What We're Fighting For

Our best weapons in the current war are our spiritual values

This article was first published on Beliefnet in December 2001

Like it or not, we’re entering a long, drawn-out spiritual and ideological struggle with Islamic fundamentalism. As we prepare for this, we should recall with pride that we prevailed in our fight against Communism, not merely by opposing that system but by championing our own.

In that struggle--a jihad of sorts--our economic system proved decisive to our victory. The world admired our model of what economic freedom could produce. In the jihad with Islamic fundamentalism, the strength of our economic system will be secondary in importance. What will count most are our spiritual values, especially those core values that distinguish our culture from Islamic fundamentalism.

As a longtime student of American culture and values, I see three sets of core values, deeply embedded in the popular psyche, that should define the battleground for our jihad.

First and foremost is the separation of church and state. If ever we needed a reminder of our founders’ wisdom in keeping religion and politics apart, we have it in the spectacle of mullahs spewing hatred and vitriol from their privileged perch in Muslim mosques. The founders of our nation understood that both religion and politics stir human passions. Kept separate, these passions can fuel great civilizations.


Mixed together, they fuel hatred, prejudice, and a destructive sense of purity that tolerates no dissent. Hundreds of years of bloody and destructive religious wars led our founders to build the separation of church and state into our Constitution. One of the distinguishing features of our civilization, it is totally alien to the worldview of Islamic fundamentalism. We have no mission--or desire--to convert Islam to our method of respecting the special virtues of both religion and politics. But we do have a mission to make the Islamic world understand and respect this hard-won insight into the human condition.

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