Archive - February 2015

1
Religion runs through the rate cut
2
ISIS Is Modern, Not Medieval
3
Letter from a Cairo Jail
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#TakeLashes4Raif
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Monster Forgiven

Religion runs through the rate cut

The collapse of oil has shocked any number of economies over the last few months. The Russian central bank has scrambled to prop up the ruble, running rates as high as 17% to attract foreign capital. Canada’s own Bank actually cut rates by a quarter point, dropping the Canadian dollar significantly. All these responses look like good old fashioned supply and demand economics, but there is more than a little political theology that runs through these rates.

Oil prices aren’t set to recover quickly. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holdings, nephew of the late King Abdullah, made it clear that Saudi Arabia will continue to double down on these prices. Saudi Arabia, a country that takes nearly 90 per cent of its budget from oil, remains committed to its levels of production, which is to say its supply. The prince blamed the fall in price on demand. The country will not be the first to blink.

“Eventually there’s no doubt that some countries have to blink and reduce their production…I don’t see Saudi Arabia or OPEC countries blinking,” he said.

Students of religion and history can clearly see at least two countries in the crosshairs of this game of brinkmanship: America, and its boom in fracking, and the rival Shia state of Iran. A fringe benefit has been the near collapse of the Russian ruble.

The list of Saudi grievances is long. Riyadh has been annoyed by American unwillingness, or incapacity, to resolve the Palestinian problem, its détente with Iran and seeming tolerance of Iranian nuclear ambitions. Far more than annoyed, it has been heavily engaged in the civil war in Syria, which has now spilled out and threatens the tenuous remains of the Iraqi government after the American withdrawal. Some have even labelled this a proxy war funded by the oil money of religious zealots around the Persian Gulf, lined up on Sunni/Shia religious lines.

Among the many sides of that war include somewhat famously Iran, its subsidized Shia brigades, and its increasingly unsteady overtures to the Kurds and to the West to protect Shias in the brutal path of destruction ISIL is cutting.

We may never see $100 a barrel again, warned Prince Alwaleed on Jan. 23, a statement that if true will cripple (North) America’s comparatively expensive oil production, and gut the state finances of its religious rival Iran. Maybe that’s a happy coincidence.

The oil politics of the Middle East will always have an Islamic political theology, or maybe more to the point rival theologies, running through it. And that’s a lesson that Governor Stephen Poloz, pun intended, took to the Bank.

ISIS Is Modern, Not Medieval

Fraser Nelson has an astute article in the Daily Telegraph arguing that ISIS is not, as we like to say, a throwback to the Middle Ages.  To say so is, in fact, to slander the Middle Ages.  ISIS is a modern movement, with much in common with twentieth-century totalitarian movements that sought complete control of populations.  Most discouraging, perhaps, is that, like fascism and communism, ISIS’s radical Islamism is, on its own terms, progressive.

Letter from a Cairo Jail

We’ve been following the case of Yara Sallam, an alumna of the Center for Civil and Human Rights masters degree program in human rights law (class of 2011), whom the Egyptian government has jailed for her human rights opposition.  She is one of the main subjects of a BBC piece.  The last paragraph quotes a letter she wrote from jail and expresses how she views her cause.

#TakeLashes4Raif

Six of my colleagues on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and I have been very gratified by the outpouring of support and prayers following the release of our letter to the Saudi ambassador, which I wrote about here, concerning the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger sentenced to a thousand lashes. We’ve been especially amazed by all the people who have called and written to ask how they can join us in solidarity and offer to take a lash for Badawi as well. While we can be fairly certain the Saudi government won’t give a thousand people one lash each instead of lashing Badawi, the gesture of so many standing together for freedom of religion and freedom of speech–for justice, really–is deeply important. Those who wish to add their name can do so here:

takelashes4raif.org

Another frequent question I’ve heard is why we chose to take up this particular case among the far-too-many atrocities around the world. I wrote a bit about that this week in US News & World Report here.

Monster Forgiven

Friday, South Africa’s Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, announced that Eugene de Kock, head of the Vlakplass secret police under apartheid, was to be released on parole.  See here for a thoughtful reflection on the decision by Fr. Russell Pollitt, S.J., in America.  Known as “Prime Evil” for his ordering of more than 100 instance of murder, torture and fraud, de Kock was released after serving some 20 years in jail, this being only a small portion of the 212 years to which he had been sentenced.

Sandra Mama, the widow of one of de Kock’s victims, responded with  . . . a statement of support.  Mama and her children had visited de Kock in prison after he had made contact with them . . . and forgave him.  As Fr. Pollitt describes, other victims’ family members forgave him, too, in the atmosphere of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Not all forgave de Kock.  Pollitt explains that the brother of a human rights lawyer whom de Kock had murdered protested that justice had been denied.  Psychologist and Truth and Reconciliation Commission staffer Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, fascinated with and ultimately a vocal proponent of forgiveness, experienced conflicted feelings during the several trips she made to visit de Kock in prison in researching her book, A Human Being Died That Night.  She describes becoming empathetic with de Kock’s humanity but then suddenly recoiling, wondering if she was naively being drawn into the web of a wily and malicious spider.  By the end of her book, though, she ends up concluding that forgiveness is meaningful and possible, even of the de Kocks of the world.

In my own study of political societies facing past injustices all over the world, I have found few countries where leading perpetrators of atrocious deeds come to repent for these deeds and accept forgiveness.  South Africa is an exception.  The explanation lies in moral leadership.  Reconciliation and forgiveness had informed the anti-apartheid movement for several decades, so that once South Africa had made its transition to multi-party democracy beginning in 1990, leaders like Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many others were poised to make these themes South Africa’s guideposts for dealing with its past of injustice.  Numerous blacks followed in this direction.  Behind this leadership, in turn, was the influence of Christian churches and theology.  Only this environment and this history can explain how, on Friday, a black Minister of Justice granted parole to the killer of tens of anti-apartheid activists.

 

© 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.