Archive - January 2017

1
Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam
2
Silence = Death… For Our Sisters
3
The Abortion Paradox
4
Democrats Need to Get Religion

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.

Silence = Death… For Our Sisters

My younger sister, Rachel, celebrated her birthday a couple of days ago. Growing up, there was never any question that my parents adored their new baby.

Rachel and Rebecca circa 1980

Rachel and Rebecca circa 1980

Rachel’s experience, however, was not shared by millions of girl children born into families who preferred to have a son rather than another daughter. Birth order is a significant risk factor; girls born second, third, or fourth (or later) face the highest risk. Today, as a result, millions of girls in India are missing. Since 1991 more than 12 million girls have been killed just because they were girls.

Unfortunately, India’s poorly enforced law to prevent prenatal sex determination and stop the country’s “gendercide” has done little to stop new and more advanced methods of determining fetal sex. For example, blood from a finger prick of a woman in Punjab in her seventh week of pregnancy could be rushed to a laboratory in the US, and the test results could arrive in less than a week. One can easily find modern sex-determination methods advertised on the internet that are euphemistically referred to as “family balancing services.”

Rachel arrived in the mid-1970s, at a time when India began to actively dispose of baby girls with the help of sex-selection technologies such as amniocentesis and ultrasound. Amniocentesis was introduced in India to detect genetic abnormalities. As government-sponsored family planning efforts began to persuade families to limit the number of children, however, many couples turned to these technologies to find out the baby’s sex.  Then, knowing their child was female, families considered abortion in order to avoid having too many girls and to ensure that they would have at least one son. Some ultrasound clinics geared their business to families who feared paying for high dowries by promoting their sex-detection services with advertisements like this: “Pay a few hundred rupees now rather than lakhs (1 lakh = 100,000 rupees) later.”

Proponents of permissive abortion often cite financial exigency as one the main reason women choose to end their pregnancy.  Yet money is not the issue. If anything, households with higher incomes have even greater financial capacity to engage in “family balancing” by one means or another. According to a Lancet study, the sex ratio for second-order children when the first-born is female is even more skewed (806 girls per 1000 boys) in wealthier households and where the mother has ten or more years of education.

Furthermore, Indian-Americans are among the most highly educated and financially well-off ethnic groups in the U.S. But signs of skewed sex ratios can be seen in the diaspora’s demography. Analysis of birth data in California between 1991 and 2004 reveals the growing use of sex-selection among Indian- Americans in California to ensure they have a son. Son preference has persisted in the face of tremendous privilege and wealth such that an Indian woman in California is more likely than women from any other ethnic group to terminate her pregnancy if she discovers she is carrying a girl and if her previous children were female.

In May 2015, California Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) introduced a bill to ban sex-selective abortion in California. The bill was defeated by a 13-6 vote in its first committee. Opponents of the bill suggested that such bills could perpetuate “racial stereotypes” and roll back a woman’s right to choose and possibly criminalize the discussion about reproductive choices between a physician and their patients. Yet nations such as France and Germany, which boast staunch pro-choice and pro-abortion rights laws and protections, have banned sex-selective abortions.

In Britain, a bill to end sex-selective abortion was defeated after a letter by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was circulated stating that ban may leave women “vulnerable to domestic abuse.”  BPAS and the TUC suggested that a ban on sex selective abortions might increase the risk of women being abused by partners who do not want to father girls.  In other words, a measure to stop the actual killing of unborn girls was criticized on the premise that it might lead to the abuse of some women. In fact, data from India strongly suggest that it is the practice of sex-select abortion — in contexts of virtual legal and cultural impunity — that is significantly associated with a wide variety of other abuses of women, such as abductions and forced marriages, levels of gang rape, assault, and dowry-related deaths.

School girls in Bangalore

School girls in Bangalore

The causal connection is not hard to fathom. Sex-selective abortion both presupposes and causes a grotesque misogyny. It presupposes that girls are of less worth. And once a society has succeeded in killing enough girls on this premise, the consequent shortage of girls sets in motion further assaults on the shrinking number of marriageable women.

In India marriage remains near-universal, with over 90% of men and women tying the knot. Right now, the statistics are worrying. Even if, by some miracle, the sex ratio were to stabilize by 2050, there would still be an excess of over 30 million single men waiting to marry. As a consequence, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, kidnapping and abduction of women (much of which is related to forced marriage) increased threefold in the past ten years. Uttar Pradesh, which has one of the lowest sex ratios in India, is responsible for the highest number of kidnapping and abductions of women and the third-highest number of rape cases.

The Abortion Paradox

This year, when I and most likely hundreds of thousands of other people walk in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., we will be doing so with greater optimism than we have had in many years. We have a president in the White House who promises strong measures to protect the unborn.

This is ironic. I did not vote for Trump in good part because of his many statements that augured exclusions of entire classes of people from our national life as well as the compromise of human rights. Yet he is quite likely to take serious measures towards including the unborn in our national community. Meanwhile, the other candidate promised inclusion and tolerance but would exclude the unborn from the human family right up to the moment of birth. Her party brashly celebrated its extreme abortion rights stance and made no room for pro-life voices in its 2016 national convention, just as in 2012.

This is what may be called the abortion paradox: Powerful organizations and sectors that profess themselves devoted to human rights and the protection of the weak are indifferent to or even support the largest human rights violation in the world. Major mainstream human rights organizations, much of the development community, and the preponderance of voices for justice in academia practice this paradox.

The largest human rights violation in the world? Yes, these are strong words. Readers of this post may not agree that unborn persons are fully human and so may demur. Suffice it to say that at the moment of conception, the fertilized ovum is an entirely unified individual human being, wholly distinct from (albeit highly dependent upon) his or her mother, and begins a process of development that, unless halted by nature or human hands, will last the entire career of his or her life. Embryo textbooks make it clear: Conception is when you started being you.

When a person starts being a person, he or she has human rights. It follows that the right of unborn persons to life is violated on a scale of around one million annually in the U.S. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that some 40-50 million abortions take place every year, though other estimates place it around 12 million. Either way, the numbers are orders of magnitude beyond other classes of human rights violations, including those committed in the largest civil wars and massacres of the past generation.

Yet, in 2007, Amnesty International, the world’s most venerable human rights organization, declared its support for abortion rights – the human right to carry out a major human rights violation. Human Rights Watch supports abortion rights, too, as do major development organizations like Oxfam, as have top United Nations officials in human rights and development. Often they cite their goal as providing clean, safe abortions for women but almost never do they mention the rights of the other person affected by abortions.

The Democratic Party included leaders who professed pro-life stances around the time of Roe V. Wade, including Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. It was not at all inevitable that the Democrats — the party of the little guy — would be the party of abortion rights. Once the abortion lobby gained control of the issue in the early 1980s, though, it became impossible to become a national leader in the party and still be in favor of the right to life for unborn persons. Politicians like Albert Gore and Richard Gephardt abandoned their previous pro-life stances. Now legendary is the denial of a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention to Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who watched the proceedings from the rafters of the arena.

The upshot of the abortion paradox is that advocates of the right to life for the unborn receive no help from and are in fact opposed by some of the most powerful organizations that advocate for human rights and for the welfare of the world’s most vulnerable people. Compromised is the credibility of the human rights movement, which comes to look more like an ideology. The same paradox stands in the way of a unified coalition for human rights and of the possibility of a political platform that would support the right to life as well as provide substantial material help to women giving birth and to children at the youngest age. Instead, we are left with Trump for Life. In this endeavor, may he prosper.

Democrats Need to Get Religion

At least two friends forwarded me this interview conducted in The Atlantic Monthly by religion writer Emma Green, a journalist whom I always find insightful. Here, she interviews a former Obama White House staffer, Michael Wear, on the failure of the Democratic Party to understand and appeal to religion — arguably a major reason for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The whole interview is worth reading, but here were some of the most salient moments for me:

Green: I’ve written before about the rare breed that is the pro-life Democrat. Some portion of voters would likely identify as both pro-life and Democrat, but from a party point of view, it’s basically impossible to be a pro-life Democrat. Why do you think it is that the party has moved in that direction, and what, if anything, do you think it should do differently?

Wear: The spending that women’s groups have done is profound. 2012 was a year of historic investment from Planned Parenthood, and the campaign in 2016 topped it.

Number two, we’re seeing party disaffiliation as a way of signaling moral discomfort. A lot of pro-life Democrats were formerly saying, “My presence here doesn’t mean I agree with everything—I’m going to be an internal force that acts as a constraint or a voice of opposition on abortion.” Those people have mostly left the party.

Third, I think Democrats felt like their outreach wouldn’t be rewarded. For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.

And this:

Green: One could argue that among most Democratic leaders, there’s a lack of willingness to engage with the question of abortion on moral terms. Even Tim Kaine, for example—a guy who, by all accounts, deeply cares about his Catholic faith, and has talked about his personal discomfort with abortion—fell into line.

How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups—who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories—had been demanding.

The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane. This debate, for both sides, is not just about the abortion rate; it’s not just about the legality of it. It’s a symbolic debate. It’s symbolic on the pro-choice side about the autonomy of women and their freedom to do what they want with their bodies. On the pro-life side, they care not just about the regulations around abortion, but whether there’s a cultural affirmation of life.

Even the symbolic olive branches have become less acceptable.

 

© 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.