Archive - February 2015

Forgiving ISIS
New Book on Political Islam by ArcU Blogger John Owen
ISIS is a Religious Movement — and that is a controversial statement
The beheading is only the tip
Another bloody chapter in the story of Egyptian Copts
Our social commons: two climate challenges
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: The Middle East’s Disappearing Religions
Islam and Democracy in 2015
Voltaire is Not the Answer for France
Religious Freedom more precarious in India as Christians arrested

Forgiving ISIS

In all of the back-and-forth since the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by ISIS, one reaction is startling  — that of Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who extended forgiveness.  See here.  Forgiveness is hardly an obvious or natural response and is certainly not an easy one.  It is not something to which anyone has a right and it does not preclude condemning or fighting ISIS.  Why did Bishop Angaelos forgive?  He explains:

It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

Bishop Angaelos was able to see a purpose in these horrific deaths:

I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.

He calls for united efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians — and all those who are denied their religious freedom.

I would like to see us all start to work towards human rights generally, because when we’re divided into different departments or organizations any change will be fragmented. If you look at the rights of every individual, God-given rights, we can all start to work together and safeguard any people who are persecuted anywhere. Of course, the vast majority of persecution falls squarely right now on Christians in the Middle East and that needs to be addressed. But, as a Christian, I will never be comfortable just safeguarding the rights of Christians. We need to help everyone.

His and other reactions to persecution on the part of Christians, ranging from non-violent protest to behind-the-scenes diplomacy to taking up arms, will be the subject of a major conference that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is holding in Rome on December 10-12, 2015.  Entitled “Under Caesar’s Sword: An International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution,” the conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

All are invited!

New Book on Political Islam by ArcU Blogger John Owen

ArcU blogger John Owen has just published — and has been receiving wide attention for — Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past.  Here is Princeton University Press’s description:

How should the Western world today respond to the challenges of political Islam? Taking an original approach to answer this question, Confronting Political Islam compares Islamism’s struggle with secularism to other prolonged ideological clashes in Western history. By examining the past conflicts that have torn Europe and the Americas—and how they have been supported by underground networks, fomented radicalism and revolution, and triggered foreign interventions and international conflicts—John Owen draws six major lessons to demonstrate that much of what we think about political Islam is wrong.

Owen focuses on the origins and dynamics of twentieth-century struggles among Communism, Fascism, and liberal democracy; the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century contests between monarchism and republicanism; and the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century wars of religion between Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and others. Owen then applies principles learned from the successes and mistakes of governments during these conflicts to the contemporary debates embroiling the Middle East. He concludes that ideological struggles last longer than most people presume; ideologies are not monolithic; foreign interventions are the norm; a state may be both rational and ideological; an ideology wins when states that exemplify it outperform other states across a range of measures; and the ideology that wins may be a surprise.

Looking at the history of the Western world itself and the fraught questions over how societies should be ordered,Confronting Political Islam upends some of the conventional wisdom about the current upheavals in the Muslim world.

See here for an interview with John on the book.


ISIS is a Religious Movement — and that is a controversial statement

Much attention lately has been going to an article recently published in the Atlantic Monthly, “What ISIS Really Wants,” by Graeme Wood.  Wood makes the case that ISIS cannot be explained except as an outgrowth of the Quran and basic Islamic theology — in contrast, say, to the protestations of President Obama (and other American presidents — see this excellent piece by David Brooks) that ISIS is inimical to the true Islam and has roots in social dysfunctions like economic dislocation. Wood shows that the group adheres strictly and deliberately to Islamic teaching, including in its cruelest exploits.

Wood’s piece is getting lots of criticism (see here for a good example), much of it arguing, like Obama does, that ISIS is at odds with mainstream Islam and that Islam strongly forbids its gory deeds.

I am inclined to agree that ISIS should not be portrayed as the inevitable or even likely outgrowth of Islamic texts and core teachings.   I would also caution though, against latter-day secularization theorists who want to reduce ISIS to poverty, economic flux, weak governance, the desire of young men for adventure, and the ill effects of western intervention.  All of these factors might contribute to ISIS, but Wood’s article makes clear that the group’s methods and motivations take Islamic teaching quite seriously.  ISIS is serious about a Caliphate, serious about the apocalypse, and serious about divinely sanctioned offensive warfare that makes little distinction between combatants and civilians.

In the end, it would be better to say (as Wood does) that ISIS strongly adheres to Islamic texts and teachings but also to say (as Wood does not, at least very strongly or clearly) that its interpretation of these teachings is a highly unusual one, held by a tiny minority, and strongly at odds with the broad expanse of the Islamic tradition, both today and historically. ISIS is a religious sect: genuinely driven by faith, esoteric, atypical, and very, very bloody.





The beheading is only the tip

The beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptians in Libya has stirred widespread international condemnation, yet this can neither be interpreted as a separate incident of ISIS’ brutality nor can it be seen exclusively in geo-political terms as a political manoeuvre in a power struggle between regional actors. This is part of a broader political project of cleansing the Middle East of its religious minorities in Muslim majority contexts, a project whose orchestrators are a dense network of actors of whom ISIS is only one player, and an outreach whose boundaries stretch well beyond Libya.

Islamist targeting of Christians in Libya since 2012

While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the beheading of the 21 Copts, in effect, the targeting of Copts is part of a more systematic targeting of Christians in Libya since 2012 which corresponds to the rise of Islamist militant groups taking over of large parts of the country. The assault on civil liberties by the militant Islamist groups has affected large populations, but Christians are specifically targeted on religious grounds associated with an ideology that sees them as infidels.

While there is a small indigenous Christian community who has lived there for hundreds of years, a small congregation of Catholics and a number of Protestant churches, the great majority of Christians in Libya are Coptic Orthodox Christians (estimated to be around 300,000) who came from neighboring Egypt in search of work or any kind of livelihood. During Gaddafi’s tenure, Coptic Christians established their own churches in Libya, worshipped without major inhibitions, and enjoyed relations with the majority Muslim Libyan population that were by and large convivial and harmonious. Many middle class families went to Libya in search of better economic opportunities, settled there, and used to visit Egypt every so often. The bulk of the Christian residents, however, are young men from poor, rural communities situated in some of the most deprived and excluded parts of Upper Egypt. They have crossed the borders to Libya in search of any employment they could find: as day laborers for the land-owning Libyans, as street vendors in the local markets, or any other job they could scavenge to save a little money and send to their families back home. They have been systematically targeted by various militant groups in Libya, including the Battalion of Ansar Al Shariah, Al Nusra and a cocktail of jihadi groups.

Though there is widespread chaos in Libya and terrorist attacks have spared no one, the assaults on Christians since December 2012 have been systematic. Churches have been burnt, ransoms imposed, and individuals tortured and killed. Christians would be recognized by the tattoo of a cross imprinted on their wrist or arm. In other incidents, Muslim local informants would relay to Islamist groups the names and addresses of Christians in their community, and individuals acting on economic predatory grounds would report where Christians were to Islamist groups in return for a reward.

Why did the Christians not return to Egypt in view of these alarm bells? Some were actually captured on their way back to Egypt, fleeing Libya. Others thought that if they went into hiding, they would be safer, while still others waited for the situation to calm down, knowing they had no alternative source of livelihood to go to back home to.

Large scale kidnappings, selective killings

Since October 2013 up to the present, there have been 1,125 incidents of Egyptians being kidnapped in Libya. The majority are poor, marginalized young people in search of a livelihood. Of the 1, 125 kidnapped, none of the Muslim men were killed and were all released. Of the Christians captured, all have been killed. (though there may be more who were taken hostages, the whereabouts of which are unknown, and undocumented in the media). This cross-comparison of the predicament of the Egyptians who were captured suggests that there is a pre-orchestrated plan of eliminating those who happen to be Copts on grounds of religion.

The killing of the Copts and the release of the others is only explained by the will of the assailants. The BBC, for example, reports that eyewitness accounts in one incident of kidnapping involved an armed group dashing into a house full of Egyptian workers, asking whether there were any Christians there, seizing them, and leaving the rest.


Beyond Libya: Islamists’ systematic targeting of religious minorities in the Middle East

The cleansing of Libya of its Christian population is part of a broader political project of political Islamist groups to rid the world of religious pluralism. Again, it cannot be reiterated enough that this political project seeks to redraw the profile of its political community in a way that is exclusionary of women, artists, human rights activists, those who interpret/practice the faith differently, and the list goes on.

However, there is a striking similarity in the Islamists’ modalities of targeting religious minorities across the borders, whether in Iraq, Syria, Libya or other parts of the region.

The targeting relies on the collaboration of various Islamist networks on scanning the horizons for where Christians live and work. It also relies on local informants sharing the profile of families in great detail and often (though not always) benefitting economically from such transactions. The targeting involves Islamist militants’ enforcement of a ransom in return for securing the right to live; kidnappings targeting Christians in Iraq, which have been happening since the American Occupation of Iraq; and the disintegration of the Iraqi state into sectarian silos. What ISIS brought to Iraq and Syria, however, is a form of religious cleansing of an intensity and scale that has prompted Amnesty International to attest that fresh evidence it uncovered “indicates that members of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) have launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions, against ethnic and religious minorities.”

A recently released UN report produced by the U.N. body responsible for reviewing Iraq’s record for the first time since 1998 denounced “the systematic killing of children belonging to religious and ethnic minorities by the so-called ISIL, including several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive.”

There are communities now facing an existential threat.  We recognize that this political project is neither encapsulated in ISIS nor contained in the Libyan boundaries because the beheading is only the tip.

Another bloody chapter in the story of Egyptian Copts

The Egyptian army launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya hours after the release of a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts kidnapped by Libyan Islamists in December 2014 and January 2015. One may be tempted to say that President Sisi’s response to these murders is comparable to King Abdullah’s after a Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, was burned to death by ISIS. However, a closer examination of both leaders’ reactions shows a number of significant differences.

The Egyptian government’s reaction to the kidnappings was barely noticeable until last week. Official responses only became tangible after ISIS published the photos of the kidnapped Egyptians being paraded in jumpsuits. Indeed, ​it is hard not to be cynical in observing that it was only after these photos were heavily circulated in the media that the Egyptian government decided to show some support. Was this a strategic silence meant to protect the identities—hence the lives—of the abducted Egyptians, as claimed by some government officials? Hardly so, given that the names and photos of the kidnapped Egyptians emerged in the media shortly after their abduction. On the other hand, the Jordanian authorities frantically tried to secure the release of the Jordanian pilot since his capture by ISIS in December 2014. Until the video of his killing was released in February 3, the Jordanian government was engaged in a back-and-forth exercise of indirect talks with ISIS through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of al-Kasasbeh, offering to swap him for an Islamist jihadist imprisoned by Jordan.

In his article published in Mada Masr, Mohamed Mohie explains how the Egyptian government’s response (or lack thereof) since news of the kidnapping emerged is inappropriate. Relatives of the murdered Egyptians stated they have repeatedly tried to get in touch with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but​ to no avail. As for the thousands of Egyptian workers who are still in Libya, it was only on Thursday February 12 that President Sisi ordered their speedy evacuation. His announcement came weeks after reports emerged of Egyptian Christians in Libya being secretly smuggled back to Egypt in fear of being kidnapped by Islamists while their government, next door, watched silently.

The Egyptian government was not taken by surprise. It was actually quite the opposite given that Egyptian Christians have been systematically targeted in Libya since the fall of Qaddafi. Ishak Ibrahim gives a detailed account of the violence perpetrated against Egyptian Copts in Libya since 2012:

These incidents are not the first religious motivated attacks targeting Egyptian Christians in Libya since the beginning of the Libyan uprising and the overthrow of former president Muammar al-Qaddafi. Numerous attacks have had clear religious motives. Some of the most noteworthy attacks include: the bombing of Saint Mary Church in Misrata in December 2012, which killed two Copts and injured several others, and the explosion at Saint Markus Church in Benghazi in March 2013. In that same month, Libya’s Preventive Security Forces tortured to death an Egyptian Copt, Ezzat al-Hakim, for his missionary work. Additionally, in early March 2013, 55 Egyptians were captured and although 35 were returned to Egypt two weeks later, the rest remained in Libya. Four, who were accused of proselytizing, remain in capture. The Coptic priest Father Isaac Paul was also beaten, shaved, and humiliated before returning to Egypt.

In 2014, a total of 14 Egyptian Copts were killed in Libya. On February 23, 2014, after militants raided a building where Christians resided with a group of Egyptian Muslims in Benghazi, 7 Copts from Sohag governorate were kidnapped and gunned down near one of the city’s beaches. In March, two Egyptian Coptic vegetable sellers from Samalout—Salama Fawzi and Gad Abdeul al-Maseh—were shot and killed by gunmen in the town of Beni Ghazi and in the city of Benghazi, respectively.

On August 25, militants also kidnapped four Egyptians from Assiout on their way back to Egypt from Tripoli. The gunmen forcefully stopped the car transporting the victims, took them hostage and let the rest go. There is still no information on their whereabouts to this day. On September 18, militants in Benghazi gunned down another Egyptian Copt named Ishak Sha’aban, from the Minya governorate town of Samalout. Paul Samir, an Egyptian Copt from the village of Deir Gabal al-Tair in Minya governorate, was killed on his way back to Egypt from Benghazi where he worked.

Militants also stormed the house of Coptic physician Magdy Tawfiq on December 23, 2014 in the city of Sirte in Libya. Assailants killed the physician and his wife, and kidnapped their oldest daughter, whose body was found in a nearby area a few days later.

Emblematic and symbolic images weigh heavily on the national psych. While King Abdullah went in person to the village of pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh to offer his condolences to the devastated family, President Sisi deemed it satisfactory to visit St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo and to offer his condolences to Pope Tawadros II instead of reaching out directly to the grieving families. One may indeed question the ​purpose of such a visit given that none of the victims were actually from Cairo but from the governorate of Minya, some 140 miles south of Cairo. The equivalent from the Jordanian side would be if King Abdullah had visited the biggest Mosque in Amman in the absence of Moaz’s family instead of going to the pilot’s village and offering his condolences in person to Moaz’s family.

Finally, many Coptic activists are also wondering why is it that the government is concerned about Egyptian Copts killed in Libya when it does not seem to worry much about those killed in Egypt. Some are sarcastically expressing their discontent with the government’s reaction, saying that the seven days of national mourning merely means the projection of a small black ribbon on the corner of television screens.

Our social commons: two climate challenges

The growing crises in ecological sustainability and identity politics are straining our social commons. As part of responding to both climate challenges, protect and invest in our social commons.

The doomsday clock has been moved to 3 minutes to midnight. Climate change, fed by carbon emissions, is expected to push us above the 2 degree temperature increase threshold in 30 years, based on current trends in usage of our carbon budget. This manmade crisis creates far-reaching issues of justice. Those best positioned to act unilaterally to protect themselves from climate change harm- in the near term- are the wealthy, who have also been the biggest contributors to the problem. Those most likely to suffer from it are the poor, who did the least to create the problem. Mitigation demands collective action in numerous arenas and at different levels. The scale, complexity, and number of related problems stretch our institutional capacities for addressing them collectively.

Meanwhile, our global identity-politics tensions are heating up, largely but not exclusively from the clash of civilizations narrative and various nationalisms. This latter form of climate change wears and rips at our social fabric, ultimately threatening to widen and escalate conflicts into humanity-encompassing mutual destruction. Public opinion in Europe and the US, particularly after the traumatic Paris attacks in January, has gravitated further towards a clash of civilizations mentality. Identity politics- my side, right or wrong- can be contrasted to principled deliberation about principles. Without redoubled efforts to provide meaningful avenues for addressing injustices, and to counter the identity clash story, a self-fulfilling prophecy will result.

Our social commons— the community space in which we meet and engage with the other to devise answers to our shared problems— is under strain. The best responses to both types of climate change start with invigorating our social commons to generate participatory answers. This means nurturing a more responsible global civics: acknowledging and affirming the humanity of the other through an ethic for mutual obligation, such as the Golden Rule; including religion, not solely for the pragmatics and semantics, but also for the consciousness of the intrinsic worth of nature; appreciating that diverse scales and social ecological settings require a polycentric approach, while supporting the critical functions of central government; and maintaining vigilance against the vigilantes on all sides, cooling identity-based conflict escalations and promoting cooperation for the common good.

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: The Middle East’s Disappearing Religions

When the Americans rained fire from the sky around Mount Sinjar, suppressing, later destroying, Islamic State fighters, the world’s eye was drawn to that remote corner of the Middle East that is the home to some of its most obscure and apocryphal peoples and religions. The Ezidis (Yazedis), hasty research assistants for television networks quickly told us, were one of several of such groups: a reclusive, non-missional, but highly spiritual people. Some accused them of Devil worship, a confusing charge for the often magically purged faith of American Protestants to make sense of.

Ezidis revere Melek Taoos, whom they identify with Azazael or Iblis; in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions, these are names for great angels who rebelled against God and were cast down. Unlike Christians, Muslims, and Jews, the Ezidis believe these angels were not evil but misguided; moreover, they believe God’s saving grace not only will, but has already, covered these angels, restoring them to favor.

These are jarring extra-canonical conversations for most secular Christians, more at home on our big screens than in our Bible studies, and ones that expose latent elements of the tradition of Christian faith that have been, for North American purposes, lost, but which remain very alive in the Middle East. Gerard Russell, in writing his magnificent travelogue of the Middle East’s disappearing religions, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, wanted to capture some of that magical-historical dissonance for an English-speaking audience. Ezidis, but also Mandeans, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Kalasha, and Copts, provoke, for Russell, at least three things: “humanity’s collective ignorance of its own past, the growing alienation between Christianity and Islam, and the way the debate about religion has become increasingly the preserve of narrow-minded atheists and literalists.”

I loved this book (and you can find my full review of it at Books & Culture here). I loved it for its winsome and intelligent readability, how it brought to life corners of the world I not only barely understood, but had not in some cases even realized still existed. I loved it for the slow, ambling way it did all of the above. The book is barely academic and I wouldn’t treat it as an authoritative encyclopedia on these religions. But partly because of this, it is a beautiful and very human telling of stories we know in the merest part, stories that disturb and decenter the easy narrow-mindedness of literalists believers and dogmatic atheists alike.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Russell says, who by painful researches seek to remove those veils which have so long concealed mankind from each other. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is exactly such salve and balm for a Secular Age paradoxically brimming with religion.

Islam and Democracy in 2015


In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s gradual but unmistakable centralization of power continues apace. Turkey, Egypt, Iran – all have at various times tried one kind or another of hybrid between Islamism and democracy. Which raises what may be the most vital long-term political question for Muslims: Is Islam compatible with democracy? The question is vital not just because non-Muslims frequently put it to Muslims. It also is the case that people the world over, including a vast majority of Muslims, aspire to live in democracies. More than two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama’s famous “end of History” thesis declared liberal democracy the winner in humankind’s age-old contest of ideas. Fukuyama’s declaration was premature at best, but it remains true that words such as “democracy” and “freedom” continue to have a grip on billions of people. The late Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi probably spoke for most jihadis when he rejected democracy as “a religion and disbelief.” But in most majority-Muslim countries, people emphatically reject the Zarqawi thesis: they say they want democracy (even if they do not trust the United States to help them achieve it).

As anyone who lives in a democracy knows, however, the word “democracy” is, empirically speaking, a container into which all manner of content can be poured. Some (too few) social scientists, such as Frederic Schaffer, have explored the subjective aspect of democracy – how people in different times and places mean different things by it. Precisely what various Muslims mean by it is in need of further investigation. But it is clear that for at least large numbers of devout Muslims, liberal democracy, at least as currently practiced in the West, is a stumbling block.

When North Americans, Europeans, and, increasingly, Latin Americans say “democracy,” they mean “liberal democracy.” Liberal democracy takes various institutional forms across countries, but in general it is an attempt to marry individual rights and popular government. As has been pointed out many times, both of these things cannot be maximized all the time: sometimes the majority wants to violate individual rights, and sometimes certain notions of individual rights go against popular opinion. In such moments, a polity must choose one or the other. But it is the sustained, consensual attempt to keep individual rights and majority rule together that defines liberal democracy.

Already, some cultures have difficulty with liberal democracy for its attachment to individual rights – as opposed to group rights, or to a strong notion of rights at all. Lee Kwan Yew, éminence grise of Singapore, is famous for saying that Westerners value individual freedoms, whereas Asians value honest and effective government.

The matter becomes even more complicated for many faithful Muslims when individual liberties are interpreted in the 21st-century Western manner. When the United States was founded in the late 18th century, the chief threat to liberty was thought to be government, which possessed coercive power and tended toward centralization. Thus the American Bill of Rights lists rights of individuals against the state. In the 21st century, by contrast, most Western elites hold that the chief threats to individual liberty come from society – traditional institutions such as churches, families, even cultures – and that the state ought to safeguard liberty from those things. Hence the culture wars that we are perpetually reassured do not exist.

A traditional Muslim may want to have a guaranteed voice in who governs, but will likely not want to live under laws and courts that seek to weaken the role of Islam – including clergy, mosques, and schools – in public life. Democracy, then, must take on a different modifier – perhaps constitutional, which denotes the rule of law.

I consider this question, among many others, in my new book Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past. By “West’s past” I mean not encounters between the Western and Muslim “worlds,” but rather the West’s own internal ideological struggles over the past 500 years – between, among others, monarchism and republicanism in the 19th century and communism and liberal democracy in the 20th. One lesson is that hybrid ideologies and institutions may emerge from a long struggle. Such happened in the late 19th century as “conservative liberalism,” a fusion of monarchism and republicanism, emerged in most European states. We may hope for another kind of fusion – Islamic democracy – in the Middle East. But the degeneration of democracy in Turkey over the past two years bodes ill.

Voltaire is Not the Answer for France

The New York Times has published at least three pieces in the past three weeks documenting France’s reassertion of its historic secularism — known as laïcité – in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings and the accompanying attack on a Jewish supermarket in early January.  See here, here, and here.

A policy of state-promoted secularism, laïcité was advanced in the French Revolution and saw its triumph during the Third Republic, culminating in the landmark 1905 law that separated church and state in a way that gave the state great control over the Catholic Church.

Now, France is doubling down on laïcité, making December 9th a new Day of Laïcité; requiring prospective teachers to demonstrate their grasp of laïcité; and forcing students and parents to sign a charter pledging respect for the principle. Such a draconian reassertion appears motivated by shock and fear, not only towards the attacks themselves but also in reaction to the large number of Muslims students who refused to observe a moment of silence for the victims.

While the students’ refusal is troubling, and while sympathy for the attacks, and ever more so the attacks themselves, are reprehensible, I wish to argue, as I did in an earlier post, that more laïcité is not the answer.

Towards Muslims, laïcité has meant a ban on headscarves and veils worn by girls in schools; the heavy restriction of minarets on mosques; the state’s failure to build enough mosques to accommodate Muslims; and attempts to pass laws banning Islamic sermons not in French, halal meat, and slaughterhouses that observe Islamic law.

By contrast, the state allows Catholic schools (which it also heavily governs) to hold mass every day; sanctions public holidays on Catholic holy days; and allows schools to serve fish on Fridays and to observe the liturgical calendar.

Add to this combination of restrictions and allowances the state’s permission of magazines to publish pictures that render in obscene fashion both the Prophet Mohammed and the members of the Trinity, and it is not hard to see why French Muslims fail to feel respected as equal citizens.

It is time for France to reconsider its history of the state managing religion and imposing secularism on the nation and rather adopt the principle of religious freedom, which allows religious people to manifest their faith freely and to govern their own communities — as long as, crucially, religious people are willing to respect the full human rights, including the religious freedom, of others.  In this sense, Muslims will have to do their part.  But will they not be more willing to do it if they are respected as equals?

One of the Times pieces quotes political scientist Dominique Moïsi as calling for moving on beyond laïcité, which “has become the first religion of the Republic, and it requires obedience and belief.”  He continues, “[t]o play Voltaire in the 21st century is irresponsible.”






Religious Freedom more precarious in India as Christians arrested

See this latest piece on attacks on churches and the arrest of Christians protesting these attacks in India.  Quoted is Chad Bauman of Butler University, who is one of the research scholars for Under Caesar’s Sword, the three year project on how Christians respond to persecution organized jointly by the Center for Civil and Human Rights at Notre Dame and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

© 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.