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We are told by some that the “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world is not really a clash between civilizations but a clash within the Islamic world itself. This is really a fight for “authentic Islam” between the Islamists and, for lack of a better term, “moderate Islam.”

Since the Islamists believe they are permitted, indeed obliged, by their canonical religious texts to use terrorism to advance their agenda, you would think that it would be in the national interest of the United States that “moderate Islam” prevails in this internal struggle. In fact, as just about any expert will tell you, the primary goal of public diplomacy efforts should be to separate the jihadists from the broader non-jihadist Muslim population. To put it crudely, we want one side of this controversy within Islam to win and another to lose.

But that creates a problem because if, as a matter of public policy, we want the moderate (non-Islamist) side to win we would be promoting with public money one religion (moderate Islam) over another (radical Islamism). But if we promote one religion over another we have, according to some of our more brilliant Constitutional scholars, violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on laws respecting the Establishment of religion.

But who, you may ask, in their right mind could suggest that siding with non-violent moderate Muslims against violent jihadists constitutes an “establishment of religion?” Well, evidently, the lawyers over at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Take, for example this Washington Post piece, ” In Fighting Radical Islam, Tricky Course for U.S. Aid “:

Three years ago, while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kyrgyzstan, Clifford H. Brown came across an idea that he thought could help stem the spread of radical Islam in the Central Asian nation.

The University of Montana had proposed translating Islamic writings from Persian and Arabic into the local Uzbek and Kyrgyz languages. Brown hoped the translations could have a moderating influence at a time when a conservative Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, was expanding its influence in the region.

“Islam has a large body of moderate literature saying, for example, that suicide is a sin against Allah,” he later wrote in a paper describing his efforts to fund the initiative. “Not a bad idea, I thought at the time.”

But USAID lawyers rejected the proposal, saying that using taxpayer funds would violate a provision in the First Amendment barring the government’s promotion of religion. The agency also prohibited Brown from publishing the opinion piece, which laid out his case for the proposal, according to Brown and a senior USAID official. A USAID lawyer said publication of the paper would have violated government restrictions on disclosure of privileged information.


Of course, the First Amendment does not prohibit “the government’s promotion of religion.” What it prohibits is an establishment of religion.

“As U.S. policymakers seek to curtail the influence of radical Islam, they are being increasingly hamstrung by legal barriers, some experts say.” You think! The brilliant government lawyers over at USAID are telling us that in using public funds to translate Islamic writings on suicide from Persian and Arabic into Uzbek and Krygz constitutes an “establishment of religion.” You might say this is the reductio ad absurdum of strict separationist establishment clause jurisprudence. Or, you might just say that the lawyers over at USAID just have no common sense. Or both.

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