Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The Hudson Institute has published a series of Presidential Transition Papers providing recommendations and advice to the Obama administration. Nina Shea’s The Contest of Ideas with Radical Islam:The Centrality of the Idea of Religious Freedom and Tolerance is worth particular attention.

Shea opens with a quote from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:”There is little doubt that eventual success in the conflict against jihadist extremism will depend less on the results of individual military engagements and more on the overall ideological climate within the world of Islam.”

Shea agrees, but then add the following indictment of the Bush administration:

The issue of religious freedom and intolerance is at the heart of the ideological struggle with jihadist terror. All jihadist orthodoxies hold the core animating belief of absolute intolerance for the religious “other.” While former President Bush frequently spoke about his own religious faith and at times spoke out for religious freedom, particularly in China, his administration adopted few policies to specifically advance religious freedom in the Muslim world despite the exponential spread of Islamic extremist thought over the past eight years. As a result, the battle of ideas that the Secretary of Defense has identified as so crucial has barely been joined.

She is, I think, quite right about the dismal state of our public diplomacy and our failure in the “war of ideas.”

But the problem is not merely about winning hearts and minds, abroad, as it were. She is also concerned about the state of “Muslim outreach” in America:

Muslim outreach at home for much of the Bush administration had been limited only to those who claim to speak for all Muslims, or those Muslim organizations with the most funding, usually involving Gulf sources, and the largest publicity machines. American Muslim minorities and dissidents-in-exile have been repeatedly excluded from official government Islamic ceremonies and other events.

When former President Bush, for example, gave his major address to the American Muslim community in 2007, he did so at the Saudi-linked Washington Islamic Center and delegated the invitation list to the Center’s management; prominent American Muslim dissidents and Shiite, Sufi, and other minority group representatives were not invited.

Shea says, rightly that the Obama administration will have many opportunities to work to change the “hostile ideology undergirding jihad terror through soft power policies” and to “stand up for religious freedom and oppose punishment for apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, and related religious offenses.”

Giving Muslim “dissidents”—those who publicly and fearlessly advocate a robust view of religious freedom not just here, but also in the Muslim Middle East—a privileged place at the “Muslim outreach” table would be a great place to start.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles