by Amos N. Guiora. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 174pp. Cloth. $85.00. ISBN: 9780195389258.

Reviewed by John C. Blakeman, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Email: John.Blakeman [at]


Professor Amos Guiora’s book FREEDOM FROM RELIGION: RIGHTS AND NATIONAL SECURITY addresses religious extremism and the threat is poses to national security and public order. Guiora is a former military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp of the Israeli Defense Force and draws upon his own personal experiences. The book is readable and engaging, and perhaps most of all very provocative.

Guiora states outright that religious extremism is “the greatest danger faced by the liberal state today”(p.ix). He focuses his efforts on “how a liberal society protects itself against religious extremism,” and has several “concrete recommendations” for how liberal states should protect themselves from religious extremists and ideas that threaten to undermine and destroy liberal societies from within. The author uses case studies from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, Israel, and Turkey to illustrate how governments deal with religious extremists representing a theological diversity, from radicalized Muslims in Britain and Turkey to fundamentalist Mormons in the United States. By and large Guiora views government responses to extremism as inadequate, and especially so in Britain, where he notes that British politicians essentially ignore the reality of religious extremism in their midst and pursue a policy based on the hope that more moderate ideologies will win out in the war of ideas.

For Guiora, religious extremism “is when the actor believes that his or her tenets and principles are infallible and that any action, even violence, taken on behalf of those beliefs is justified”(p.10). As well, terrorism is the “clearest manifestation” of religious extremism in the modern era. Religious extremists who commit terrorist acts “pose a greater threat to society than secular extremists,” for many reasons. Religiously motivated terrorists feel perfectly justified by their use of violence to terrorize, and perceive their cause in terms of “us” and them – the terrorists, who are the chosen and whose acts are divinely inspired, versus all else – the damned, the heretic, the other. For Guiora, when confronted with extremist violence motivated by a concrete sense of eschatology and righteousness, “governments must respond more forcefully and directly than in the past” (p.13) Guiora is fully aware that issues of religious extremism in liberal societies necessarily bring into play concerns about protecting religious liberty and any government attempts to regulate religious extremists will involve limits on the various rights bound up with religious freedom. To that end he devotes several chapters to various [*612] arguments on how rights can be curtailed.

Guiora discusses religious extremism in the context of several individual rights and liberties, with a view towards defining limits on those rights in order to guard against terrorism associated with religious extremism. Guiora focuses his arguments on freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, and the free exercise of religion. Although he does not discuss freedom of the press, he does cover how the media report on religious extremism. He also offers a short discussion of religious extremism and the separation of church and state.

Guiora notes the special relationship between religious liberty and religious speech in western democracies, and stipulates that religious extremists often rely on legal and constitutional rights protecting freedom of expression to shield their inflammatory speech from government regulation. In four of the five cases studies – from Israel, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Britain – he shows how extremist religious speech can lead to public disorder and threats to the state. For example, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was fueled in part by extremist rhetoric from rabbis, whom Guiora labels the “primary agitators” of the violent sentiment accusing Rabin of imperiling the lives and properties of Jews by committing Israel to the Oslo Peace Accords. In the Netherlands the violent murder of Theo Van Gogh for his anti-Islamic views – his murderer was affiliated with an extremist Muslim group – is another case study to consider. . Van Gogh’s anti-Muslim speech is secular, not religiously motivated, and here Guiora draws a distinction between Van Gogh, a secular critic whose speech should be protected, and the extremist religious speech of “rabbis, pastors, and imams who espouse extreme views” whose speech should be limited (p.48). Indeed, “contemporary religious extremism leaves decision-makers and the public alike with no choice but to re-contour constitutionally granted rights as they pertain to religion and speech. The question is one of line drawing” (p.39)

The line drawing that Guiora envisions is premised on American constitutional law, specifically BRANDENBURG v. OHIO (1969) and the test articulated by the Supreme Court that protects abstract advocacy of violence and revolution. Under the BRANDENBURG test, speech that directly incites others to violence can be punished, and so the author suggests that the test be expanded to include all speech; in essence, that extremist religious speech be afforded less protection that other categories of speech. He also advocates that governments need not wait until an extremist speaker (or listener) commits an act of violence: “the government needs to step in as soon as the religious speaker makes his or her first statement inciting to violence, thereby preventing future statement”(p.45).

Of course, the line drawing that Guiora suggests gives the government potentially draconian censorial power over religious speech, and he is well aware of opposition from civil libertarians to such a limit on a basic constitutional right. And, it is not exactly clear how a reformulation of BRANDENBURG and limits on speech that directly incites are applicable to the [*613] constitutional traditions of Israel, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Britain.

Guiora follows his discussion of speech and expression with forays into religious extremism and the rights of association and the free exercise of religion. While his arguments are not as detailed and far ranging as with his proposed limits on freedom of expression, the author nonetheless provocatively suggests that limits be placed on those rights. Thus, “freedom of assembly facilitates a dangerous confluence between religious extremism and houses of worship.” The right to assembly must be limited “when that right is abused in the furtherance of extremism and violence” (p.69)

The free exercise of religion is also implicated by arguments concerning the threats that religious extremism poses to national security. Guiora uses illustrative case studies that concern the political debates to ban Muslim head scarves in France and Turkey and the criminal conduct of the fundamentalist Mormon church (FLDS) in the United States through the sect’s practices of underage marriages and subsequent forced sexual relations. For Guiora, the state must step in and ban religious conduct that threatens individuals or society. Thus, FLDS practices that are harmful to young girls or others should be stopped. But, since the wearing of a headscarf is “not a threat to national security . . . a complete ban on a non-violent religious exercise such as the headscarf suggests classic over-reaction, and is unnecessary” (p.106)

Guiora’s book FREEDOM FROM RELIGION is part of Oxford University Press’s Terrorism and Global Justice series, which the press bills on the book jacket as publishing “thought provoking and topical monographs.” Guiora’s book is that – thought provoking and topical. However, the reader may have a sense that perhaps the book errs too much on the side of provocation and thereby displaces more detailed scholarly analysis. Readers interested in following up on some of the author’s assertions will in many instances find minimal footnotes and citations to only a very few scholarly works. Indeed, the book contains a “recommended reading list” but no bibliography, which is fine given the nature of the work, but scholars wishing to track down a point the author makes will find it frustrating.

The author’s overall argument would have been bolstered by more a current and detailed accounting of religious extremism too. Notably – and laudably – the author does not confine his discussion of extremism to Muslims, and with a broad outlook takes account of religious extremists of varying stripes, from fundamentalist Mormons to Jewish settlers in Israel. Thus, Guiora rightly points out that religious extremism is found in many different religious and denominations. However, readers may find it perplexing that the author lumps the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints into a group of religious extremists that threaten liberal democracy. While the FLDS church may well engage in criminal conduct through child marriage and forced sexual relations, whether that conduct arises to the level of a threat to the state is an entirely different matter. What about the Christian Identity Movement in the United States, for example? Its theology is far more separationist and race-based than the FLDS. Given Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s links to the [*614] movement, (Fowler, et al.,2010, 63) it seems are far more of a threat to liberal democracy in the United States than the FLDS church.

In addition this reviewer found the author’s initial arguments somewhat troubling. Guiora uses Britain’s ongoing experience with home-grown radicalized Muslims as a warning to other governments. He argues that the British government is unwilling for various reasons “to acknowledge the reality of religious extremism in its country,” with some politicians arguing that religious extremism is due more to socio-economic inequity instead of theology (p.2). He also notes a disjunction between British law enforcement, which advocates more proactive measures against radical Muslims, and the British government, which emphasizes “prevention via community outreach” (p.4). Thus, “many British policymakers and academics believe that extreme Muslims in the United Kingdom are engaged in self-radicalization, rather than acting on religious incitement articulated by imams” (p.5) For the author, this makes it especially difficult to determine whose radical speech should be limited – that of imams and other religious leaders, or those who are self-radicalized? However, studies on Muslims in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Germany (Fetzer and Soper, 2004; Klausen, 2007) suggest that Muslims are nowhere near as radical as some anticipate, and indeed the “go slow” approach adopted by the British government, with its focus on building community relationships and incorporating Muslim groups into the policymaking process, may pay real dividends. Instead of a warning bell on how a government ignores religious extremism at its peril, perhaps the British experience offers more guidance for other states than the author gives credit.

In all, Guiora’s book is provocative, which is mainly the point. Most marketplaces are unable to regulate some bad behaviors, and it may be that the free marketplace of ideas is limited in its ability to contain the harmful effects of extremist religious speech. Governments will have to choose whether to ban such speech outright or only when it gets really inflammatory and incites violence. By suggesting how such speech and expression ought to be regulated, the author jump starts a conversation that needs to occur, regardless of a country’s particular civil liberties tradition or religious demographic.

The book is useful for a wide range of upper level undergraduate and graduate courses. It can fit in with courses on civil rights and civil liberties, religion and politics, terrorism, and comparative constitutional law.

Fetzer, Joel S., and J. Christopher Soper. 2004. MUSLIMS AND THE STATE IN BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND GERMANY. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, Robert Booth, Allen D. Hertzke, Laura R. Olson, Kevin R. den Dulk. 2010. RELIGION AND POLITICS IN AMERICA, 4th ed. Boulder: Westview Press. [*615]

Klausen, Jytte. 2007. THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE: POLITICS AND RELIGION IN WESTERN EUROPE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BRANDENBURG v. OHIO, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

© Copyright 2010 by the author, John C. Blakeman.