Think Tanks Wrapup

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Acton Institute


(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom, and personal moral responsibility.)

Islam and Freedom

By Imad A. Ahmad

Islam is the stereotype of the unknowable "Other" in the West today. Yet the commonality between Islam and Christianity is greater than the difference. The legacy of Crusades fought long ago lends itself to more recent political interests and ambitions that obscure that commonality.

There is, no doubt, an important theological difference between Islam and Christianity: the belief held by Christians of the divinity of Christ is not held by Muslims. Yet, Muslims revere Jesus (peace be upon him) as an outstanding Prophet and Messiah, and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Christian community as "People of the Book" (i.e., as recipients of an earlier revelation).


Additionally, the Koran (which every Muslim believes to be the actual Word of God) states: "Nearest among [people] in love to the believers will you find those who say: 'We are Christians.' That, because among them are [people] devoted to learning and [people] who have renounced the world and they are not arrogant" (Qur'an 5:85).

In the light of these facts the theological differences between these two great religions are insufficient grounds for the past violent hostility that has often occurred between the two groups or for future conflicts, which some prognosticators appear to be fashioning as self-fulfilling prophecy.

For Christians who believe that their religion mandates a free society, there is a commonality between their understanding of Christianity and Koranic Islam that is of fundamental importance: the value of human liberty under a rule of law. This idea is unmistakable in the fundamental teachings of Islam. Further, there is circumstantial evidence that contact with Islam in the Middle Ages triggered the awareness among Western Christians of these inherent factors in their religion.

This idea has been touched on in, for example, Rose Wilder Lane's chapter on Islam in "The Discovery of Freedom," and my book, "Signs in the Heavens." The practical subordination of the "divine right of kings" to a higher law in the west is commonly dated to the Magna Carta. Were not the nobles, persecuted by King John, impressed by what King Richard's troops in the Holy Land saw in the example of Salahuddin (Saladin) who, following Islamic principles, subjected himself to the Islamic law?


For most of the period from the 8th to the 15th centuries, "world trade" and "Muslim economy" were almost synonymous. Muslims freely produced and circulated literature including pre-Islamic Greek, Persian, and Hindu works. Muslim creativity was manifested in scientific and technological breakthroughs that included the development of algebra, the invention of spherical trigonometry, the discovery of the circulation of the blood, and the development of the sugar-refining industry.

The Muslims introduced pluralism to statecraft by treating peaceful non-Muslim groups as protected minorities. Their internal affairs were governed by their own laws to a degree unmatched even in modern secular states. While Christians under Muslim jurisdiction have been permitted wine for their sacraments, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied American Indians a constitutional right to peyote use in their religious ceremonies.

The Islamic view of nature and of free will carries within it the necessity of a liberal political doctrine. In Islamic metaphysics, this earth is the stage on which our own willingness to submit to Divine Will is tested. To test each human being, it is necessary that people have the freedom to choose between good and evil.

This imperative is seen in the Koran's repeated admonition to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that his sole duty is to preach the clear message. He should neither force people to accept it nor grieve over their rejection of it: "Invite [all] to the Path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation; and his Path and your Lord knows best who is rightly-guided. And if you retaliate [in argument], retaliate no worse than they attack you. But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course for those who are patient. And do be patient, for your patience is but from God; nor grieve over them; and distress them; and distress yourself not because of their [rhetorical] schemes. Truly, God is with those who are conscious of Him [restraining themselves] and those who do good" (16:125-128).


The fountainhead of Islamic law, the Koran, directs obedience to the Prophet only "in any just matter" (e.g., 60:12) and warned him "nor art thou set over them to dispose of their affairs" (39:41): "So if they dispute with you, then say 'I have submitted my face [whole self] to God and so have those who follow me.' And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned 'Do you also submit yourselves?' If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, your [only] duty is to convey the Message; And in God's sight are all His servants" (3:20).

The Koran declares absolutely that "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256). God is sufficient to bring down the consequences of people's evil action upon them. "Then leave Me alone with such as reject this Message: by degrees shall We punish them from directions they perceive not" (68:44). "Leave Me alone, (to deal) with the (creature) whom I created (bare and) alone" (74:11).

For men to submit their wills to other men -- whether those others are clerics or the "majority" -- violates the fundamental premise of Islam. The word "Islam" is Arabic for "submission to God" alone. Then, obedience to the ruler is conditional on whether his commands are just. In his inaugural address as the first Caliph, Abu Bakr reflected an attitude in sharp contrast to that of political leaders before Islam: "Now it is beyond doubt that I have been elected your Amir, although I am not better than you. Help me, if I am right; set me right if I am in the wrong; truth is a trust; falsehood a treason ... Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet; when I disobey God and His Prophet, then obey me not."


Because the Koran recognizes that man is at once rational, volitional, acquisitive, and ethical, it encourages free trade and economic progress. It prescribes moderation as the means of attaining success in this world and the next (see, e.g., verses 7:31-32, 18:46 and 17:29). It asserts that man can and should act to provide for existence on this material plane without sacrificing his moral sensibilities. Reasonable consumption is encouraged (2:168), while niggardliness (35:29), wastefulness (6:141) and extravagance (17:27) are condemned. The desire for a livelihood (4:5), for comfort (42:36), even for ornament and adornment (18:46) or protection from future uncertainty (4:9) in this world is never called evil. Private property is protected (2:188). The fulfillment of obligations is commanded (2, 177;5:1) and contract law detailed (e.g., 2:282-283). Fraud is prohibited (26:181) and clear standards of weights and measures called for (55:9).

These principles were developed by Islamic legal scholars into a politico-economic system that thrived and dominated world markets for over seven hundred years. By the 14th century, Islamic economic theory had reached full flower in Ibn Khaldun's incomparable "Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History."

Ibn Khaldun concluded that the following were the legitimate functions of government: (1) defense of the community from enemy attacks; (2) enforcement of restraining laws among the people, to prevent mutual hostility and attacks upon property (including improving the safety of the roads); (3) induce the people to act in their own best interests, and ... supervise general matters involving their livelihood and mutual dealings to prevent fraud; (4) oversee the mint to prevent fraud in currency; (5) exercise political leadership.


Ironically, Ibn Khaldun's elucidation of the economic principles that had made Islamic society economically successful came as that society was abandoning those principles. Political leaders, then as now prone to corruption, began interventions into the economy, gradually developing a loss of respect for private property and individual liberty. Muslim scholars, who until the thirteenth century had been largely independent of the government, were no longer permitted to engage in original thought (called ijtihad).

The high-water mark was followed by the loss of Spain to the nascent West, whose reformers had picked up the Islamic concepts. These Western scholars were either reformers who saw justification for the new view of human freedom in original Christian doctrine from which the Church had strayed, or revolutionaries who imagined a conflict between religion and human freedom.

As the West rose, the Muslim world declined to its present state. Freedom and morality are inseparable. Piety is an act of volition. One can only be good if one chooses to be good. In Islam, the order for a just (and therefore free) society is a religious requirement. Coercion is only for defense of rights: "To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;--and verily God is most powerful for their aid;--(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right--(for no cause) except that they say, 'Our Lord is God.' Did God not check one people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques ... " (22:39-40).


Ibn Khaldun summed up the interplay of freedom and morality when he said: "Those who, of their own free will and without any compulsion, act according to the Koran and the Sunnah [the practice of the Prophet] wear the turban of freedom."

(Dr. Imad Ahmad is president of Imad-ad-Dean, Inc. a scientific research corporation, and author of "Signs in the Heavens: A Moslem Astronomer's Perspective on Religion and Science.")

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National Center for Policy Analysis

(NCPA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization whose goal is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector.)

Nixon Era Policies Bush Should Scuttle

By Bruce Bartlett

My old friend Burt Pines always used to say that Richard Nixon did many things for which he deserved impeachment and removal from office, but none of them had anything to do with Watergate. Burt was particularly down on Nixon for signing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. It was worse than unilateral disarmament, he said, because it only restricted our ability to defend ourselves.

Now, to his great credit, George W. Bush has ended the ABM Treaty. Having taken the first step toward ridding America of Nixon's legacy, I think he should move forward and get rid of the rest. There is, in fact, a great deal of Mr. Nixon's ill -- conceived legislation still on the books, policies still in place and institutions still operating that all should go the way of the ABM Treaty.


In this short space, there is not room the list all of Nixon's misguided domestic and economic policies. Following are some of the worst.

Affirmative Action. During the Kennedy and Johnson years, affirmative action simply meant that government contractors should make an extra effort to recruit minorities where possible. In 1969, Nixon put forward the "Philadelphia Plan," which required strict quotas for minorities on federal construction projects. Later, this policy was extended to all government contracting. Thus it was Nixon who first converted affirmative action from a relatively benign policy into the rigid quota system that we have come to identify with it today.

Taxes. During the 1968 campaign, Nixon promised that he would allow the 10 percent surtax to expire as scheduled on June 30, 1969. Almost immediately after taking office, however, he asked Congress to extend it, thereby raising taxes. Moreover, to pick up Democratic votes, he offered to repeal the Investment Tax Credit as well, thereby raising the cost of capital for every business in America. When this failed to attract enough Democrats, Nixon sweetened the pot by putting forward a tax reform plan designed to soak the rich. Among its worst features was an increase in the capital gains tax.


Budget. Nixon supported the biggest increase in domestic spending of any president in the 20th century. One of his worst mistakes was to permanently index Social Security benefits to inflation, something never contemplated by the originators of the program. In 1974, Nixon also signed into law legislation abolishing the de facto line item veto authority enjoyed by every president up until then. Thus the uncontrollability of the federal budget and accompanying deficits owe their origin to Nixon's policies.

Regulation. Much of the crushing federal regulation of business got its start under Nixon. Among the agencies that he created are the Environmental Protection Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The vast costs imposed on the economy by these alphabet agencies have reduced productivity and wage growth for a generation, making every American poorer as a result.

Inflation. Nixon blamed the Federal Reserve for losing the White House in 1960, and he was determined to make sure it didn't happen again. At his earliest opportunity, he got rid of hard- money man William McChesney Martin as Fed chairman, replacing him with easy-money man Arthur Burns. Burns pumped up the money supply to create a false prosperity. When inflation increased, Nixon forever broke the dollar's link to gold, ended fixed exchange rates, and imposed wage and price controls. These actions led to the rise of OPEC and put prices, interest rates and exchange rates on a roller coaster that continues to the present day.


The sad thing is that almost all of this was done for a single reason: to get Nixon re-elected in 1972. It wasn't done out of ideological conviction, as Johnson's Great Society was, nor out of economic necessity, as Roosevelt's New Deal was. Nixon ruined the American economy for decades to come just so he could be president for another four years, and then he only got two.

The truth of the matter is that Richard Nixon was, perhaps, the most left-wing president in history in terms of domestic and economic policy. His reputation as a right-winger rests almost entirely on his role in exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent back in the 1940s. For this, the left vilified Nixon to his dying day, which forced conservatives to support him even though be betrayed them.

I believe George Bush should make it his mission to undo as much of Nixon's mischief as possible. He has made a good start by dumping the ABM Treaty, but there is much more to be done.

(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.)

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