A truck driver in France used his vehicle this past week to kill scores of people. Here are some thoughts.
- The incident was probably not a terror related crime. ISIS claimed that it inspired the truck driver, an immigrant from Tunisia who has lived in France most of his life. The French police, however, described the driver as a delinquent. Furthermore, the driver did not attend mosque nor give any indication that he practiced any version of Islam. Importantly, the truck driver appears not to have had a political agenda so his crime, by definition, cannot have been a terror crime.
- The incident has evoked bigoted, inflammatory, and ignorant responses. Probably the worst was that of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. He proposed a loyalty test for US citizens who are Muslims and deporting those who believe in Sharia law. That proposal has multiple major flaws:
- A loyalty test for Muslims is patently unconstitutional, egregiously violating their first amendment rights. I'm a Christian priest but find many versions of Sharia law very ethical and congruent with ethics in other religious traditions, including Christianity. If the US deports Muslims for their beliefs, nothing will prevent the US subsequently deporting members of other religions for their beliefs.
- Many versions of Sharia exist. Some US citizens who are Muslims not only believe in Sharia law but also already adhere to it, using it to guide their practice of Islam in ways analogous to how the Torah guides the practice of Judaism for Orthodox Jews and others. Only the most radical versions of Sharia call for overthrow of the law of the land. Gingrich's proposal would presumably depot Muslim citizens regardless of the version of Sharia they advocate. This represents a grievous error since some Muslims who live by Sharia are outstanding, highly decorated, and patriotic members of the US armed forces who have voluntarily gone into harm's way to defend the rest of us.
- A nation state deporting its citizens is highly problematic under international law. No other state has any obligation to accept US citizens that the US deports. Where would we send them?
- Branding every mass killing a terrorist incident may be convenient but is counterproductive. Characterizing the incident as terrorism unhelpfully exacerbates terrorism related fears and misdirects future efforts to prevent similar types of crimes. I expect that probably one or more of the people killed in Nice were Muslim. A Muslim killing Muslims violates Sharia.
- Muslims have lived and practiced their religion in what became the US since before the American Revolution. Islam is not the problem. Analogously, nobody has proposed giving all Christians a loyalty test, deporting those who adhere to interpretations of Christianity that advocate terrorism, e.g., white supremacy, pro-slavery, or anti-abortion – all views that have given rise to Christian terror groups operating in the US.
Rather than waste time on patently foolish propositions, we will do better to promote efforts to respect the dignity and worthy of every person. Genuine respect for diversity and pursuing a chimera of ideological purity is the only viable foundation on which to build enduring communities of peace and prosperity.