The unique demands of the nation’s highest office conflict with orthodox Islamic teaching.
Does Charles Krauthammer get Islam wrong because he gets the Constitution wrong? Or does he get the Constitution wrong because he gets Islam wrong?
This conundrum comes to the fore — and not for the first time — after Dr. Krauthammer’s serial denunciations of Dr. Ben Carson. In a Sunday Meet the Press interview, Carson opined that Islam is inconsistent with the United States Constitution and, therefore, that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” — meaning he would not recommend that voters elect a Muslim president.
My great respect for Charles Krauthammer having been oft expressed, I will refrain from the usual throat-clearing. Precisely because he is so influential, and we are in such perilous times, I must dissent from an argument that is constitutionally wayward and, on Islam, willfully blind.
To his credit, Krauthammer does not flatly misstate the Constitution, as did some of Carson’s rivals in the GOP nomination chase. Making like a CAIR echo chamber, they frivolously accused Carson of violating the Constitution’s prohibition against establishing a “religious test” for holding public office. (CAIR, the Council on American–Islamic Relations, is a Muslim Brotherhood–created press agent for Islamic supremacism masquerading as a civil-rights group. It predictably called on Carson to withdraw.)
Krauthammer’s argument is more sophisticated and more dangerous — a bellwether of how progressive constitutional jurisprudence corrupts the thinking of even brilliant conservative analysts. He writes:
Ben Carson did not say Muslims are unfit to hold public office. He said he does not think a Muslim should be president. “Congress,” he elaborated, “is a different story.” He might very well vote for a Muslim to serve in the legislature, with the caveat that it would depend on “who that Muslim is and what their policies are” — same as with anyone “of any faith.”
If we are to explore the Constitution as a didactic document, the distinction Carson draws between the presidency and other high offices is worth pondering. It reflects the actual reasoning of the framers — which had nothing to do with keeping faith out of the voting booth.
Neither literally nor in spirit does the Constitution forbid automatic disqualifications for the presidency based on an American’s status. Recognizing that they had created a uniquely powerful office the abuse of which could gravely damage or even destroy the republic, the framers took pains to limit eligibility to “natural born” citizens. Is the Constitution trying to teach us that naturalized citizens cannot love our country every bit as much as those fortunate enough to be born here? Of course not. It is drawing a common-sense line.
We don’t get to choose where we are born. One’s belief system, by contrast, is a personal choice by the time one is an adult. Islam is not a foreign nationality, but it is a foreign belief system, core tenets of which are counter-constitutional. So consider this: A person may not be president if he was born in Canada, brought here two weeks later, naturalized as a child, and loves America as the only country he has ever known. Is it really “morally outrageous,” then, to opine that a person should not be president if he has made an adult decision to adhere to a belief system that, in its classical interpretation, runs afoul of the Constitution — even if he is an authentically moderate, pro-American Muslim who, in his own mind, has bleached away these offensive aspects of Islam?
Here we arrive at political correctness: the verbal gymnastics by which Krauthammer, like most Washington pols and pundits, consciously avoids Islam’s ills. In condemning Carson on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, he inveighed:
There are sundry interpretations of Islam. Yet, for our limited national-security and liberty-preserving purposes, it is undeniable — except to those who are in terminal denial — that a mainstream interpretation of Islam rejects the foundations of our Constitution, beginning with our core premise that the people are sovereign and may govern themselves irrespective of the totalitarian dictates of sharia.
It makes no difference to us whether this mainstream interpretation of Islam is a faithful rendering — much less the faithful rendering. For our purposes, what matters is that many millions of Muslims, rightly or wrongly, adhere to this construction. One need not fancy himself an Islamic scholar to see that it derives from Islamic scripture, although Dr. Krauthammer must know that there is no shortage of globally influential Islamic scholars who vouch for this literalist fundamentalism — see, e.g., Reliance of the Traveller, the classic sharia manual endorsed by the faculty at Cairo’s al-Azhar University (the seat of Islamic learning since the tenth century) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (the Muslim Brotherhood’s American think tank, whose self-proclaimed mission is “the Islamization of knowledge”).
No one is denying that there are millions of Muslims, including scholars, who are repulsed by this interpretation. We are fortunate to have many of them living in our country as solid American citizens — some even serving in the armed forces. But this does not change the facts that (a) many Muslims living in our country adhere to supremacist Islam and (b) those who do not are rightly seen as reformers and modernizers — which is welcome but only underscores that mainstream Islam needs reform and modernizing.
What most cries out for reform and modernization are those aspects of Islam that defy the principles of liberty and equality safeguarded by our Constitution. The job is perilous because those who seek to change ingrained aspects of Islam take their lives in their hands. The reformers merit our admiration, and it is in our interest to help them try to succeed. It is also in our interest, though, to realize that they may not succeed, and that we must protect our country in any event.
The presidency is also unique because it is the only office for which the Constitution prescribes an oath. The president must swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Given that a mainstream interpretation of Islam requires Muslims to follow sharia, and that classical sharia is antithetical to our Constitution, there is no moral outrage in recognizing the dilemma the oath could pose for a devout Muslim.
There is wisdom, not shame, in concluding that we’d rather not have to worry about the potentially divided loyalties of a Muslim president, just as the Constitution relieves us of worry over the potentially divided loyalties of a foreign-born president.
Like naturalized citizens, Muslims can be extraordinary Americans. But until Islam is reformed in such a way that a pluralistic, pro-liberty Islam is the world’s dominant Islam — and Islamic supremacism is the marginal exception, not the all-too-familiar rule — it is perfectly reasonable for Ben Carson, and any other American, to oppose the idea of a Muslim president of the United States.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.