Religion, Culture, Values, Law and Public Support

Articles on Religion, Culture, Values, Law and Public Support:

Barnes, Rudolph C., Jr., chapters 1 & 3, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium.

Barnes, ____________, The Rule of Law and Civil Affairs in the Battle for Legitimacy, see in 2009 Military Legitimacy and Leadership Journal.

Barnes, ____________, Jesus and Muhammad: Allies in the Battle for Legitimacy, see in 2010 Military Legitimacy and Leadership Journal

Barnes, ____________, Legitimacy Lost: The Burning of the Koran and Mission Impossible in Afghanistan, April 8, 2011, See below:

El-Ansari, Waleed, Confronting the “Teachings” of Osama bin Laden, see in 2010 Military Legitimacy and Leadership Journal

Love, Janice, Disputes Over Morality in US Foreign Policy, see in 2010 Military Legitimacy and Leadership Journal.

Zais, Mitchell M., The Future of History: Context for American Foreign Policy, see in 2010 Military Legitimacy and Leadership Journal.

Legitimacy Lost: The Burning of the Koran and Mission Impossible in Afghanistan
By: Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr.

Terry Jones made the news again. This time Jones, the pastor of a small Florida congregation that calls itself the Dove World Outreach Center, did what he said he would not due last September, and on March 20, 2011, Jones burned a Koran—but without the publicity he generated last Fall. Then on April 1, 2011, seemingly out of nowhere, riots broke out in Afghanistan. Thousands of angry Muslims killed eight UN employees in Mazar, and over the next several days angry crowds surged throughout Afghanistan continuing to vent their anger toward the US and NATO over the Koran burning.

The riots and violence in Afghanistan indicate that the US has lost any legitimacy it might have had there, and legitimacy is essential to its counterinsurgency (COIN) mission. The legitimacy of US forces in COIN depends on public support in both the US and the area of operations. In the US support for COIN operations in Afghanistan has been dwindling over the last few years, and now it is obvious that there is little support among Afghans for the vast US military presence in their country. It makes little difference that tactical military objectives are achieved if strategic political objectives are lost. General Petraeus knows this since he wrote the book on COIN operations.1

This strategic failure is not the fault of US and NATO military forces. They have accomplished their assigned missions, and while there has been collateral damage associated with combat missions, there have been no atrocities such as My Lai or Abu Ghraib to compromise US legitimacy in Afghanistan. The primary reason for the loss of military legitimacy has been the continued presence of large deployments of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2001. Even if they are providing security for the Afghan people, they are considered infidels who have outworn their initial welcome.

There is an irony here. Unlike the US invasion of Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan was considered legitimate—even by most Afghans; but that legitimacy has dissipated over time primarily because of religious and cultural differences exacerbated by the pervasive presence of US and NATO military forces. In this hostile cultural environment the window for military legitimacy has closed; US COIN operations cannot succeed since they depend upon winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Perhaps that is just as well, since the government we are supporting has little legitimacy due to election fraud, drug profiteering and endemic corruption, and the Afghan security forces we are creating at great expense in US blood and billions of dollars will likely be controlled by forces hostile to US security interests—whether the Karzai government, the Taliban or the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI), which has manipulated Afghan governments over the years. Given the loss of legitimacy, there seem to be no good reasons for the US and NATO to continue COIN operations in Afghanistan.

But if the battle for legitimacy has been lost in Afghanistan, it is still undecided in other parts of the world.

The battle for legitimacy between religions and their rules of law

In Afghanistan the failure of legitimacy can be attributed to competing cultures, religions and their rules of law. Pastor Jones burned a Koran in the US without violating the law or even attracting the attention of the press. While it was a hateful act deserving moral condemnation, it was legally permissible as a form of free expression under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. In Muslim nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the same act would be a form of blasphemy and a capital offense.

The blasphemy laws common in Muslim nations conflict with those fundamental civil and human rights guaranteed to all citizens in progressive democracies. The crime of blasphemy cannot coexist with fundamental human rights, which include the freedoms of religion, speech and expression. So long as there are Muslim nations that have blasphemy laws there will be a continuing battle for legitimacy between them and those progressive democracies that guarantee their citizens these fundamental human rights.

This battle for legitimacy is for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world. Islam is the world’s second largest religion, and history provides evidence that progressive cultures can transform fundamentalist Islamism into more moderate forms of Islam that are congenial to democracy, human rights and a flexible rule of law. The US is a prime example; blasphemy laws once existed in the Puritan states of colonial America.2

Cultures shape religious doctrines just as religions shape cultural values. The moderate forms of Islam prevalent in progressive democracies contrast with the fundamentalist forms of Islamism prevalent in the tribal cultures in the Middle East and Africa. Moderate Muslims embrace individual freedom and democratic laws in the West, while Islamists embrace an inflexible Islamic law (Shari’a) that has given divine sanction to tribal traditions that have oppressed women. Democratic Muslim nations like Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia acknowledge Shari’a, but give precedence to human rights.

If militant Islamists have their way and polarize Jews and Christians against all Muslims, religious hatred and violence will escalate and threaten holy war. On the other hand, if moderate Muslims, Jews and Christians find and share their sacred common ground (see, then militant Islamists will be isolated and moderate Muslims can define their faith as one of peace and reconciliation, enabling Islam to embrace democracy, human rights and a progressive rule of law around the world.

The abominable action of Pastor Terry Jones burning the Koran and the violent reaction in Afghanistan should be a wake-up call. They demonstrated how religion and the rule of law shape concepts of political and military legitimacy. This is a major factor in any future US military operation in a Muslim country, but it has even broader implications. In a globalized world that is pushing people of different faiths closer together, finding peace and reconciliation will require a better understanding of how competing religions shape their rules of law. Jews, Christians and Muslims must reconcile their religions to a progressive rule of law that provides for democracy and fundamental human rights.

End Notes:

1. See Counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, Headquarters, Department of the Army, December 2006. This operational manual for the US Army and Marine Corps was prepared under the direction of General Petraeus and describes legitimacy as the main objective in COIN in the first of the historic principles of COIN, which are set forth in paras 1-113 through 1-136. The concept of military legitimacy and its relationship to public support is defined and explained in Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, Frank Cass, 1996, chapters 2 and 3, and in Barnes, The Rule of Law and Civil Affairs in the Battle for Legitimacy, 2009 Journal on Military Legitimacy and Leadership (see notes 1-4). The Barnes book and article are posted at

2. The 1650 Code of Laws of Connecticut provided: “Whosoever shall worship any other God than the Lord shall surely be put top death,” and was followed by other enactments taken verbatim from the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. As to the enforcement of this colonial law, Alexis DeTocqueville noted: “The consequence was that the punishment of death was never more frequently prescribed by statute, and never more rarely enforced towards the guilty.” DeTocqueville observed in his 1834 tour of America that religion and liberty were dominant forces in American culture even though they were often in conflict. See Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1, The Co-Operative Publication Society, New York and London, 1900, pp 37-43.

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