Archive - March 2015

The human right to water
Is It Islamic (or Christian)? The State Doesn’t Get to Say
When Christians Kill and Destroy but Also Make Peace, CAR Today
Shaun Casey’s New, Impossible Job: Help us Talk about Islam
The Pope, ISIS and U.S. Military Intervention
The Strange Silence Towards the “Real War on Christians”
Islam and Jihadism Continued
In solidarity with Iraqi religious minority women on international women’s day
The God Squad
Understanding ISIS’ obsession with Dabiq

The human right to water

Nearly 5 years ago, the UN General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and asserted that these are essential prerequisites to the realization of all other rights. March 22 is World Water Day. Consider that 2.6 billion people today do not have access to basic sanitation, and 884 million do not have access to safe drinking water. Without major collective actions,  increasing scarcity in coming years threatens increased violence, disease, poverty, and hunger, according to this AP article on the new World Water Development Report:

“Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world’s population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will be needed for farming, industry and personal consumption.

The report predicts global water demand will increase 55 percent by 2050, while reserves dwindle. If current usage trends don’t change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, it said.

Having less available water risks catastrophe on many fronts: crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the annual World Water Development Report said, noting that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.

The report, released in New Delhi two days before World Water Day, calls on policymakers and communities to rethink water policies, urging more conservation as well as recycling of wastewater as is done in Singapore. Countries may also want to consider raising prices for water, as well as searching for ways to make water-intensive sectors more efficient and less polluting, it said.”

Is It Islamic (or Christian)? The State Doesn’t Get to Say

Dan Philpott and I both have posted on how to think about the relation of ISIS to Islam, and noted that President Obama has presumed to declare that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’” The President has made similar proclamations since – saying last month at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that: “They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” President Bush made similar statements, e.g., on September 17, 2001: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

Nor has the Obama administration limited its doctrinal pronouncements to Islam. Early in 2012, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, published a letter reporting discussions the Council had with White House staff over the “Obamacare” mandate that employers pay for contraception and other procedures to which the Catholic Church has grave objections. According to Dolan, White House staff “advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation …. The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so … now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.”

As Reihan Salam wrote in a trenchant article last month at Slate, it really is not for an American President to say what is or is not Islamic. It is not simply because Obama is a Christian and hence an outsider to Islam. No more does the Head of State of the United States have any business telling Christians what is true Christian teaching, or which clergy are authoritative.  It is for the faithful to decide, without state coercion, what they believe and who their authorities are.

When a President tells the faithful what does and does not constitute a particular religion, he would seem to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Statements such as those of Obama and Bush also are likely to be self-defeating. Ultimately, the faithful – Christians, Muslims, and others – will see state attempts to establish religious doctrine as illegitimate, and they will side with their religious institutions over the American state.

When Christians Kill and Destroy but Also Make Peace, CAR Today

Consistency Deficit Disorder is a problem among Christians these days. Many Christians have been at the forefront of asking Muslims, “So, what are you Muslims going to do about violence committed by Muslims today?” while we Christians ourselves at times, perhaps not infrequently, turn a blind eye to violence committed by Christians. We need to stop, and then pray and think about this. The Central African Republic (CAR) is a good place to start.

A few days ago U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power tweeted about the “frightened Muslim pop[ulation]” in the CAR. Imagine if you and your family were living in the midst of a civil war and a group from a different religion and ethnicity were targeting people of your religion and ethnicity. I would be frightened, as I suppose you too would be.

For those of us who are Christian, there is an added gut-wrenching element to this: many of the perpetrators of death and destruction in the CAR, who are targeting the Muslim population, are from the Christian population.

Ambassador Power explained to reporters that as of her recent visit to CAR, 417 of the 436 mosques in this country had been destroyed, and around 20% of the country’s 4.5 million people have fled. Muslims are not the ones destroying mosques in CAR, Christians are.  Moreover, many, if not most, of the nearly 1 million people who have fled are Muslim, and they are fleeing from violence committed intentionally against them at the hands of the Christian population.

To my fellow Christians I ask:

So, what are we Christians going to do about violence being committed by Christians in CAR?

I ask for two reasons. The first is my concern about our Christian Consistency Deficit Disorder. The second reason is  because I continue to wonder:

What is the responsibility of religious believers in a given faith to engage fanatics advocating ideologies of hate while claiming to act in the name of this faith?

I am not sure what the answer to this question is. Violence is a human problem and we humans have responsibility for each other, regardless of religious affiliation. But even so, I do not think that “nothing, no responsibility at all” is the right answer to this question. Aside from this, Jesus teaches me, “love your neighbor.” The people of CAR are among my neighbors in this world. I had to stop to ask myself what I am going to do about this. I have neither a magic wand nor billions of dollars to donate. But I can do at least something.

First I did some research to learn about the conflict, and then I contacted a Christian expert I know with decades of experience doing development work together with the people of this region. I asked him for advice, and learned about some important peacemaking efforts led by Christians in CAR — efforts which can continue only with financial support.

Today I sent a donation to World Vision International’s Central African Relief Fund. World Vision’s peacemaking efforts in CAR are a collaborative effort involving Protestant and Catholic Christians together with Muslims.  Catholic Relief Services is a partner in this work. Another Christian partner in this work is INOVARCA.

So, what are we Christians going to do about violence being committed by Christians in CAR?

Prayer for the people of CAR and those working with them is part of my action-plan. Prayer matters. And alongside prayer is a need for as many people as possible to support concrete, wisely conceived action, such as the work by the Christian groups World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, and INOVARCA.



Shaun Casey’s New, Impossible Job: Help us Talk about Islam

What follows is an insightful guest post by Dennis Hoover, who is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Institute for Global Engagement, an innovative think-tank that promotes religious freedom through a methodology of friendship and engagement.  Dennis is also executive director of the Center on Faith & International Affairs (CFIA) and edits CFIA’s journal, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, a lively journal that serves as a forum for thought and practical ideas in religious and international affairs.

America has an Islam crisis which is centered, in a very basic way, on how to even talk about it. Nowhere was that more clear than in the controversy surrounding last month’s “White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.” In the weeks leading up to the Summit, the Administration was subjected to withering criticism—mostly from the right, but also from some formidable voices on the left—for refusing to describe as “Islamic” any terrorism committed by self-declared Muslims. Although this rhetorical posture has a long and bi-partisan history, in the current context patience is thin for anything that smacks of political correctness.

Enter the new “Office of Religion and Global Affairs” at the State Department, led by the widely respected Shaun Casey. Can Mr. Casey help rescue the debate? The daunting challenge will be to find the sweet spot of constructive candor.

The Office of Religion and Global Affairs is in some ways a continuation of the State Department’s prior Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. But more than the name has changed. Several religion-related entities are now consolidated under the Office of Religion and Global Affairs: the Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Plenty are calling the changes welcome news. Institutional capacity and strategic coherence are improved, not to mention branding clarity (“faith-based” has always been a clunky, if not constitutionally suspect, modifier to use in a governmental context). However, having raised the profile of religious engagement in U.S. foreign policy, the bar is now also raised in terms of the rhetoric employed in religion-focused diplomacy—most especially in engagement of Muslim leaders, organizations, and movements.

What is or isn’t said about Islam is going to be minutely scrutinized (not least by the Obama Administration’s many critics in the Fox News echo chamber). Tough topics will need to be raised. Treading too lightly risks wasting everyone’s time on polite inter-faith platitudes of peace. Yet an overabundance of name-shame-blame “candor” about Islam can be not only time-wasting but acutely counterproductive—it unnecessarily confers religious legitimacy on violent extremists, and alienates Muslim allies in the war against them.

And the office will need to say something: Two of the three envoys now reporting to Casey are explicitly about engaging Muslim actors, and the third is focused on combating Anti-Semitism, which of course involves confronting Muslim Anti-Semitism alongside all the other growing forms of Anti-Semitism (many of them Christian).

What to say? And how to say it? There are no easy answers, but a helpful point of rhetorical reference is President Obama’s own speech at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. Although most of the news media missed it completely, Obama’s oratory did in fact reach a new level of constructive candor:

Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations. … [T]here’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances—sometimes that’s accurate—does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values. … So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.

Here’s hoping the newly reconfigured and renamed Office of Religion and Global Affairs will be similarly deft in its diplomatic truth-telling in the challenging years ahead.

The Pope, ISIS and U.S. Military Intervention

Much is being made of the Vatican’s uncharacteristic statements lending support for limited use of force against ISIS. The most recent came from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s representative to the UN agencies in Geneva and Vienna. In an interview with Crux, Archbishop Tomasi said, “We have to stop this kind of genocide. Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”

Archbishop Tomasi’s recent statement is consistent with statements by Pope Francis, who said last August, in response to questions about the U.S. bombing campaign, that, “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.”

Is the Vatican position on ISIS a sharp departure from recent Church teaching and action on the use of military force? It certainly is, if one considers the Church’s opposition to the Iraq interventions in 1991 and 2003, an increasingly strong emphasis on nonviolence in Church statements, and numerous papal warnings that “war is not the answer.”

But, in fact, the statements on ISIS are not charting a new, more militant position for the Church. The Catechism retains the Church’s traditional embrace of a highly restrictive interpretation of the just war tradition. Moreover, the statements on ISIS are very similar to earlier statements on the use of force against Al Qaeda and the right and duty of humanitarian intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other cases of genocide. The Church has long said and continues to say that there is just cause for the limited use of military force in exceptional circumstances. Specifically, it supports the Responsibility to Protect: the duty of the international community to intervene to protect civilians against mass killings and other egregious human rights violations when the government is unable or unwilling to do so.

None of this suggests the Vatican is abandoning its healthy skepticism about the ability of military interventions to meet strict just war norms. Two issues are of special concern, especially for those concerned about the implications for U.S. policy.

First is legitimate authority. Consistent with its strong support for strengthening international law and international institutions, the Vatican has called for the UN Security Council to determine what means are necessary to deal with cases like ISIS. As the pope said last August, “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.” Archbishop Tomasi reiterated this point: “It will be up the United Nations and its member states, especially the Security Council, to determine the exact form of intervention necessary, but some responsibility [to act] is clear.”

Why insist on UN Security Council authorization? After all, at least in Iraq, U.S. (and Iranian) intervention at the invitation of the Iraqi government may be justified as collective defense under article 51 of the UN Charter. The problem is that the Iraqi government’s moral and political legitimacy is in question. While the government has taken some positive steps to include Sunnis and Kurds in recent months, it remains largely sectarian and its efforts to combat ISIS risk exacerbating that sectarianism. Its reliance on Iranian and Shiite militias to retake Tikrit is the latest example.

In Syria, the need for UN Security Council authorization is even more clear, but less possible. It is more clear because there is a failed government and an anarchic situation with hundreds of rebel groups of various stripes. It is a classic case for invocation of the Responsibility to Protect. But it is less possible to get Security Council authorization due to differences among the Permanent 5. Unilateral intervention might be justified because the UN Security Council has proven itself incapable of acting in a responsible way in response to the crisis in Syria. But unilateral intervention doesn’t solve the problem that there is no legitimate and credible government or opposition group to support.

Legitimate authority is closely connected to a second concern: finding morally appropriate and effective means. As Pope Francis clarified when he said there is just cause to stop ISIS: “I’m not saying bomb or make war, just stop.” Since the end of the Cold War, the Vatican has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene when whole populations are at risk. By intervention, it means a wide range of actions, only some of which involve military force. Efforts to cut off ISIS’ access to weapons, financing, oil markets, and new recruits are just one example of what needs to be done.

While limited military intervention also seems necessary, we must be brutally realistic about what that might achieve. For most of the past 12 years, the United States has bombed, fought, trained and armed the Iraqi government. Yet Iraq is as violent and unstable as ever. Is it reasonable to expect military intervention to produce significantly different results today than it has over the past decade? Without a serious and sustained political strategy to build a more democratic, human-rights respecting, and effective government in Iraq, military force will be of only limited effectiveness against ISIS, whose strength is, in part, a function of the Iraqi government’s political weakness.

And Iraq is relatively easy compared to Syria. What would be the objectives of military action? To defend civilians against ISIS? Against the Syrian government, too? Against all armed groups that threaten civilians? To rebuild a nation? If the latter, who would undertake the Iraq-style occupation and nation building that would be necessary, and what grounds do we have for thinking that would succeed any better than it did in Iraq?

There are no morally clear or clean answers to the moral conundrums the international community faces in Iraq and Syria.

The United States, in particular, faces a serious moral conundrum. U.S. policy has suffered a double moral failure: it was immoral to intervene in Iraq in 2003, and in the years since, its self-serving, misguided, incompetent and sometimes grossly negligent policies have failed the Iraqi people. The first moral failure made the second more likely. These many years, many deaths, many billions of dollars, and many missteps later, we are tempted to say that we have done all we can do and wash our hands of the problem, letting Iraq and Syria be torn apart by their “ancient hatreds.” But that would be shirking our moral obligations, for the United States has become –voluntarily! – very much a part of those hatreds.

The more serious temptation at this moment of crisis is to do what we did in 2003: pursue a quick-fix military solution justified by best-case scenarios about the good that would be achieved – peace, freedom, and democracy for Iraq and the region. But that approach lacks the realism essential to any ethic of military intervention. Because past U.S. interventions helped create the current crisis, we have a moral obligation to act. Limited military intervention might be necessary. But without a serious effort to address the larger political, economic, and cultural dynamics – to engage in nation building in two countries torn asunder, it will be no more successful than it has been until now.

The Strange Silence Towards the “Real War on Christians”

An excellent piece in Foreign Policy — significantly, a highly mainstream forum — documents the strange silence in the U.S. about violence towards and displacement of Christians in the Middle East.

Here is a preview:

Last August, President Barack Obama signed off on legislation creating a special envoy charged with aiding the ancient Christian communities and other beleaguered religious minorities being targeted by the Islamic State.

The bill was a modest one — the new position was given a budget of just $1 million — and the White House quietly announced the signing in a late-afternoon press release that lumped it in with an array of other low profile legislation. Neither Obama nor any prominent lawmakers made any explicit public reference to the bill.

Seven months later, the position remains unfilled — a small but concrete example of Washington’s passivity in the face of an ongoing wave of atrocities against the Assyrian, Chaldean, and other Christian communities of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has razed centuries-old churches and monasteries, beheaded and crucified Christians, and mounted a concerted campaign to drive Christians out of cities and towns they’ve lived in for thousands of years. The Iraqi city of Mosul had a Christian population of 35,000 when U.S. forces invaded the country in 2003; today, with the city in the hands of the Islamic State, the vast majority of them have fled.

Every holiday season, politicians in America take to the airwaves to rail against a so-called “war on Christmas” or “war on Easter,” pointing to things like major retailers wishing shoppers generic “happy holidays.” But on the subject of the Middle East, where an actual war on Christians is in full swing, those same voices are silent. A push to use American aircraft to shield the areas of Iraq where Christians have fled has gone nowhere. Legislation that would fast-track visa applications from Christians looking to leave for the United States never even came up for a vote. The White House, meanwhile, won’t say if or when it will fill the special envoy position.

“It’s been difficult to get the attention of the previous administration, or the current one, when it comes to the urgent need to act,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, the California Democrat who drafted the visa legislation. “The classic definition of genocide is the complete annihilation of a group of people. The Islamic State is well on its way. It keeps me up at night.”

In solidarity with Iraqi religious minority women on international women’s day

If you are looking for a good reason to reject the title of this article, you will find plenty. Why religious minority women? All women in Iraq have suffered, in particular since the American invasion, irrespective of whether they belong to a religious minority or not. Why label them “religious minority women”? They may not identify themselves as such, and such categorization creates harmful silos that victimize people anyway. Why should we single them out for solidarity?  There are many between-the-lines basis for discomfort in focusing our attention on Iraq’s “religious minority women”: the media’s focus on women who belong to religious minorities in Iraq only serves to accentuate a reductionist singling out of ISIS as the big evil as opposed to examining the complex set of actors and forces at play. Finally, while the plight of religious minority women in Iraq is quite dreadful, there are other women who are also suffering globally, but may perhaps not be receiving the kind of media attention that is given to this current geostrategic hotspot. And the very final finally, what if the reports of atrocities suffered by religious minority women are exaggerated/inaccurate/biased/made up?

Some unpacking is needed here. That Iraqi women have suffered some of the worst atrocities and violations of their basic rights in particular since the US invasion and the assumption of power of a highly authoritarian and sectarian regime has now been well documented in particular through the pioneering work of Nadje Al Ali.  It is also possible that if you collect the narratives of women who belong to religious and ethnic minorities such as the Christians, Yazidis, Shabak, Shia Turkmen, many would feel uncomfortable with being called “minority” and they would argue they have lived there for at least two millennia, and for the Yazidis, their ancient heritage goes back to 4000BC.  They would also not necessarily identify themselves by their gender identity, other identifiers may take precedence in relation to the context and the moment.

However,  national Iraqi women’s organizations, international human rights organizations as well as UN sources are all coming back with the same evidence: women members of religious minorities’ suffering has reached proportions greater than that of the general female population on account of their systematic targeting. It is distinct from the assault on Iraqi women on account of the politics of the intersection of gender with religious identity. According to a recently published report by Minority Rights Group and a number of rights-based organizations, drawing on local accounts, there are more than 5,000 Yezidi women who have been abducted, raped and sold as slaves. The forced conversion of many Christian, Yazidi and other non-Sunni women and their forced marriage to ISIS fighters as well as the thriving slave trade in these women is beyond counting. ISIS has justified these act on ideological grounds: the right to take women who are not of the Muslim Sunni faith as war booty. The corroboration of evidence from widely different sources, both indigenous as well as external suggests that these are not mere fabrications or exaggerations.

The political economy of sexual violence is sustained through a web of actors driven not only by ideology.  The sex trafficking of these women is not confined to a closed ISIS club in Iraq: sex slave markets have been set up beyond the Iraqi borders and “catering” to non-Isis clients as well, as an economic enterprise. The report notes that “recently, the US-led airstrikes on ISIS’s oil network has significantly diminished a vital source of funding, reportedly causing the group to intensify its trade in women as an alternative source of income”. Many of these women have also been trafficked and sold as sex slaves in the Arabian peninsula, making prospects of their re-capture extremely slim, states the report.

We may choose to see the sexual enslavement of women belonging to religious minorities, whether sold as slaves, detained for ISIS fighters’ sexual exploitation, or in forced marriages as part of a broader spectrum of gender based violence. True, it is. But it also needs to be seen as targeted genocide. The Minority Rights Group report argues that the evidence does point to a pre-meditated intent to cleanse communities on account of their religious identity. In this sense, the sexual violence is part and parcel of this political project: “Summary executions, forced conversion, rape, sexual enslavement, the destruction of places of worship, the abduction of children, the looting of property and other severe human rights abuses and crimes under international law have been committed repeatedly by ISIS. While minorities have long been vulnerable to attacks by extremists, this violence appears to be part of a systematic strategy to remove these communities permanently from areas where they have lived for centuries”

The visibility of religious minority women of the Arab world in transnational policy spaces leaves much to be desired. A march is organized in London in solidarity  but so much more is needed. Transnational solidarity work needs to stem from partnerships with local and regional actors, so they speak with, rather than on behalf of, local organized activisms. However, against a backdrop of almost complete silence on the part of organized regional feminist actors on the genocide in Iraq, perhaps sidestepping the regional and engaging with organizations working with Iraqi women is needed. Transnational solidarity is needed on several levels. First, the need to recognize their particular hardships on account of the intersection of their religious and gender identities while also recognizing their full agency in resistance and endurance and that of their communities. Second, the need for international transnational feminist activists to press to not only have the perpetrators accountable but the accomplices and bystanders too. According to the report by Minority rights group and others, accounts of abductees who managed to escape for instance makes reference to a Saudi prince collecting the money from the sale of the women slaves. The accomplices who organize the slave markets, those who smuggle them, those who purchase the women and the bystanders must all be held to account. Analysts also point to US American foreign policy: after all who enabled the arming of these groups in the first place? There are also countries like neighbouring Turkey who have refused to take in Christian refugees who have escaped ISIS from Iraq and Syria. A prominent Syrian bishop has accused Turkey of allowing all to pass through its borders (including stolen oil from Syria) except Christian refugees.

Yes, all Iraqi women have suffered, and many others around the world are suffering too, but the women belonging to religious minorities in Iraq are facing an existential threat of massive proportions, and a transnational feminist response of equal proportions is needed. It starts with reaching out to organizations on the ground in Iraq and surrounding countries where they have been displaced, so as amplify their voices in the international media, support their mobilizational efforts for recognition internationally and build international alliances to hold all those who should be held to account, the perpetrators, the accomplices and the bystanders.

The God Squad

The U.S. government now has a “God Squad.” Religious factors impact many U.S. foreign policy issues. The government needs a stronger toolbox to engage with religious actors and factors in foreign policy. It has been a long, hard road, but the U.S. government is increasing this capacity and commitment. This week Dr. Shaun Casey, Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, headlined a panel discussion on “The Future of Religion and Diplomacy” to shine a light on the U.S. State Department’s efforts to help policy makers better understand and engage with the religious dimensions of world affairs. The event was hosted by the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, which does important work to educate people in the First Amendment principles of the U.S. Constitution. The State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs has issued guidance to the Department of State and all U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world regarding engagement with religious actors and factors in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Also, several special envoys with responsibilities for religious foreign policy issues are being consolidated into the Religion and Global Affairs Office. This “God Squad” aims to improve the U.S. government’s capacities to effectively navigate the religious dimensions of foreign policy.

This process began in the 1990s, with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. Religion was neglected as a factor in foreign policy during the Cold War, as it was thought to be unimportant in the fight against “Godless Communism.” The fallacy of this view was shown in events from the Iranian revolution to the resurgence of religion with the fall of the Soviet Empire. The 1998 IRFA law created several institutions to promote religious freedom, the external, independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom outside of government, and within the State Department, the IRFA law created an Office of International Religious Freedom and an Ambassador of International Religious Freedom (a position now held by Amb. David Saperstein). The State Department IRF Office was charged with producing the annual IRF report. But it also was mandated to interact with civil society, including religious actors, persecuted groups, and human rights groups, as this would be necessary to gather the information for the report and to help guide U.S. foreign policy in this area. This small office, while important to promote religious freedom, was not enough to address all the areas where religion impacts U.S. foreign policy. It has been supplemented with a Special Representative to Muslim Communities (the position now held by Shaarik Zafar), the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (Ira Forman now holds this post), and the Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (Arsalan Suleman is Acting Special Envoy). Over a year ago, a new office of Religion and Global Affairs was created, directed by Special Representative Dr. Shaun Casey. Now these positions are consolidated into the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, bringing this expertise together. The office is located on the 7th Floor of the State Department, a sign of the importance of the issue to Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry noted at this week’s event that “Religion matters in the world today. If I were to go back to college today, I’d major in Comparative Religions.” Madame Secretary Albright concurred, picking up a theme from her book  The Mighty and the Almighty, noting the challenge before us lies in “harnessing the unifying potential of faith while containing its capacity to divide.”  The heartbreaking headlines from Syria show great challenges lie before us. Godspeed to the “God Squad.”

Understanding ISIS’ obsession with Dabiq

Gabriel Said Reynolds has joined the debate on the religious character of ISIS (see this earlier piece on ArcU) in publishing a brilliant piece on “ISIS’ apocalyptic obsession” with the town of Dabiq in Syria. While the town could be considered by many as insignificant “with almost no strategic value”, ISIS

believes that that village of a few thousand people in northwestern Syria, not far from the border with Turkey, is where the great apocalyptic battle with Christian forces will take place.

This explains the centrality of Dabiq for ISIS (and why they named their online magazine after this town). In order for the apocalyptic vision to be fulfilled, the armies of the non-believers (the West) must fight with the army of Muslims (ISIS) in Dabiq:

ISIS will wage war, and wage it constantly, in the hope of luring the United States into a massive invasion, in the hope of provoking a final battle that will usher in the end of the world.

Definitely worth reading!

© 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.