Author - Daniel Philpott

1
Soft Power Needed, Too
2
Walking the Walk: The Annual Prayer for Peace of the Community of Sant’Egidio
3
The Islamist Cosmopolis of Qatar
4
David Brooks Resounds John Owen
5
Military and Reconciliation Measures Alike Needed Against the Islamic State
6
The Persecution of Christians is for Real
7
Welcome to Arc of the Universe

Soft Power Needed, Too

Not just the hard power of military force but also the soft power of building coalitions with moderate Muslims is needed to defeat Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, Christian leaders argued at the In Defense of Christians summit that concluded today in Washington, D.C., according to Mark Stricherz over at Aleteia.

The summit was an effort to advocate for and show solidarity with Christian communities in the Middle East who have suffered dramatically in recent decades and are now remnants of what they once were.  Hosted by a group whose name is also In Defense of Christians, the summit assembled a remarkable cast of Christian leaders from across the region.

Hard power-ites might be skeptical — not of the summit or its cause but of the claim that anything but bombs will drive out the Islamic State.  It was no less a realist than General David Petraeus, though, who understood the importance of reconciliation with moderate Muslims in his leadership of the successful “surge” of 2007-2008 that allowed the U.S. to exit from Iraq without ignominy in 2011.  I’ve been reading about it in Surge, written by Peter Mansoor, Petraeus’ right-hand man during the operation.  Through the U.S. army’s reconciliation with Sunnis and through its encouraging the new national government to include Sunnis and Kurds in important positions, Sunnis were peeled away from their alliance with Al Qaeda, leaving Al Qaeda isolated and vulnerable.  None of this is to deny the thorough and brave counterterrorist operations that hunted down and rooted out Al Qaeda, but these alone could not have done the job, Mansoor argues.

Since the U.S. departure, it has been a lack of reconciliation among Iraqis that has allowed the Islamic State to rise as far as it has.  Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s failure to include Sunnis and Kurds in important parts of the national government allowed the Islamic State, despite its horrific tactics, to ally with Sunnis against the government – and has left the U.S. in the position of now having to send its (air) forces back in.

As I argued in an earlier post, reconciliation must go deeper than even Petraeus’ alliance-building.  In coming posts, I will offer concrete ideas of what this could involve.  One dimension, though, is alliances among religious leaders, whose spiritual and moral authority is a critical asset for building ties across factions.  We can be grateful for In Defense of Christians for bringing this to our attention.

 

Walking the Walk: The Annual Prayer for Peace of the Community of Sant’Egidio

Today is the final day of the International Meeting of People and Religions in Antwerp, Belgium, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.  The meeting is an annual event that was first held in 1986 in Assisi, Italy, hosted by Pope John Paul II.  Though interreligious dialogue can be long on wind and short on fruit, having been to one of the Sant’Egidio gatherings, I can attest that they are meaty and worth checking into.  Explore the website linked above, with its webcasts and conference schedule.  The level of analysis is always high; attendance by world religious leaders is typically impressive; and the relationships that form there often bring concrete results for peace.

Behind this substance is the Community’s track record of walking the walk for peace.  Its major breakthrough was its negotiation of the end of Mozambique’s civil war in 1992, a war that took 1.6 million lives and lasted 16 years.  Few entities other than governments and international diplomats have ever pulled off such a success and the Community did it through its extensive network of friendships in Mozambique dating back to the early 1970s.  Since Mozambique, the Community has negotiated for peace in Algeria, Kosovo, Liberia, Burundi, Uganda, Guatemala and many other places.  A recent book documents these efforts.  (Two ArcU bloggers, Andrea Bartoli and myself, are members of the Community.)

The Islamist Cosmopolis of Qatar

Qatar — one of the world’s very richest nations per capita — aspires to be an entrepôt for international commerce, both in goods and in ideas like interreligious understanding.  For over a decade, the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID), a quasi-governmental entity, has hosted an annual conference on interreligious dialogue, a recent one of which brought in 300 participants from over 70 countries.

But what is going on outside the conference hall?

It’s not so tolerant.  Qatar boasts that its law recognizes Christians and Jews – “people of the book” – and allows them to worship freely.  This, though, takes place in a strongly Islamist atmosphere.  Even people of the book must keep their worship private; religious ideas contrary to those of Islam (Sunni or Shia) have no place in public forums like the media.  Proselytism is strictly outlawed, as is conversion away from Islam, which is a capital offense (through never enforced since the country’s independence in 1971).  The government exercises heavy censorship of the media.  It does not legally recognize – meaning that it does not authorize worship facilities for – religions other than Judaism and Christianity, despite the fact that Hindus are 30% of the population of noncitizens and Buddhists are 7%.  The government strongly regulates Islam as well as other faiths.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times details Qatar’s support for militant groups around the region.

Sheikh Ajmi and at least a half-dozen others identified by the United States as private fund-raisers for Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise operate freely in Doha, often speaking at state-owned mosques and even occasionally appearing on Al Jazeera. The state itself has provided at least some form of assistance — whether sanctuary, media, money or weapons — to the Taliban of Afghanistan, Hamas of Gaza, rebels from Syria, militias in Libya and allies of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.

 

Lately, Qatar has been coming under criticism for these ties from rival states in the region like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel, many of whom, admittedly, are on the other side of many of the rivalries in which Qatar is involved.  And to clear up the air on one issue, there is no evidence that Qatar is supporting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Still, foreign conference-goers would do well to look beyond Doha’s glass towers.

 

 

 

 

David Brooks Resounds John Owen

David Brooks’s column in the New York Times this past Thursday resounds John Owen’s post of August 30th arguing that ISIS cannot be understood apart from its religious ideas.  Brooks’ conclusion:

 

If ISIS is to be stopped, there will probably have to be some sort of political and military coalition. But, ultimately, the Islamists are a spiritual movement that will have to be surmounted by a superior version of Islam.

The truest version of each Abrahamic faith revels in the genuine goodness of creation. These are faiths that love the material world, especially the body. They’re faiths that understand that the high and the low yearn for each other, and that every human body has some piece of the eternal, even if you’re fighting against him.

 

 

Military and Reconciliation Measures Alike Needed Against the Islamic State

As the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) latest beheading became news today, the group’s brutal ambitions have become all the more apparent.  The United States and its allies are expected to continue military operations for some time to come.  Are such operations just?

Two major statements have arisen in recent weeks, each signed by numerous scholars, religious leaders, and activists.  They take very different stands.  One, put out by a group called Iraq Rescue, calls for military force against ISIS/ISIL and for arming its opponents.  It advertises itself as being signed by conservatives, moderates, and liberals.

The other comes from a group of 53 religious voices who oppose the use of military force, cite Pope Francis in their favor, and call for alternative measures, including reconciliation initiatives and “just peace” practices.

Who is right?

Military force is both justified and necessary to stop ISIS/ISIL.  Without it, thousands of preventable deaths of civilians, including communities of religious minorities, would have taken place and will take place.  Force meets the criteria of the just war tradition and fulfills the “responsibility to protect” that the international community has articulated.

In the intermediate to long run, however, far more ought to be done to build a sustainable just peace on the ground in Iraq and in the region than has been done in recent years.  Iraq has been riven by sectarian tensions for decades.  Once the fall of Saddam took the lid off these tensions, they broke out into violence and have become bloody again since the departure of the U.S. military.  If the United States wants to avoid another large scale intervention in Iraq, measures to address these tensions are critical.  What is needed is reconciliation.

U.S. policymakers have spoken of reconciliation for Iraq for some time now.  The 2006 bipartisan Iraq Study Group used the term 63 times. General David Petraeus promoted reconciliation to quell civil war.  Most recently, the Obama Administration has appealed for a reconciliation by which Iraq’s Shiite government would include far more Sunnis and Kurds.

In most of these usages, reconciliation means something much like political compromise. Now, it must go deeper, addressing the wounds of the past.  In the past generation, tens of countries around the world have sought to do this through truth commissions, reparations, and local reconciliation initiatives stressing healing, truth-telling, apology, forgiveness, and reparation, often under the guidance of religious leaders.  (I have written about these here.)

Such measures will not be possible until the guns stop.  Once they do, though, reconciliation can wait no longer. Reconciliation offers a deeper justice than does the use of force alone.  In the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions, reconciliation is right relationship within and between communities.  Reconciliation is also profoundly pragmatic. Apart from deeper repair, the kind of intervention that the U.S. wants to leave behind will not be avoidable.

 

 

 

 

The Persecution of Christians is for Real

Religious freedom is something for everyone. Bahai’s in Iran. Yazidis in Iraq. Ahmadis in Pakistan and Indonesia. Muslims in Gujurat.  And Christians. Christians? To much of the public and even among academics and journalists, it comes as a surprise that Christians suffer severe denials of their religious freedom. But the past summer’s headlines leave little doubt about it. Iraq’s remaining Christian community has been decimated by an Islamist army declaring the rule of a caliph. Sudan’s Miriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death by a Sudanese court for (supposedly) leaving Islam for Christianity. The Chinese government has continued to demolish churches.

80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world are committed against Christians, estimated the International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Frankfurt, in 2009. The finding is corroborated by other human rights observatories. Christians were the only religious group that was persecuted in all sixteen of the countries highlighted as egregious offenders by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2012, John Allen reports in his recent book, The Global War on Christians.  The Pew Research Center’s 2014 report found that between June 2006 and December 2012, Christians faced harassment and intimidation in 151 countries, the largest number of any religious group.

Here at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, we will be investigating how Christian communities respond to persecution and how sympathizers can help them in a three year grant of $1.1 million awarded to the center by the Templeton Religion Trust, “Under Caesar’s Sword: How Christian Communities Respond to Repression.”   Here is the story.  Stay tuned for findings.

 

Welcome to Arc of the Universe

Welcome to this new blog, Arc of the Universe.  It is devoted to the discussion of global justice.  Justice lurks just beneath headlines from Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China, dealing with war, separatism, religious tensions, women’s issues, poverty, and religious freedom.  Justice often goes unexamined, though.  The same is true even in the American university.  In American political science, for instance, justice is sharply separated from — and often takes a back seat to — the scientific study of politics.  Arc of the Universe is devoted to resurfacing justice – examining today’s global issues from the deep commitments of ethical traditions.  Arc of the Universe is also distinctive in bringing religion into the picture.  Some posts will appeal to religion while others will be rendered in secular terms.  Arc of the Universe is a crossroads where secular and religious meet in conversation.

Our lineup of bloggers consists of scholars and activists from around the world who think about and experience global justice issues in their diverse valences.

If you are not a standing blogger and wish to post, please consider contacting one of our bloggers and having them publish a guest post on your behalf.

We look forward to a lively conversation.

© 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.