Archive - December 2014

The latest on Yara Sallam
Muslim Youth Guard Christian Celebration of Christmas in Nigeria
Herod is still afoot
Meet the Islamist New Boss, same as the secularist Old Boss
Pope Francis Behind Cuba Deal
Trouble on the Subcontinent
America’s Torture Treaty
Torture Again — Always Wrong or Just Ineffective?
Can Nuclear Deterrence Survive the Global Resurgence of Religion?
Cardinal Zen arrested in Hong Kong

Muslim Youth Guard Christian Celebration of Christmas in Nigeria

An encouraging story comes from Kaduna, Nigeria, where Muslim youths stood guard to protect Christians celebrating Christmas.  Such stories are not merely heartwarming but are critical to understanding the global profile of Islam and its capabilities for peacebuilding.  The story evokes memories of similar recent episodes around the world, including ones in Egypt, where Muslims encircled Coptic Churches, also at Christmas — and where Christians encircled Muslims in prayer during popular protests in Cairo.

Kaduna is in northern Nigeria, where strife between Christians and Muslims has been intense over the past decade-and-a-half, particularly since sharia law was established in Kaduna State in 2001.  As a result of riots and other violence, Muslims and Christians have migrated to different parts of the city, where they live separately.

Herod is still afoot

Christmas is a good time to remember persecuted Christians and indeed all who suffer the denial of their religious freedom.  Jesus was born into persecution under a king who sought his life for his being who He is.  Christian Caryl of Foreign Policy writes of a black Christmas for Christians of the Middle East.  Meanwhile, India’s aggressive Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, is threatening to move ahead with forced the conversions of Christians and Muslims on Christmas.  In China, the demolition of churches continues.

Here at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, we have spent the fall launching our three-year project on how Christians respond to persecution, Under Caesar’s Sword.  We look forward to a major conference in Rome on the subject in December 2015.  This Christmas provides no shortage of reminders of the relevance of the issue.

Meet the Islamist New Boss, same as the secularist Old Boss

One of my favorite writers on religious freedom is Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol.  Check out his courageous and innovative book, Islam Without Extremes.  Today, his analysis appears in the New York Times in a column taking to task Turkey’s powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the increasingly harsh, closed, and authoritarian Islam that he is imposing on Turkey, especially in education.  The policy of unfreedom is inimical to the economic and political dynamism through which Turkey has prospered as of late.  Secularism, though, is not Akyol’s answer.  For most of the Republic of Turkey’s modern history, it was under the equally closed, authoritarian — and stifling — secular dogmas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  Erdogan’s recent direction is sad, for from 2002 to 2010, he led Turkey in the direction of political and economic openness — a prying open of Ataturk’s rigid secularism towards a religiously vibrant liberal democracy.

Pope Francis Behind Cuba Deal

One of the most colorful dimensions of the new U.S.-Cuba deal to emerge is the role of Pope Francis in brokering it.  His intervention recalls previous ones like Pope John Paul II’s intervention in the Beagle Channel dispute between Argentina and Chile in December 1978.

More commentary has emerged on Pope Francis’s role over the weekend.  John Allen of Crux sees it as manifesting a longstanding papal policy of detente.   Here is a skeptical perspective from Nicholas Hahn.


Trouble on the Subcontinent

When I mention religious tolerance in contemporary India to people, I still get startled reactions: Isn’t this the land of Gandhi, peace and pluralism?  Yet the latest news is another reminder of a very different picture.  Hindu nationalist forces, whose political party now governs India, have been planning mass “reconversion” ceremonies, including one for Christmas Day intended to “reconvert” thousands of Christians “back” to Hinduism.  Fraud, bribery, and deceit typically accompany the conversions.  Now the government has decided to ban the Christmas conversions for the sake of public order.  See a BBC story here.

Across India’s northern border, religious repression and accompanying violence continues.  See the latest piece of Knox Thames, who is always good on Pakistan.


America’s Torture Treaty

In the whirl of public discussion since release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA detention and interrogation after 9/11, I mostly hear a back-and-forth volley of one side insisting, “Torture worked!” (implied: “therefore it is o.k.”), and the other side insisting, “Torture is wrong, just wrong! (And it doesn’t work.)” For me, having already made clear my opposition to torture, I find it deeply disturbing that torture is even considered debatable.

At the same time, I also find it perplexing that the two sides argue with such vehemence that one might think the winner of the media debate would get to set policy — policy right now, on a whim.

I think it is worth reminding Americans, or notifying them if they don’t already know, that the U.S. signed (1988) and then ratified (1994) the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

UNCAT defines torture as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Furthermore, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” (Article 2)

When the 9/11 attacks happened and I went to work for the Department of Defense late in 2001 I had never heard of UNCAT. In 2003 when I was informed that my next assignment, then with the Defense Intelligence Agency, would be interrogation training followed by deployment as an interrogator to Guantanamo, I had never heard of UNCAT. I suspect even today many Americans have never heard of UNCAT; this is unfortunate.

I learned about UNCAT because the Department of Defense included this as a mandatory component of our interrogation training. I distinctly remember that after the instructor explained the history and content of UNCAT, he told us in no uncertain terms, “This is the law of the land.”

Torture Again — Always Wrong or Just Ineffective?

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture brings back with renewed force the debates of the previous decade about the use of torture in fighting terrorism.  The three main conclusions I draw from the report are that first, the CIA’s use of torture in fighting terrorism was far more widespread than previously known; second, that torture was never effective in eliciting information for capturing active terrorists; and third, that the CIA deceived many, including the public and even the president, about both of these facts.  Defenders of the techniques even now say that they kept us secure.

Insofar as the debate deals with the morality of torture, it proceeds on consequentialist grounds: was torture really effective in stopping terrorism?  Obscured is the position that torture is intrinsece malum — always, everywhere, inherently wrong.  This is the position of the Catholic Church, articulated in the Second Vatican Council document, Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism (1994), and Pope Saint John Paul II’s great encyclical on morality of 1993, Veritatis Splendor.

The Church acknowledges its own complex past on the matter, having sanctioned torture in the Middle Ages.  The contemporary Catechism says this:

In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture.  Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy.  She forbade clerics to shed blood.  In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person.  On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading.  It is necessary to work for their abolition.  We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

Let us pray indeed.

For an excellent explication of the Church’s views, including a historical perspective, see this article in 2010 by Steve Colecchi in America.  For an excellent natural law argument against torture, see this piece by Chris Tollefsen.



Can Nuclear Deterrence Survive the Global Resurgence of Religion?

Vienna, Hoffburg Palace – Gerard Powers reminded us in September that disarmament cannot be forgotten. To the young, in which I easily include myself, deterrence theory, mutually assured destruction, and nuclear balance of power are relics of a by-gone era. Even when we teach or learn about nuclear weapons it has a feeling of something archaic, something that was, not something that is. Not things, not machines, that still squat in warehouses, coil in soils, and ride under oceans on launch ready alert.

But they remain. As a guest of the Nuclear Threat Initiative over the past several days we’ve explored transformations in war (‘unconventional war’) that make weapons of mass destruction less useful, breakages in the logic of deterrence from a bi-polar to a multi-polar world, and even – somewhat terrifyingly – the truth that the nuclear weapons we’re most in danger of have usually been our own.

A front runner in these conversations has been the Catholic Church, long opponent of the use of nuclear weapons, and now articulate spokespersons for the morality of even their mere possession. Religious sentiment has long been rallied against the use of nuclear weapons, but a shift seems to be coming, at least in the tone, from the Vatican and from senior Vatican officials at this conference, that even possession of nuclear weapons is an affront to the dignity of human kind. We are squandering the world’s wealth, lamented Pope Francis in a written address to the Vienna conference, on these arsenals. Estimates run that merely upgrading the weapons of the United States of America, crucially necessary because of the danger posed by dated nuclear technology, could run into the trillions. The cost of disarming and disposing of the same weapons runs to nearly the same, if not higher. Either way, a phenomenal bill is coming due on America’s – and the world’s – nuclear arsenal.

How to make this decision? It cannot be done trapped in the ‘iron cage’ of Realist deterrence, say the conference organizers. We must have what Pope Francis calls an ethic of solidarity. Pope Benedict XVI said in Caritas in Veritate that globalization makes us neighbours, but it does not make us brothers. The nuclear conversation, in the words of Hugh Gusterson, leaves the modern logic of rationalism and technological efficiency “impaled on itself.” We must have a new order, a new conversation, new moral sources that tell us why these weapons exist, why we have made them, and what we are going to do next. Next year is the 70-th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The impasse is real.

That conversation, crucially, must also include inter-religious voices. Vatican officials this morning noted that a key player in any dialogue is the Russian Orthodox Church – cutting off talk of a new cold war before it starts. “The Church,” said the same official, “must shoot high, because if we don’t do it, no one will.”

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.