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The Role of Religion in U.S. National Security Policy since 9/11
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Article Index
The Role of Religion in U.S. National Security Policy since 9/11
Historiographical Projections on Human Conflict and Religion
The Power of Islam
Demographic Surveys
Religion as a Paradigm in National Security Policy
Conclusion: The Way Ahead
Endnotes
Glossary of Key Islamic Terms
All Pages

by Chaplain (Colonel) Jonathan E. Shaw, United States Army

The original manuscript was completed 29 March 2010 as a Strategic Research Project for the U.S. Army War College (USAWC), Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Subsequently the USAWC’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) published this work as part of its Carlisle Papers series, with some editorial changes. The text herein presented is mildly edited beyond the SSI edition.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This report is cleared for public release, and it is published in the Journal of Faith & War by the author's permission.

ABSTRACT
The United States has struggled to find a framework to integrate religion into the post-9/11 discussion of national security. Islam has been the central focus, with both the 9/11 terrorists and many of America’s partners in overseas contingency operations sharing an Islamic heritage.

The struggle to locate that framework has taken the U.S. down a number of roads since the turn of the millennium, none of which has been totally satisfactory. President George W. Bush viewed freedom as a universal value, with religion as the preeminent freedom characterizing free, robust societies. With these assumptions, he viewed post-9/11 conflict with the Taliban and al-Qaeda as a battle over freedom. He believed that repressed Iraqis and Afghans would welcome the U.S. military as liberators bringing greater freedom, to include freedom of religion. President Bush’s assumptions were only partially validated. Part of the problem was the dissonance between a western concept of freedom to choose and worship God over against an Islamic concept to submit to God. “Religion as Freedom” did not offer the optimal framework.

Neither has President Barack Obama’s “Religion as Unity” framework solved the problem. President Obama has asserted a universal value regarding religion—that all religions are united by a moral law to care for one’s fellowman. Based on this assumption, President Obama has labeled radical Muslim terrorists as false Muslims, and also launched initiatives to honor Islam and resolve mutual misunderstandings through dialog with Muslim states. His efforts have succeeded partially, but radical traditionalist Muslims continue to fight, believing they are the pure practitioners of the faith. Also, President Obama’s framework has not accounted for the large numbers of Muslims in Muslim-majority countries who find terrorism ever justifiable.

An additional framework is needed, one that understands religion as power which is comprehended in grand strategy, and religion as behavior which is addressed in policy.

To begin to derive such a framework, it is helpful to look forward, to project the potential scope of the interplay between religion and national security. An examination of the enduring role of religion in human conflict through the eyes of Alvin Toffler, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, and Robert Kaplan proves helpful. Toffler, Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kaplan articulate different visions of the current and future world, with varying views of national security challenges. Each author, however, includes religion as a critical component in policy that would address those challenges effectively, and highlights Islam within that process.

Current and projected U.S. national security challenges highlight the need to explore Islam’s historical, theological, and political roots and traditions. Such an exploration suggests that the central issue for Islam is its universalization. One may identify six partially overlapping positions, or schools of thought, within Islam today, each of which attempts to address the problem of Islamic unity. These positions are found among both U.S. adversaries and partners in current overseas contingency operations.

Islam today is far from monolithic. It is manifested in many forms, reflecting multiple perspectives on how the faith is to achieve its universalization, on what jihad means, and on when, if ever, terrorist tactics are justifiable in defense of Islam. Traditionalist conceptions of Islam maintain the continuing applicability of Shari’ah as state law, and the potentiality for jihad as warfare, with an average of over 20 percent of Muslims in Muslim-majority nations finding terrorist acts at times justifiable in defense of Islam. Liberal and post-modern reformists, on the other hand, generally condemn violent jihad and seek peaceful relations with the West. An accurate assessment of Islam as power will inform that grand strategy and strategic vision on which effective national security policy rests.

A review of the national security policies of Presidents Bush and Obama demonstrates the incredible difficulty of bringing religion to bear within national security policy. Weighing the alternative paradigms of Religion as Freedom, Religion as Unity, and Religion as Ideology, the last paradigm appears to offer the greatest utility. It calls for a strategic vision that comprehends the power of Islam, it enables a nuanced understanding of Islamic groups based on their behavior, it facilitates a diversified continuum of policy rewards and consequences based on that behavior, and it refrains from violating the American tradition of the federal government neither advocating for nor judging a religion.

If religion is to gain currency within national security policy, many practical matters will need to be addressed. For example, how should religion impact campaign design, campaign planning, and strategic communications with internal and external audiences? Relative to various positions within Islam, U.S. policy makers will need to understand the conceptions of universalization to which various Islamic positions aspire. Even more, policy makers will need to determine how much active support or passive space the national interests of the United States can afford or allow toward the fulfillment of those aspirations. Knowing the parameters could amount to a national security imperative.

Finally, that religion will continue to matter, and matter a lot, in the national security challenges of the United States may be a bitter pill for secularist western liberals to swallow. Certain political advisers, academics, and senior leaders of the professions of arms may find it difficult to believe that many 21st century people are still motivated by religion, and that some are even willing to fight and die for their beliefs. Their incredulity is easy to document. National security policy statements, academic texts on cultural frameworks, and even military manuals on counterinsurgency doctrine can discuss their subject matter without examining religion as a power which motivates human behavior. The day has come to rethink assumptions and reengage in these critical arenas.

Introduction

When it comes to formulating national security policy today, religion may be regarded as the elephant in the room—we all know it’s there, but nobody really wants to talk about it.1 On the one hand, some U.S. policy makers and advisers have had concerns about granting religion a place at the table because its subject matter might not be appropriate. On the other hand, those who have been struggling to find a way to integrate religion into the post-9/11 discussion of national security have not yet found a fully satisfactory framework.

For some people, the perceived subjectivity of religion makes it an inappropriate element for national security policy. Some view religion as mere subjective preference, shaping personal choices about God and right and wrong. In contrast, they view national security policy as objective decision making, employing elements of national power against a real adversary. But consider Sun Tzu’s strategic dictum: “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in danger.”2 Here the so-called subjectivity-objectivity polarity collapses in favor of a subject-object distinction: know your enemy and know yourself. But what is such knowledge other than the perception of deeply rooted identity, values, interests, and sources of power—which, more often than not, touch on or even flow from religious traditions?

Others dissent from including religion within national security policy out of concern for compromising what many call “the American separation of church and state.” Because religion is spiritual, promoting an inner life springing from God—they argue—wouldn’t it be improper for the United States to speak to religion within its national security policy? Carl von Clausewitz’s anthropological framework for war suggests otherwise. In his paradoxical trinity, the people supply the emotions and passions of war.3 Because human emotions and passions are frequently founded on religion, why wouldn’t national security policy discuss the motivational power and effects of religion?

Still others judge religion to be too privatistic and idealistic to contribute anything meaningful in the national security world of deadly force and cut-and-thrust maneuvering. We must remember, however, that it is a distinctively liberal, western view that conceives of religion as a private affair divorced from daily life. Most societies see religion as related to individual identity, societal formation, and national values. Religion provides humanity with a framework for understanding the world, human meaning, and human conflict. Religion of necessity speaks to war and its conduct.4

In his masterpiece, The Quest for Holiness, Adolf Köberle sets forth the trajectories of the various world religions in their attempts to fulfill the human aspiration to overcome the pathos of this world. Köberle identifies this aspiration as humanity’s desire for sanctification—for acceptance and holiness before God.5 His introduction reads like a primer on human need which can drive to violence and perpetuate human conflict, and in that sense, like an introduction to the problem of national security.

The desire for sanctification is always first aroused in man when he has become conscious, in some painful way, of his lack of peace and the erring restlessness of his life. So the experiences of age and suffering, of sickness and death that surround us. . . . the realization of our moral weakness and uncleanliness, the continually repeated neglect of our duties toward our neighbor awakens a desire for supernatural strength and purity. . . . These are the momentous hours when we have come to the point that secular values can no longer satisfy us; when the need of aspiring to God is recognized and we unite in the longing cry that is the hidden theme of all human history: “Dona nobis pacem.”6

That religion and national security policy largely share a common base—the experience of human suffering, failed duties toward one’s neighbor, the hunger for enduring values, and the desire for peace—suggests an integrative approach for religion within national security policy. But how should religion and national security policy be integrated? If there is a place at the table for religion, where should it sit?

If religion is to enter the discussion, it must not do so in the form of advocacy, promoting one religion over another.7 Nor may it do so in the form of judgment, ruling on the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of a religion. Rather, religion must enter the discussion in the form of behavior.

Behavior matters—whether it is motivated by religious faith, nationalist commitment, or an empty stomach. And because behavior can support the interests of the United States or attack them, protect innocents or take their lives, our security requires that we understand behavior.

Religion is critically needed now in our national security discussions. We need to understand more clearly the way that religion can shape and motivate behavior. When it comes to our security, the behavior of our friends and our adversaries matters terribly.

Religion—not as a standard of belief, but as a power which drives human behavior—must be at the table if national security policy is to embrace the fullness of the human situation, formulate effective concepts, and yield enduring results. There is room for both a more nuanced consideration and a more comprehensive treatment of religion in U.S. national security policy. We need a workable framework that will provide such nuance and integration.

The struggle to locate that framework has taken the U.S. down a number of roads since the turn of the millennium, none of which has been totally satisfactory. President George W. Bush viewed freedom as a universal value, with religion as the preeminent freedom characterizing free, robust societies. With these assumptions, he viewed post-9/11 conflict with the Taliban and al-Qaeda as a battle over freedom. He believed that repressed Iraqis and Afghans would welcome the U.S. military as liberators bringing greater freedom, to include freedom of religion. President Bush’s assumptions were only partially validated. Part of the problem was the dissonance between a western concept of freedom to choose and worship God over against an Islamic concept to submit to God. “Religion as Freedom” did not offer the optimal framework.

Neither has President Barack Obama’s “Religion as Unity” framework solved the problem. President Obama has asserted a universal value regarding religion—that all religions are united by a moral law to care for one’s fellowman. Based on this assumption, President Obama has labeled terrorists as false Muslims, and also launched initiatives to honor Islam and resolve mutual misunderstandings through dialog with Muslim states. His efforts have succeeded partially, but radical traditionalist Muslims continue to fight, believing they are the pure practitioners of the faith. Also, President Obama’s framework has not accounted for the large numbers of Muslims in Muslim-majority countries who at times find terrorism to be justifiable.

An additional framework is needed, one that understands religion as power which is comprehended in grand strategy, and religion as behavior which is addressed in policy.

This paper proposes to locate that framework by examining the role of religion in national security policy since 9/11, dividing the topic into four parts.8 Part I helps define the potential scope of the interplay of religion and national security by projecting the question into the future. I examine the work of four recent historiographers, with special attention to their visions of the current and future world, and the role of religion with regard to human conflict.9

Because the US is currently engaged in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—both Islamic countries—part II provides an excursus on the power of Islam. As the religion of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but also of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and many other US allies, Islam is the religion under discussion today in matters of national security. In this section I explore the power of Islam by examining its history, different forms of jihad, various approaches to achieving Islamic unity, alignments within radical Islam and terrorist operations, and demographics that bear on Islamic identity and the extent of support for terrorism.

In part III, I examine the role of religion within the national security policies of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Based on their approaches, I present and evaluate two paradigms for integrating religion within national security policy—“Religion as Freedom” and “Religion as Unity.” I then offer a third paradigm—“Religion as Ideology”—in an attempt to relate a strategic vision which comprehends the power of Islam and translates it into a policy which accounts for religious behavior.

Part IV provides a summary and addresses certain practical questions that would need to be answered if the United States moves toward a comprehensive framework for religion, using the paradigm of Religion as Ideology. What changes might occur at the strategic and operational levels of war? What might be the way ahead?



Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 11:22