Author - Daniel Philpott

1
Berlinerblau Strikes Again, This Time on Free Speech on Campuses
2
The Courageous Voice of Cardinal Bo on Behalf of Rohingya Muslims
3
ArcU Contributor Daniel Mark Elected Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom
4
Behind the Attacks on Christians in Egypt
5
Report Out On Christian Responses to Persecution: “Some Things Are Worth Standing For”
6
Under the Shogun’s Sword
7
Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All
8
Winning Clean
9
Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom
10
Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam

Berlinerblau Strikes Again, This Time on Free Speech on Campuses

I am a professor who believes that freedom is critical to the best and most defensible purpose of a university: the pursuit of knowledge, whose criterion is truth. And so I have been watching nervously in recent years as crowds on campuses have shouted down, chased off, and forced the disinvitation of speakers. The veritable takeover of Evergreen State by Jacobin mobs last month was positively frightening.

So, I read with great interest an insightful piece on the issue by Georgetown’s Jacques Berlinerblau — increasingly one of my favorite writers — published in the Washington Post last week. Berlinerblau was extolled here at ArcU by contributor Tim Shah, who praised and elaborated on his critique of “pomofoco” critics of religious freedom. Now he weighs in on speech on campus.

Berlinerblau notes that episodes of speech being shut down typically evoke cries of liberal bias:

Recent controversies at American colleges and universities follow a predictable script whose final act culminates in cries of “liberal bias!” The saga begins when a coalition on campus concludes that a person’s ideas are wrong, demeaning to a certain group or lacking in scholarly rigor. The holder of aforesaid ideas might have a lecture invitation rescinded (as occurred when the comedian Bill Maher was briefly disinvited from delivering a commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley in 2014). Or this person will be shouted down and verbally abused (as transpired recently with Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein, who declined to participate in a diversity initiative). Or maybe the offender will be shouted down, verbally abused and physically assaulted (as happened to lecturer Charles Murray and Professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College).

Once the incident goes viral, our drama lurches to its spectacular conclusion: a backlash emerges, and commentators decry liberalism run amok. The scandal at Middlebury impelled right-wing critics to speak of “liberal intolerance” and “liberal groupthink.” After the Evergreen episode, conservative media fingered “liberal terrorists” as responsible for Professor Weinstein’s ordeal. Even a progressive liberal like Bill Maher attributed his rebuff to the wishy-washiness of liberals.

He argues, though, that liberals are not to blame for this, but rather the radical left, which is disproportionately represented on campuses. “This third camp,” he argues, “is composed of a vast, and diverse array of quite serious scholars whose animus towards liberal ideas often exceeds its disdain for conservative ones.” Here is how he describes this camp:

If you want to conceptualize the differences between liberal and leftist professors in political terms—which, I repeat, is always hazardous—think of it this way. Liberal professors are the types that probably voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections. Radical left professors likely wrote her off as a dreaded “neo-liberal.” Their primary votes might have been cast for Bernie Sanders—as irritatingly “mainstream” as the social-democratic candidate might have been to them. In the general election they might have opted for Jill Stein, or sat it out altogether in protest of American capitalism, imperialism, hegemony, etc

Yet whereas Stein received 1 percent of the popular vote, one recent national study of professors in all disciplines demonstrated that roughly 15.6 percent at non-sectarian schools self-identify as “far left.” That finding calls attention to a pronounced difference between the politics of American voters and American professors. But even this number strikes me as way too low. Although the data has never been parsed in this way, if we were to look solely at professors in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, my guess is that the 15 percent figure would be two or three times higher—and more so at elite institutions. In other words, at a nationally ranked school a department of English, Women’s Studies, Art History, French, African-American Studies, Spanish, Philosophy, Anthropology, Film Studies or Sociology is likely to have more far-left faculty than liberals and conservatives combined.

Berlinerblau concludes:

There’s a lot to be gained by contemplating the tripartite distinction identified above. College administrations and scholarly societies need to ask themselves why these ideological imbalances are so pronounced. They might also wonder why it’s so hard to identify a fourth camp, comprised of professors whose politics are inscrutable or unpredictable. (I would hope that my teaching and research places me in that camp.) The radical left might ponder why the academy is the sole American institution where its ideas hold any sway. Conservatives have every right to complain about ideological imbalance. But they need to stop blaming liberals for their misfortune, politically expedient as such a charge might be.

As for liberals, whose core values on issues like freedom of speech are everywhere under assault, they need to define what they actually stand for. And if it causes tension with their “allies” on the radical left, so be it.

A couple of glosses on this incisive piece.

First, I like to think that I am in Berlinerblau’s fourth camp. My views of justices are rooted in Catholic social thought, which, as I often tell my students, does not fall easily into left or right camps. As such, I am all the more committed to free speech on campus. It is the interstitial views that often get rubbed out when the Grim Censor comes around.

Second, I have wondered why more university administrators have not spoken out for freedom on campus. A number of moderate to liberal commentators who have observed the unruliness in forums of learning and reacted with apposite outrage. Journalist Kirsten Powers is one, and has been joined in standing for freedom of inquiry by journalist Fareed Zakaria, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and even President Obama when he was still president. Kristof is especially interesting. Usually a voice for causes of social justice on the left, he was outraged by the silencings and raised his own voice. When readers wrote to the editor asking why conservative views ought to be tolerated at all, he wrote another column pleading for freedom, and then another. But if Powers, Zakaria, Kristof, and Obama have spoken up, why have so few tenured professors and college presidents, with only a few exceptions, raised their voices in solidarity with beleaguered fellow members of what are supposed to be communities of learning? If the free pursuit of truth is the very end of the university, then why have so few spoken out when it has been assaulted? Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president of 35 years, who is pictured at the top of this blog, spoke often and eloquently for freedom on campus. But not presidents, provosts and deans today. Even after Evergreen State, where a professor was prevented even from teaching his class. Is not a threat to free inquiry in one university a threat to inquiry in every university? Where is the solidarity?

 

 

The Courageous Voice of Cardinal Bo on Behalf of Rohingya Muslims

One of the most impressive voices for justice in the global Catholic Church is Cardinal Charles Bo of Burma, who has recently spoken out against Burma’s Buddhist nationalist government for its atrocious treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. Unlike few other Burmese, he has been willing to name openly his government’s actions as ones of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the government of Burma has displaced over 100,000 Rohingya and subjected them to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, summary executions, and similar forms of repression.

Religious freedom is a critical dimension of the issue. Rohingyas are targeted for being Muslims and have experienced their mosques and madrassas destroyed at the hands of the state as well as riotous citizens. When a Catholic Cardinal dares to speak of the oppression of Muslims, it lends unique credibility to the Catholic Church’s witness for religious freedom. The Church’s key document declaring religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae (1965) roots religious freedom in the religious nature of every human being. When Christians stand up for the religious freedom of others, they not only do what is just but enhance claims for their own religious freedom. Religious freedom is also an overlooked dimension of peace. When diverse religious communities respect one another’s members’ full citizenship rights, they have taken the critical step towards living together peacefully. As they must do in Burma.

Cardinal Bo gave a riveting address at the Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome in December 2015, by the way.

 

 

 

ArcU Contributor Daniel Mark Elected Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Daniel Mark, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University — and ArcU contributor! — has just been chosen to be Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He was first appointed to the Commission in 2014. USCIRF is an independent commission established by Congress that monitors religious freedom around the world, makes recommendations for U.S. foreign policy, and produces a valuable annual report along with numerous excellent reports on dimensions of international religious freedom. Warmest congratulations and best wishes to Daniel.

Behind the Attacks on Christians in Egypt

In today’s New York Times appears an insightful op-ed by Mustafa Akyol, one of my favorite writers on Islam, offering an explanation for why certain Muslims are killing Christians in the Middle East, written in the wake of yesterday’s shootings of Coptic Christians in Egypt. He points out that the attackers are a militant strain of Islam and that many other Muslims have condemned the killings and sought to defend and assist Christians.

[W]hile such atrocities come from extreme groups like the Islamic State, most other Muslims — from ordinary people to mainstream religious authorities — condemn them. Some Muslims even actively try to defend Christians, like the female police officers who lost their lives during the Palm Sunday attacks, and the men and women who rushed to mosques to donate blood for the injured. Clearly, what threatens Christians is not Islam but a strain of extremism within it.

Akyol goes on to say that the strain of Muslims who are carrying out these attacks are seeking to uphold an earlier tradition by which Christians and other non-Muslims were considered dhimmis, communities that were inferior but could be tolerated.

However, a part of the modern crisis was also religious — and it was rooted in the very tolerance of classical Islam. This tolerance had been based not on equality but on hierarchy. Muslims were the superior rulers, whereas non-Muslims were protected but inferior communities called “dhimmi.” The latter had to pay an extra poll tax, their temples could not be too loud and new ones were rarely permitted, and they were subject to various social limitations. And while their conversion to Islam was encouraged, conversion from Islam to the faith of dhimmi could be a capital offense.

In the Middle Ages, this hierarchal tolerance of Islam was preferable to the alternatives at the time, such as forced conversion or mass murder. However, in the modern era, equality before law became the universal norm, and that is what the religious minorities rightly began to demand. (It is notable that the Ottoman Empire, the seat of caliphate, answered these calls with the Reform Edict of 1856, declaring Christians and Jews equal citizens of the empire.)

Most of all, the piece contains a shout-out to the Under Caesar’s Sword project that I direct in partnership with my friends at the Religious Freedom Institute. Drawing attention to incidents like yesterday’s attacks in Egypt, looking at how Christians respond, and promoting solidarity with them is what the project is all about.

Report Out On Christian Responses to Persecution: “Some Things Are Worth Standing For”

Last week, the Under Caesar’s Sword project released a major report on Christian responses to persecution around the world at a symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The report is being translated into four languages and will be distributed around the world. Here is the press release for the report. Several media stories have appeared; here is one representative piece. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. kicked off the symposium with a convicting keynote address: “Some things are worth standing for,” he repeated.

The report profiles Christian responses to persecution on over 25 countries, presents eight findings, and makes a whole slew of recommendations for actions for various sectors. Is there an overarching finding?

Overall, the report finds that Christian responses to persecution embody a creative pragmatism dominated by short-term efforts to provide security, build strength through social ties, and sometimes strategically oppose the persecution levied against them. The fact that these efforts are pragmatic should not obscure that they often are conducted with deep faith as well as creativity, courage, nimbleness, theological conviction, and hope for a future day of freedom.

See also our documentary film. This summer, curricula for schools and churches will be posted.

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

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!

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.