We have to engage Muslims, he said, in this important national debate. I might add, with polls showing that 61 percent of Muslims in Great Britain say U.S. efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden are not justified, and that fully 40 percent believe his war against the United States is justifiable -- along with numerous emerging anecdotes about American Muslims angry at the war on terrorism -- that that need is certainly pressing.
For many people, including Clinton, the dividing line -- what makes Islam problematic to assimilate into the cultural life of Western nations -- is truth itself. Those who possess the truth, he fears or believes, are free to kill even innocents in its defense, to impose the truth on disbelievers, if necessary with box cutters. As he put it so eloquently:
"This battle fundamentally is about what you think of the nature of truth, the value of life, and the content of community. You're at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth, ever, because you're human. It's part of being a human being. It's part of the limitation imposed on us by God. We are incapable of ever having the whole truth. They believe they got it. Because we don't believe you can have the whole truth, we think everybody counts and life is a journey."
Why do we believe in religious liberty, in democracy and in human rights? Here is one argument: The reason we believe in these procedural values is that we know that we do not have the truth. Our ignorance is the only guard against intolerance and violence. Once we know moral truth, we become moral monsters. I have heard this profoundly pessimistic argument (masquerading as idealism) all my adult life. "Who are you to say?" has been the standard '70s refrain to anyone who wanted to make a moral argument about the superiority of one way of living, or behaving, to any other.
President Clinton describes what he finds problematic about many versions of Islam:
"They believe that because they have the truth, you either share their truths or you don't. If you're not a Muslim, you're an infidel. If you are and you don't agree with them, you're a heretic, and you're a legitimate target."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.