This blog has given much attention to the religious freedom of Christians. A human right, religious freedom is for everyone. Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty — whose 50th anniversary was celebrated in December in Rome at the conference of Under Caesar’s Sword — teaches that religious freedom arises from human dignity.
Today, the religious freedom of Muslims merits attention. U.S. politicians direct angry rhetoric against Muslims for political gain. Donald Trump has called for an end to Muslim immigration into the United States. He extolled an early twentieth century incident where an American general summarily executed Muslim prisoners in the Philippines with bullets “dipped in pigs’ blood.” 31 governors have refused to allow Syrian refugees into their state, often appealing to anti-Muslim sentiment. In 2009, Tennessee residents sought to block the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on the grounds that Islam is a violent philosophy, not a religion (while others supported the Mosque). The list goes on.
Two recent pieces are worth reading on this issue. One is by Chad Bauman, professor of religion at Butler University in Indianapolis, one of our Under Caesar’s Sword scholars, and an expert on the religious liberty of Christians in India. Writing for Religion Dispatches, he recounts an incident at a backpacker’s hostel where a Hindu proprietor, seeking to elicit solidarity, said to him and his friends, “Americans hate Muslims, too.”
Still today, when I travel in India, Hindus presupposing my agreement frequently make off-handed and derogatory comments about their Muslim neighbors. For those concerned about the effectiveness of the United States’ advocacy for religious freedom around the world, the perception that “Americans hate Muslims, too” should be a matter of great concern.
As I have written elsewhere, India’s Christians suffer from various forms of social and legal discrimination, and are vandalized, kidnapped, or attacked (occasionally even fatally) about 250-350 times a year. This is a serious problem, and one deserving international approbation. However, the repression and persecution of India’s Christians pales in comparison to that of its Muslim minority.
The perception that “Americans hate Muslims, too” helps to feed the view that American advocacy of religious freedom is little more than Christian advocacy:
In fact, Indians are also widely aware of the problem of hate crimes committed against Muslims in America, where, according to FBI statistics, and proportional to the respective national populations, they are roughly as common as attacks on Christians in India. (One of the reasons that this problem is of particular interest in India, of course, is that those intending to attack Muslims in America often mistakenly attack Indian American Sikhs or Hindus, as reported in this Times of India story.)
All of this, of course, simply serves to confirm the impression of many Indians that “Americans hate Muslims, too,” and that our advocacy for religious freedom is really just Christian advocacy. Overcoming this impression, so that the United States might become a more effective, credible advocate for religious freedom in India will require consistent, intentional work.
In my view, it is worth stressing that U.S. religious freedom policy is not just for Christians. By law and in practice, the U.S. government offices that promote religious freedom cover all religions, everywhere, and do a remarkably thorough job of it. The annual reports of the U.S. State Department Office of International Religious Freedom and of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom are the best reports of international religious persecution and discrimination that one will find anywhere. Bauman’s point is well taken. For the U.S. to merit an international reputation that matches the balance of policy, it must publicly denounce the curtailment of the religious freedom of Muslims — and of everyone — with focused effort.
The other piece, by Laurie Goodstein in yesterday’s New York Times, details the efforts of imams in the West to teach a theology that counters that of ISIS. At a time when so much attention is focused on ISIS and when such attention reinforces a view held by many that Islam is hard-wired for violence and intolerance, the piece documents intensive and courageous efforts by imams to offer a different voice. The imams have suffered death threats from ISIS:
It is a religious rumble that barely makes headlines in the secular West since it is carried out at mosques and Islamic conferences and over social media.The
Islamic State, however, has taken notice.
The group recently threatened the lives of 11 Muslim imams and scholars in the West, calling them “apostates” who should be killed. The recent issue of the Islamic State’s online propaganda magazine, Dabiq, called them “obligatory targets,” and it said that supporters should use any weapons on hand to “make an example of them.”
The danger is real enough that the F.B.I. has contacted some of those named in the Islamic State’s magazine “to assist them in taking proper steps to ensure their safety,” said Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the F.B.I.’s field office in Washington.
It is critical that we hear all Muslim voices and encourage those who take risks for peace. To do so will not hurt, but rather will give credibility to, the cause of persecuted Christians. And, on account of human dignity, it is just the right thing to do.