true in practice in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt; this is the reality of political Islam, even in “democratic” contexts.  Can you have real, meaningful democracy without freedom of conscience and protection of minorities?  This is not a trick question.

Blasphemy laws are also used to charge anyone with an offense against the faith. Often this allegedly includes some reference to the Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, or the Koran.  Anti-defamation laws have a similar purpose to “protect” a religion.  The Organization of Islamic Countries has been pushing aggressively anti-defamation laws in international organizations like the U.N. and regional multilateral bodies. The idea is the religion (until recently Islam only) must be protected and respected with consequences for anyone who does not. While the Bush Administration consistently opposed these types of resolutions, the Obama Administration sought “middle ground.”

Religious freedom is not just an American privilege, it is a human one and a central piece of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt and others after the human tragedy of World War II.  This was another important way that America stood united for basic human dignity.

While there is ongoing protest and violence in majority Muslim countries, historically radical Islamists primary targets are Muslims themselves.  For example, more Muslims are in prison because of allegations of blasphemy than non-Muslims. While Christians and other minorities are certainly targeted, this is a tool of abuse used to prevent debate and change within Islam, as well.

Freedom of speech also includes speech that offends other people.  This can be inconvenient, but our Founders understood that the alternatives were much worse and it is the reason they made it the First Freedom, followed by the essential supporting and interrelated freedom of speech. They believed these were inalienable rights with which all men (and women) are endowed by their Creator. They believed that these freedoms were essential to human dignity.

There was a time when some in Christianity thought that violence was an appropriate way to promote the faith, mostly hundreds of years ago. But now, today, radical Islam supports the oppression of women, prevents freedom of conscience, and promotes violent jihadism. On all three points, much of the Islamic world has been silent or complicit.  These are injustices worthy of peaceful demonstration in the streets.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are the starting point and the centerpiece of the First Amendment and essential to free people.  These principles are a central reason that in the past and in the present, patriotic Americans have been and are willing today to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for freedom. I believe this is true of those who tragically lost their lives in Libya and those who serve us in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Let’s honor them by honoring these first principles, even when it’s hard.

Rick Santorum, a Republican, is a former Congressman and Senator from Pennsylvania. He is co-founder of Patriot Voices. 

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