July 20, 2004

Let Freedom RingBut for Whom?

For those of us living in the United States, the Fourth of July brings smells of roasted hotdogs and the sights and sounds of fireworks — a time to celebrate our national commitment to individual liberty. This sentiment is memorialized in the song, My Country, Tis of Thee — the final stanza beckoning us to "let freedom ring."

And according to Freedom House, a human rights organization, more and more of the world's population is hearing freedom's song. In fact, individual freedom has been on the increase around the world over the past 30 years.

However, there are glaring exceptions to this trend. In their latest report, Freedom in the World 2003, Freedom House lists 48 nations receiving a rating of "Not Free." Of these, 25 have majority Islamic populations. Of the 9 worst rated countries, six are Islamic (Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.)[1]

In their report, the authors insist that these facts "should not suggest some kind of inexorable link between Islam and tyranny." A few paragraphs later they again clearly assert that the lack of democratic reform in "large swaths of the world populated by Muslim majorities" is not "directly related to religious beliefs as such."[2]

How are we to evaluate these comments?

A casual look at Freedom House's own "Map of Freedom," which highlights the world's freest nations, one is stuck by the interesting link between freedom and worldview. [3] The nations that have the highest regard for basic human rights and the rule of law are those countries that have come under the influence of Christianity.[4] In light of that, it seems that the Freedom House authors are attempting to explain away the obvious: worldviews really do matter!

A few nations seem to be counterexamples to the rule that liberty is a result of Christian influence. India, for example, has a large population of Muslims but also is rated as a free nation. However, it must be remembered that the foundation for freedom and democracy was laid down in India by the British during the 19th century, a time when Great Britain was still inclined toward a biblical view of man as created in the image of God. As this view replaced the Hindu indifference toward human life, it led to a new understanding of human dignity and regard for individual liberty.

This brings up an interesting situation for Iraq, where the U.S.-led coalition forces have recently turned over control to Iraqi nationals. Will the new government be able to maintain a commitment to individual liberties?

The answer to that question depends on two things? First, whether the emerging government can maintain order by subduing the radical terrorist faction of their religion. And, second, if the Muslim community can find a basis for individual freedom within their religion.

On the second point, the prospects do not look promising. Mawdudi, a prominent Pakistani Muslim scholar, states:

". . . all non-Muslims will have the freedom of conscience, opinion, expression, and association as the one enjoyed by Muslims themselves, subject to the same limitations as are imposed by law on Muslims." [5]

However, according to an article written by Samuel Shahid,

"Mawdudi's views are not accepted by most Islamic schools of law, especially in regard to freedom of expression like criticism of Islam and the government. Even in a country like Pakistan, the homeland of Mawdudi, it is illegal to criticize the government or the head of state. Many political prisoners are confined to jails in Pakistan and most other Islamic countries. Through the course of history, except in rare cases, not even Muslims have been given freedom to criticize Islam without being persecuted or sentenced to death. It is far less likely for a Zimmi [Christian or Jew] to get away with criticizing Islam."[6]

The idea of freedom of expression is not part of Muslim legal tradition. Historically, Muslim countries have operated under Shari'a law, based on the Qu'ran, the sayings of Mohammed, and Muslim legal scholarship down through the years. The result has been a certain amount of freedom for Muslim men, but limited freedom for women and non-Muslims.

For example, under Shari'a law, women and non-Muslims are not allowed to testify against a Muslim man in court. Nor are non-Muslims allowed to worship in public. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, no churches are allowed to be built and Christians must worship in the privacy of their own homes, not even praying out loud so that a Muslim will not be enticed to Christianity.

Because of Islam's legal stance on limiting freedom of expression and religion, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, suggested back in February 2004 that he would block any attempt to make Islam the chief source of law, as some members of the interim Iraqi Governing Council had sought.

In contrast to Shari'a law, the western law tradition was grounded in, as Jefferson so eloquently phrased it, "the laws of Nature and Nature's God." The Declaration of Independence not only expressed this nation's independence from the dominating rule of the King of England, but also declared its dependence on God-given "rights" — specifically enumerated as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" — rare freedoms in the history of human government.

As worldview analysis reveals and the current world "Map of Freedom" confirms, individual freedom is the result of western civilization's Biblical Christian principles of theology and psychology intersecting law and politics. If Iraq, or any other nation for that matter, desires to taste the fruit of liberty, she will have to draw from the root of God's divine design as outlined in the Bible. And since, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, these truths are "self-evident," a new experiment in liberty can be planted and another country will move from being "not free" to "free."

  1. "Freedom in the World 2003," p. 10.
  2. Ibid., p. 5.
  3. Freedom House's "Map of Freedom 2001."
  4. See Freedom House's 12-page report, "Freedom in the World 2003."
  5. Quoted "Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State," by Samuel Shahid.
  6. Ibid.

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