Archive - 2017

1
Syria: A Moral Afterthought to a Moral Tragedy
2
You Are Not Alone: Why America Needs the World on FoRB
3
Popes on the Rise!
4
Under the Shogun’s Sword
5
Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All
6
The Vatican: A Religious Body or Holy Mediator?
7
Winning Clean
8
Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom
9
Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Refugee
10
Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam

Syria: A Moral Afterthought to a Moral Tragedy

Bombing an airfield in response to the latest of a long litany of atrocities committed by the Assad regime, ISIS, and a host of other factions in Syria seems like a moral afterthought. It is a moral afterthought for several reasons.
  • The humanitarian case for military intervention is clear. Syria is a failed state, torn apart by some of the world’s most ruthless killers. As Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have said, when whole populations are threatened by systematic and widespread killing, the international community has a right and duty to protect civilians. The use of chemical weapons is an egregious act, but the airstrikes seem like an afterthought given the many, many equally egregious acts that were not considered worthy of response.
  • Unilateral intervention, especially without Congressional authorization, is morally problematic. In order to guard against endless wars of altruism, the UN Security Council should authorize interventions in places like Syria. Since the Security Council, hamstrung largely by Russian intransigence, has proven itself incapable of acting in a responsible way in Syria, other collective bodies should act.
  • Bombing is not a morally serious way to protect threatened populations. Because of the grave risks involved, bombing should not be about making statements or political points; it must be tied to a serious and viable strategy for protecting the Syrian people. The lack of a credible government or opposition in Syria makes it virtually impossible to have a serious strategy.
  • For most of the past 14 years, the United States has bombed, fought, trained and armed the Iraqi government.  Yet Iraq is as violent and unstable as ever. And Iraq is relatively easy compared to Syria.  What are the realistic objectives of our military action in Syria?  To defend civilians against ISIS? Against the Syrian government? 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 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 and contributed to the conflict in Syria. 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 is to do a very modest version of 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.

You Are Not Alone: Why America Needs the World on FoRB

There is real fear—given the State Department’s place in President Trump’s proposed budgets—that genuinely significant foreign policy efforts may be hamstringed, or axed entirely, in the coming months and years. Diplomacy, as a practice and tactic, already seems underfunded, and arguments are already being marshaled for why particular areas of concern should be continued or even expanded in what will undoubtedly be a shoestring budget. Such is the argument of Peter Mandaville earlier in March, where he outlines at least five strategic objectives of religious engagement in American foreign policy, some distinct, some overlapping with freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Much of that argument is persuasive and important, but I want to add one significant, friendly amendment to his strategic priorities: the view from outside. America is not alone on freedom of religion or belief, and it projects its values and its interests most profoundly when it acts diplomatically and galvanizes the world around issues of universal interest.

I make a longer argument over at the Berkley Center for Religion & World Peace.

Popes on the Rise!

Ansprache von Papst Franziskus auf dem PetersplatzWhile the twitters have been aflutter with Benedict, this past week a more circumspect group – less hashtags, more literature reviews – gathered at Campo Santo Teutonico at the Vatican. The goal of our international, and interdisciplinary gathering, was to present and debate research on the seemingly sudden rise in the power of the papacy, and of Vatican foreign policy more generally. The Pope, certainly but somewhat startlingly, has become a kind of international celebrity. Have we, the group wondered together, entered a kind of new era of Vatican foreign policy, one characterized by a resurgence in the significance of this small, sort-of, city-state?

A few caveats were given: the celebrity of viral social media can prejudice the question. For all Catholic history, it is safe to say, Popes have not been on twitter, they have not given selfies, and their words were not beamed around the globe in seconds. Despite this, they and their activities have had international significance. If, as one author has put it, a tree falls in the forest, does it mean a tweet caused it? It is more true to say, then, that scholarship and media are only now catching up on the political power of the modern papacy, and religion generally. Polish Solidarność presentations were aplenty at our conference, foregrounding debate on whether such Vatican influence was “unprecedented.” It certainly is not.

But maybe it’s not the Vatican, but the world stage, that has shifted so dramatically.  Timothy Byrnes, in his opening keynote, argued that the Holy See’s unique conditions of “sovereignty, supranationalism, and soft power” give it a kind of privilege, and also power, that most of the world’s other religions could only imagine. While, he said, the rest of the NGO’s gather outside the U.N. General Assembly tent, the Vatican sits inside. When the big decisions need to be made, the states of the world line up to speak, and the Vatican’s diplomats are among them. And those same diplomats represent a tradition that, with a kind of quasi-nation-state sovereignty, also command another kind of quasi-sovereignty over the faithful of the world’s Catholics. There on the Vatican’s seal are the keys of the kingdom, the fruit of Christ’s promise to St. Peter that “whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:9). “Soft power” is what the discipline of international relations calls that.

What does that power mean now, in an era Jonathan Fox characterizes as an increasing secular-religious competition? Does Vatican foreign policy point us toward the limits of mainstream secular theory, or can it be fitted into a model of interest-based advocacy, of diplomacy as usual, or norm entrepreneurship from an unusual source?

Those questions could hardly have been given more urgency last Friday, as the Vatican was cordoned off, and the Sistine Chapel, which I had visited mere hours before, was emptied out for Europe’s leaders to hear Pope Francis address them. These questions, and more, we are hoping to put together with some of the papers from the conference into a special issue of The Review of Faith & International Affairs, so stay tuned.

Under the Shogun’s Sword

One of my great frustrations is not having yet seen the movie Silence, Martin Scorcese’s film about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan based on Shusaku Endo’s great novel by the same name. Up until its release, the film was much ballyhooed, even being called the greatest religious film and the like, but then flopped at the box office. I still want very badly to see the movie, convinced that the film is far better than the reception it got. Scorcese, one of the great filmmakers of the past century, worked on it for some 25 years and held it close to his heart as his life’s work.

I also want to see the film in order to compare it with some of the commentary that touted it. (An excellent review of this commentary is written by my friend Margaret McCarthy, who is on the faculty of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.) One of the themes of the commentary was that the film is about how difficult it is to plant a “European” faith in non-European soil. In the novel, one of the Japanese officials says as much to one of the Jesuits. This is rather suspicious. In fact, the missionaries arrive in a Japan where there had once been Christian communities in the hundreds of thousands. Now Christians are hiding in small enclaves, where they crave the sacraments. The reason for this has nothing to do with the difficulty of cultural adaption, though. The reason is that the Christian community has been and is being brutally persecuted by the government. The novel tells of Christians who died the death of martyrs rather than renounce their faith. It is in this context that the main plot unfolds, where one of the missionaries, Fr. Sebastian, is brought to apostatize under questioning.

I’m interested in this story, too, on the basis of the ongoing project on persecution that I co-direct, Under Caesar’s Sword, which is precisely about how Christians respond to persecution.

Sounding the note of persecution just right is a review of the film by Thomas Hibbs, an homme de lettres at Baylor University, where he is Dean of the Honors College.

“The commentary has tended to ignore a more striking issue and perhaps one more relevant to our own time: namely, what happens to religious faith in a totalitarian political environment that actively and violently repudiates any religion that is not perfectly consonant with the dictates of the political regime,” Hibbs writes.  He describes the persecution thus:

Sixteenth-century Jesuit missionaries to Japan were for a time welcomed and had enormous success. Political changes in the country led to growing suspicion of foreign influences and to a fear that the allegiance of the Japanese people would be ssplit between nationalism and the new religion. The governmental response was ruthless and systematic. By the use of bribery and threats, it set ordinary citizens against one another and especially against any priests remaining in the country. The centerpiece of the elimination project was a very public form of repudiation of the faith: the so-called fumi-e (literally, “to step on a picture”), the stepping, and in some cases spitting, on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary.

He continues:

What sort of religion can survive in this setting, where religious liberty is systematically denied? If anything endures, it is minimalist and completely privatized; indeed, what remains is so private that it cannot emerge from the interior of the soul. In everything external to one’s thoughts and feelings, there must be complete conformity to the dictates of the state. Nothing less than public complicity with and docility toward the state is acceptable. If the film raises questions about the silence of God, it draws our attention equally to the silencing of religious speech and action. In the service of a totalitarian ideal, government agents exhibit a kind of enlightenment rationalism. They are meticulous, patient, thorough, articulate, and confident in their control and ultimate victory. One of the more instructive characteristics of Japanese rule in the film is that it is not just a regime of terror, desecration, and destruction. The surrealist nightmare of isolation, torture, and death that it constructs for believers stands in contrast to the world enjoyed by apostates, to whom, the officials offer comfort, work, community, and the esteem of both the elites and the common people. The strategy is smartly designed to suppress memories of, and longing for, any higher calling, any end beyond the scope of the state.

The Japanese rulers in the film were pioneers of a craft perfected in the twentieth century.

 

 

 

 

 

Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All

The following piece is reprinted from The Observer at the University of Notre Dame, February 22, 2017, where it was titled, “Stand Against Persecution and Exclusion.”

By now, a wide array of critics of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on refugees — including a passel of United States Catholic bishops — have explained with force and perspicacity how the action amounts to a failure of charity, hospitality and justice. Among the many baneful dimensions of the order is President Trump’s rhetorical insistence that Christians are to be favored and Muslims disfavored for entry into the U.S.

In fairness, the order itself does not privilege Christians or bar Muslims per se, and, in fact, makes religious persecution a factor that enhances a refugee’s case for entry — arguably a positive development that has historical precedent in the refugee policy of the United States. Even this gain, though, is offset by an indefinite bar of all refugees — whatever their religion — from Syria, one of the worst sites of religious persecution in the globe.

More troubling still, though, are Trump’s many statements that have advocated banning Muslims from immigration to the U.S., spoke of Muslims in derogatory terms and called for privileging the protection of Christians. These statements, undoubtedly designed to please the president’s most ardent supporters, are unjust and unwise. Making this case and denouncing the order are numerous leaders of Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches and of Christian organizations dedicated to relief, development and the alleviation of persecution.   

I applaud the protest of these leaders as co-director of a project, “Under Caesar’s Sword,” whose purpose is to promote solidarity with the world’s persecuted Christians. Based jointly at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and funded by a grant of $1.1 million from the Templeton Religion Trust, “Under Caesar’s Sword” is the world’s first systematic global investigation of Christian responses to persecution.

The project is timely and urgent. Nearly 3/4 of the world’s population lives in a country where religious freedom is strongly curtailed, and Christians suffer persecution and discrimination more than people of any other faith. The advocacy group Open Doorsreports that persecution only increased in 2016, when some 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith and some 215 million Christians faced persecution. Among the worst violators are the governments of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Eritrea and India, as well as the Islamic State.

“Under Caesar’s Sword” reports the reality of this persecution but more centrally conveys the range of Christian responses to it, many of these hopeful and courageous. A better understanding of these responses can help the rest of the world, not least a Catholic university, stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians. On Thursday, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will be celebrating a mass for persecuted Christians at 5:15 p.m. in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, followed by the screening of a short documentary film on the subject in Washington Hall at 6 p.m.

Solidarity with persecuted Christians, though, in no way justifies the exclusion of vulnerable Muslims from sanctuary in the U.S. or indifference to any human right of Muslims. Religious persecution of any kind and against anyone is a violation of the human right to religious freedom, which several major human rights conventions articulate. The Catholic Church committed itself to this human right definitively in its landmark declaration of 1965, “Dignitatis Humanae,” rooting religious freedom in the dignity of the human person and his or her search for religious truth.

Muslims themselves suffer the violation of religious freedom in great numbers. In some countries, Muslim minorities like Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis are persecuted at the hands of Sunni Muslim governments. Elsewhere, Muslims face repression at the hands of governments dominated by other religions, like Hindu India and Buddhist Burma, or secular governments, as is the case in China, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and several Central Asian republics. Muslims have faced harsh discrimination in the West, too. Even in the United States, which is relatively tolerant and open to Muslim assimilation, Muslims have been denied the right to build mosques and attacked by other citizens, as they were in a wave of incidents following President Trump’s election.

This is not to deny the frequency of violence committed by Islamist militants in the U.S. and around the world. President Trump’s policy, though, will do little to reduce this violence. The vetting of refugees is already remarkably stringent. The U.S. has accepted some 750,000 refugees since Sept. 11, 2001, not a single one of whom has committed a terrorist attack. 

Worse, the policy is likely to set back, not privilege, the cause of persecuted Christians. First, it undermines the credibility of these Christians’ appeals to universal human rights, makes their protests look like special pleading and hinders their already difficult task of gaining sympathy from human rights groups, the mainstream media, Western governments and international organizations. 

Second, the policy bequeaths recruiters of terrorists a perfect argument, confirming their contention that the United States wishes to fight a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.

Finally, the policy suffocates a narrative that deserves far more attention: that of solidarity between Christians and Muslims in common cause against violence and persecution. One of the major findings of “Under Caesar’s Sword” is that Christians often respond to persecution by forming bonds with people of other faiths as a bulwark against extremists. “Under Caesar’s Sword” scholars document such cooperation with Muslims in Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, Iraq, India and Indonesia.

After Islamist attacks on Coptic Churches on New Year’s Day in 2011 in Alexandria, Egypt, Muslims joined hands in a human shield around Coptic churches during their worship services, and Christians likewise surrounded mosques. In the U.S., when Florida pastor Terry Jones burned the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders joined to demonstrate against Jones’ deeds. 

We best promote religious freedom for one faith by doing the same for all faiths, and when we promote the religious freedom of one faith to the exclusion of others, we undermine our efforts even for that one faith.

Daniel Philpott

professor of political science

Feb. 20

The Vatican: A Religious Body or Holy Mediator?

Later next month, I’m looking forward to attending a conference in Rome on Vatican foreign policy called “Pope’s on the Rise! Mobilization, Media, and Political Power of the Modern Papacy.” The gambit of that conference is that the Vatican can and should make substantive contributions to global policy and politics. I agree, but the shape of that and its limits are all important. The Vatican’s mediators and its diplomats can give the world of global politics back a language it so desperately needs: a language of virtue, morality, dignity, and means—not just ends—as more than long-term expedience. Its very existence and confessions are a cap and check on unrestrained capital, tyrannical governance, and hyper-individualism. But that witness is strongest when made prophetically, and it is sometimes limited and compromised when it delves too deep into policy. It is rhetoric—it is a witness—that can ennoble and mediate, but it cannot coerce nor prescribe. I has limits, and it has perhaps reached those limits in Venezuela today.

I have a longer reflection up on Venezuela at the The Berkley Center forum today, on “The Pope’s Divisions.

Winning Clean

This op-ed in this past Sunday’s New York Times is one of the profoundest pieces I’ve read on military ethics in a long time. Again and again we hear about the allegedly excruciating dilemmas — can we torture this person to save scores of others?, and so on. The author, a soldier in Iraq, argues something very different: to compromise on ethics not only undermines the purposes the U.S. is fighting for but delays and hinders victory. He commends his piece to us in this age of Trump. Rightly so.

Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom

Over the past year or so, I and my colleague, friend, and fellow ArcU contributor, Tim Shah, have been arguing with what we call the “new critics” of religious freedom. They hold that religious freedom is a Western principle, reflecting Western power and history, and should not be exported, especially to the Muslim world. We demur.  Some previous pieces are here, here, here, and here.

Now, Tim and I have written an extended review essay of their most recent work, published in the Journal of Law and Religion. It’s our most extensive critique yet. We welcome continuing debate!

Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Refugee

Like many people, I experienced the vitality and vigor of the pro-life movement, marching with others in the streets this past Friday, January 27th — in my case in my home town of South Bend, Indiana.  In Washington, DC, the marchers heard Vice President Mike Pence proclaim that, at last, “life is winning.”

The untruth of that claim brings me to tears.  After that appearance, Pence joined the president to sign the order imposing a four-month ban on all refugees, an indefinite ban on (the most vulnerable) Syrian refugees, and a halt to the arrival of even those who have already been vetted and approved for a visa to enter the country.

This order is personal for me.  Through the work of my parish, and then the help of lawyers obtained through the migration office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a family who came as refugees from Iraq has been working for over two years to obtain a visa for the matriarch of the family, who faced significantly higher and longer layers of vetting because she had been a teacher in government schools.  The others could not miss the chance to flee when they were approved, and it has been a very tough two years.  She is alone, in poor health, has no way to earn a living, and is isolated from those she loves the most.

Finally, last month the visa was approved.  Her beautiful family–husband, two daughters and their husbands, each family with five little kids in our local schools, 15 total, waiting for one more–were all overjoyed.  I was overjoyed. (See this story in the South Bend Tribune of February 1, 2017.)

And now this.  On the same day that these leaders claimed the pro-life mantle–the same day!–this order comes down.  I think of the effect on this family and on tens of thousands of families in very desperate situations, including thousands of others also already vetted and approved.

I want to emphasize here that I am not making the connection to the pro-life movement as a rhetorical device.  I have been a public and staunch pro-lifer my whole life. Like many others in the movement I opposed the previous administration’s numerous attacks on the right to life, including the HHS mandate.

But the politics of this week will in the end erode, not build up, a culture of life.

And the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics.  We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero.  Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?

While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear.  Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.  And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.

And so this is a call. In your parish, or university, or city, consider making it known you wish to join—in the name of the pro-life movement—the display of repudiation for the unjust and unchristian orders of this week.  The point will not be to grandstand and feel good about being more righteous than the administration.  It will be to try to seek some legislative, judicial, or cultural remedies for the sake of our communities’ many refugee families and immigrants in vulnerable legal statuses.

Perhaps you can meet with officials. Perhaps you know someone in a position of influence. We must have hope that some aspects of this order, and the direction toward which it leads, can be walked back if enough people resist. Whatever we do, I hope it involve praying together and saying loudly together: “this is not the culture of life.”

Two days after the order was signed, I brought the beautiful Iraqi family to a gathering of faithful people, people from the Church, who prayed with and over this family.  What they witnessed was not an “issue” but an encounter with real people, people who themselves are afraid but whom we have no rational basis to fear (I was grateful when they explained the layers and layers of vetting they received).

Lastly, in addition to having no rational basis to fear this family—or their matriarch whose reunification with her family is now in question—we do in fact risk losing the grace which God is offering to us. For the words of Christ himself tell us that in encountering the refugee we encounter Him.

Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam

President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees have much to do with Islam. They are outrageous, in my view, and I will have more to say about them in a post to come soon. The orders are likely to play into a culture war over Islam that has been going on in the West at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It’s the same debate over and over again, flaring up every time there is an incident somewhere involving a Muslim or group of Muslims committing violence: Paris, San Bernardino, Berlin, Benghazi, ISIS, and so on. There are hawks who think that Islam is hardwired for violence and doves who think that Islam, like all religions, is basically peaceful but has its extremists.

Who is right? I take up this question through two pieces published in Public Discourse. See here and here. My arguments preview a book that I am revising for publication, Religious Freedom in Islam? Intervening in a Culture War. To preview my position, both hawks and doves are right and wrong. Understanding how can calm the culture wars and give us a more constructive approach to Islam, both within and outside the West. The key to it all is religious freedom.

© 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.