Michael Gerson
WASHINGTON -- On the issue of Muslims serving in public office, every explanation by presidential candidate Herman Cain becomes a complication. In three instances Cain affirmed that Muslims would not be allowed to serve in his Cabinet or administration. "Many of the Muslims," he explained, "they're not totally dedicated to this country." Cain then amended his remarks to say that, while Muslims would be allowed to serve, they should be subject to "extra precautions" not applied to Catholics or Mormons.

It is unclear what this would mean in practice. Presidential appointees already swear an oath of the loyalty to the Constitution. I took mine in 2001 in the East Room of the White House -- a solemn and sobering affair. High-ranking officials are subject to an extensive FBI background check, including the disclosure of every place one has lived and every country one has visited. FBI agents questioned an elderly, frightened woman who had been my neighbor 15 years before. She denied ever having laid eyes on me. Cabinet secretaries are given the added scrutiny of a Senate hearing, based on endless pages of intrusive, written questions.

So what additional level of scrutiny, what addendum to the loyalty oath, should be imposed on Muslims? A requirement to forswear sharia law? But what definition, what interpretation of sharia law?

Cain's statement is reminiscent of another made by liberal financier George Soros in 2004 -- a similarity which would presumably disturb Cain. "The separation of church and state," Soros said, "is clearly undermined by having a born-again president. Our concern about Islamic fundamentalism is that there's no separation between church and state, yet we are about to erode that here." A president, in this view, must not only be born in the United States but born only once. The intolerant certainty of ethical monotheism is itself a disqualification.

Cain and Soros make the same error. There are, of course, theological expressions of Islam and conservative Christianity that are inconsistent with pluralism -- either Wahhabi Saudi Arabia or John Calvin's Geneva. There are also traditions consistent with pluralism. Sharia law may be interpreted as the replication of seventh-century Medina. It may also be viewed as a moral norm or conception of justice that is variously applied in systems of human law.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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