Category - General

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The Courageous Voice of Cardinal Bo on Behalf of Rohingya Muslims
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ArcU Contributor Daniel Mark Elected Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom
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Behind the Attacks on Christians in Egypt
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Religious Freedom Includes Right to Say “You Are Wrong,” the case of Salem Abdel Gelil in Egypt
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Syria: A Moral Afterthought to a Moral Tragedy
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You Are Not Alone: Why America Needs the World on FoRB
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Under the Shogun’s Sword
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Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All
9
The Vatican: A Religious Body or Holy Mediator?
10
Winning Clean

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.

Religious Freedom Includes Right to Say “You Are Wrong,” the case of Salem Abdel Gelil in Egypt

Egypt has suspended Salem Abdel Gelil, a deputy minister of its (Islamic) Endowments Ministry, and Egypt is charging Abel Gelil with “contempt of religion,” as reported by Mada Masr.

The reason? Abdel Gelil, a Muslim, said that Christianity is not true.

It is bizarre for the Egyptian government to suspend a Muslim leader for saying this because mainstream Islam, like most other religions, makes distinct truth claims, so by definition a Muslim would believe that some of Christianity’s core teachings are not true. This move by the Egyptian government is not only bizarre, it is also a threat to peaceful coexistence in Egypt.

In this case it is the government of Egypt, not Abdel Gelil, that is engaged in “contempt of religion.” Forbidding religious believers from discussing basic tenets of their belief belongs to the very definition of “contempt of religion.”

According to a variety of mainstream definitions of Christianity, Christians believe Jesus is God, their understanding of the one God is trinitarian, and they do not believe Muhammad is a prophet. According to any definition of Islam I have ever seen, Muslims would view these statements as untrue.

Therefore I would only expect a Muslim talking about about Christians, to say as Abdel Gelil did“Yes, they believe in Jesus and Moses, but they disbelieve in Muhammad (كفروا بمحمد). Whenever we remind them of Muhammad, they say “No, no, no. We’re fine the way we are.”” Abdel Gelil further stated, “…what you believe is corrupt. Go back to God.” Granted, he could perhaps have chosen a gentler word than “corrupt,” but in looking at Christian beliefs from a Muslim perspective, some core Christian beliefs are in fact untenable.

The Endowments Ministry of Egypt issued a statement asserting that Abdel Gelil’s remarks “do not help the establishment of the foundations of citizenship, peaceful coexistence and societal peace that we work toward achieving in reality.”

In this the Endowments Ministry errs. Disagreement does not prevent peaceful coexistence. Quite to the contrary acknowledging difference is a foundational element of peaceful coexistence.

Abdel Gelil also said to Christians, “You are kind, and you are our brothers and sisters in humanity, not only inside our own country.” Indeed we can be “brothers and sisters in humanity” and disagree about deep matters at the very same time.

The legal framework of religious freedom contributes to peaceful coexistence by protecting space in which we can acknowledge and seek to understand our differences.

Forbidding those of different religions from being able to discuss their differences does great harm to the possibilities of “peaceful coexistence and societal peace” because it fosters a culture of ignorance.

A religiously diverse society in which the government forbids anyone from discussing, or even admitting, differences of belief is a society being forced to live in blindness and ignorance. Blindness and ignorance are foes, not friends, of “peaceful coexistence.”

We who are of different, and of no, religion need to understand each other better, not pretend instead that we are all the same. We are not.

I am a Christian working for a Muslim organization, the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF). Because of the respect for religious freedom in our office, we talk openly about our religious disagreements. Sometimes when we talk about how to understand who God is, or who Jesus is, for example, I tell my Muslim colleagues, “You are wrong.” They smile back at me and tell me, “No Jennifer, you are wrong.” And then the conversations get really, really interesting as they listen to me explain my faith and I listen to them explain theirs.

We learn from each other and about each other. Significantly, when my colleagues admit that they think what I believe is wrong, I feel respected because they acknowledge that I take my faith seriously and they have taken time to learn what I believe.

Such open exchanges are not just abstract niceties. This openness about differences in turn bears concrete fruit. I believe that this mutual learning about each other is something that helps us work together even better as a team. I can be fully who I am as a Christian, they can be fully who they are as Muslims, and together we are partners working for the common good.

Moreover, the freedom to discuss differences is an essential component of truth-seeking. If someone thinks I am wrong, I want to know. Maybe I can learn something. Truth-seeking is the very point of religious freedom.  As law professor Gerald Bradley has explained, “To detach religious liberty from truth is to decapitate it.”

I am thankful that due to religious freedom in the United States, I can explain my faith to those with whom I disagree and they are free to tell me what they believe. The best way to defend religious freedom for myself is it to defend religious freedom for others.

I defend the right of Salem Abdel Gelil to tell me he thinks I am wrong.

I ask that he defend my right to tell him he is wrong. And I hope he and I can enjoy a meal together sometime to learn more about these differences.

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.

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.

© 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.