The Inquisition has a bad rap.
No, I’m not talking about the Spanish Inquisition, though if you haven’t heard, that also got a bad rap. The Iron Maidens and torture chambers and shadowy omnipotent clerical order were all myths perpetrated by rival powers. The BBC had a great documentary about this. And if you really want to get into it, this guy offers a good analysis.
I bring these up because the Spanish Inquisition has been so tarred as systematic atrocity that the very concept of an Inquisition itself has been tarred as some barbaric relic of the past. But if we take the time to dissect what an Inquisition really is, we find that it has solid legal standing and has a proper place in civil society.
If you just look at the word itself, Inquisition, it comes from the same root at Inquire. It simply refers to an authority figure asking questions of people. You could compare it to Israeli airport security. The American experience of security is a humiliating one: you get shoved through a porn scanner and have to take off your shoes, get felt up, or worse. Israeli security focuses more on asking you a whole lot of questions. What is your purpose for flying, who are you coming to visit, where do they live, etc. It’s a much more respectful experience.
With this understanding, we can understand the Spanish Inquisition to be a far more benign and legal procedure. And we can also use it to try and solve some modern issues.
I became interested in the concept over time, over many debates with people. Not all debates are good natured, generally they are toxic affairs where you only know you’re right when the other party changes the topic. And that’s what makes a standard debate ultimately fruitless – you lack any authority to have the other person acknowledge their error.
These last few months of debates with Muslims have shed some new significance on this issue. Where they claim innocence, but when you press them on issues like insulting their prophet, Jihad or Sharia, they change the subject, become violent, or shut you out.
But here in Western Democracies, we have the right to know these things.
So, when it comes to fighting Islamism in the developed world, we have some options. Islamic reformers have said that its two main tenets that make it incompatible with Western society are Sharia and Jihad, and they have to reform away from that. Or else what? What’s the incentive to voluntarily get away from it?
Why should the rest of us wait for Islam to have an internal reformation? Why can’t we put pressure from without with an Inquisition? If they live in our countries, we have every right to ask them such questions. Do they acknowledge Sharia law as a higher authority than Civil law? Do they agree with Jihad and religious spread through violent conquest? Do they agree that if someone insults their prophet they should fear for their life?
Why can’t we call them in for questioning on these issues? Why do we need to subject ourselves to all sorts of random surveillance, searches, and costly monitoring, when we see the ideology that is the wellspring of such violence?
The major criticism to anticipate is this violates the 1st Amendment. Which is nonsense. The freedom of religion does not grant the right to freely commit crimes under the guise of religion. If there were, for example, a rash of babies being stolen by Jews to be used to make Matza (i.e. if Blood Libel were actually true and backed by evidence), then this kind of Inquisition would be justified.
The other doubt to anticipate is that subjects could lie to the inquisitor’s face. But that claim doesn’t hold much water either. First of all, it doesn’t match with my personal experience. People don’t lie, especially when it comes to deeply held religious principles. Apply that to religious leaders whose career depends on their word and that effect is multiplied. Besides, we’ve gotten good enough in psychology to learn how to ask questions in ways so it’s impossible to lie without eventually contradicting oneself.
At any rate, these are my thoughts on the issue. They are by no means final, let alone popular. It is more a thought experiment to get the ball rolling, and bring up some new ideas to deal with 21st century challenges.