Pope Benedict XVI, in his Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 18 April 2008, stated:
It is evident … that the rights recognized and expounded in the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.
The emphasis on the universality of God’s design for human beings was to put human rights into the context of stability and continuity, which the state must safeguard and foster, especially in today’s globalized world. This was articulated in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson as the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”—an archaic English term for the divine precepts and the natural law—and thereby became the foundation of liberty and freedom in the West.
Jefferson and the American Founding Fathers, while not recognizing any established religion in the newly created United States, realized that in order to enact laws that would ensure the ‘unalienable’ and ‘self-evident’ natural rights, they could not separate themselves from God and his natural law. But today, the Western body politic has altogether abandoned that natural law, while continuing to promote and foster a partial understanding of human rights.
While both natural and human rights are nearly synonymous, the former are based on nature (i.e. they are inherent to the human person), while the latter do not necessarily have to be. For example, the state may recognize the right of a woman to abort the infant in her womb or may concede to two persons of the same sex the faculty to contract a marriage.
While the state may recognize and protect abortion or same sex marriage as a human right, it is not a natural one because both contradict the laws of nature. The first example violates the inalienable right to life of a person who is not able to fend for him or herself. The second transgresses the universal understanding and acceptance of a man and woman uniting in fidelity with the end of procreating and properly forming their progeny.
Consequential to all this is the firm foothold that Islam has gained in Western society. Muslims have collectively reacted to the fundamental “national, religious, cultural, and even gender identities [that] are being denied or relativized”. As a community, they refute modern Western politics, which they see as unfairly treating a family with many children as equal (juridically speaking) to same sex marriages. Because of this, the Western body politic—and multilateral organizations such as the UN and the European Union—have created a moral vacuum in society whereby the selfishness that today characterizes individualism is favored over natural rights.
In like manner, there is contumacy to the concept of nature and the natural law in Islam, which is based on the individual’s submission to Allah notwithstanding a want of an objective rational order. In other words, the cause of the Islamic dilemma of today stems from the fact that Allah’s laws do not have to conform themselves to any natural and rational order.
In his 2011 book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, Robert R. Reilly writes:
The good of the acts of those morally responsible is what the Lawgiver (Allah or His Messenger) has indicated is ego by permitting it or asking it be done. And the bad is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not to be done. The good is not what reason considers good, nor the bad what reason considers bad. The measure of good and bad, according to according to this school of thought, is the Sacred Law [sharia], not reason.
In part because of ‘political correctness’, the contemporary socio-political doctrine of sharia—the Islamic law in which Muslims find both constancy and unity—has successfully inserted itself into the West as a legitimate juridical structure. Despite the fact that sharia discourages any proper development of human rights—such as freedom of speech and of religion—or that it fails to recognize the equality between man and woman, Western officials remain reluctant to criticize it. They refuse to publicly admit that it not only justifies the illegitimate use of force but requires that all human beings subjugate themselves to it. This is something that is even stipulated in Article 24 of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.”
Much of the Islamist crusade in the West has already curbed freedom of speech in countries like the UK. Groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations have even gotten government officials in the U.S. to capitulate to similar restrictions. According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, public adherence to Islamic law should be considered “an impermissible act of sedition [and] prosecuted”. Instead, it has increasingly been protected by federal and state laws.
Such religious proliferation is not true freedom of speech or religion but a violation of it. A so-called religious institution should forfeit its right to exercise its faith if it actively promotes hatred, violence, and insurrection. Stoppage of this is not achieved by dialogue, such as Pope Francis’ interreligious dialogue, but by action. As with the suppression of the Barbary Pirates by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805, who took action in order to rescue Americans who had been captured and enslaved by the Barbary pirates in Libya, sometimes action is required. And sometimes action necessitates the use of force, even if it is preemptive, in order to defend the innocent and protect society from extremist movements.
In the end, however, true action is remedied by embedding in society the Judeo-Christian West’s notion of the fundamental importance of the family. This calls for its tutelage and promotion on the part of states and civil society actors, with the end of procreating and properly educating all offspring. Notwithstanding the complexities that stem from both charismatic and visible dimensions of life, the irrevocable treasures that the family has to offer are to be continually approached and respected without any prejudice, with the understanding that they are not just an ideal but a reality to be embraced.
This requires us to make judgments about what the rule of law is and what it commands. It enjoins people from every path of life to understand that the law is derived from God—and that, consequently, everyone is endowed with certain unalienable rights that must be safeguarded and promoted. Perhaps then, notwithstanding the existing irreconcilable differences with Muslims, reaching a common ground with Muslims on some specific issues is possible—even if we must recognize that we may arrive at some juncture someday where, after walking a part of the road together, the two paths must separate once more.