Category - Islam

1
Forgiving ISIS
2
Our social commons: two climate challenges
3
Islam and Democracy in 2015
4
Voltaire is Not the Answer for France
5
Religion runs through the rate cut
6
ISIS Is Modern, Not Medieval
7
#TakeLashes4Raif
8
Silencing Debate on Islam?
9
The Politics of Hypocrisy
10
Sommes-nous Charlie Hebdo?

Forgiving ISIS

In all of the back-and-forth since the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by ISIS, one reaction is startling  — that of Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who extended forgiveness.  See here.  Forgiveness is hardly an obvious or natural response and is certainly not an easy one.  It is not something to which anyone has a right and it does not preclude condemning or fighting ISIS.  Why did Bishop Angaelos forgive?  He explains:

It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

Bishop Angaelos was able to see a purpose in these horrific deaths:

I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.

He calls for united efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians — and all those who are denied their religious freedom.

I would like to see us all start to work towards human rights generally, because when we’re divided into different departments or organizations any change will be fragmented. If you look at the rights of every individual, God-given rights, we can all start to work together and safeguard any people who are persecuted anywhere. Of course, the vast majority of persecution falls squarely right now on Christians in the Middle East and that needs to be addressed. But, as a Christian, I will never be comfortable just safeguarding the rights of Christians. We need to help everyone.

His and other reactions to persecution on the part of Christians, ranging from non-violent protest to behind-the-scenes diplomacy to taking up arms, will be the subject of a major conference that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is holding in Rome on December 10-12, 2015.  Entitled “Under Caesar’s Sword: An International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution,” the conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

All are invited!

Our social commons: two climate challenges

The growing crises in ecological sustainability and identity politics are straining our social commons. As part of responding to both climate challenges, protect and invest in our social commons.

The doomsday clock has been moved to 3 minutes to midnight. Climate change, fed by carbon emissions, is expected to push us above the 2 degree temperature increase threshold in 30 years, based on current trends in usage of our carbon budget. This manmade crisis creates far-reaching issues of justice. Those best positioned to act unilaterally to protect themselves from climate change harm- in the near term- are the wealthy, who have also been the biggest contributors to the problem. Those most likely to suffer from it are the poor, who did the least to create the problem. Mitigation demands collective action in numerous arenas and at different levels. The scale, complexity, and number of related problems stretch our institutional capacities for addressing them collectively.

Meanwhile, our global identity-politics tensions are heating up, largely but not exclusively from the clash of civilizations narrative and various nationalisms. This latter form of climate change wears and rips at our social fabric, ultimately threatening to widen and escalate conflicts into humanity-encompassing mutual destruction. Public opinion in Europe and the US, particularly after the traumatic Paris attacks in January, has gravitated further towards a clash of civilizations mentality. Identity politics- my side, right or wrong- can be contrasted to principled deliberation about principles. Without redoubled efforts to provide meaningful avenues for addressing injustices, and to counter the identity clash story, a self-fulfilling prophecy will result.

Our social commons— the community space in which we meet and engage with the other to devise answers to our shared problems— is under strain. The best responses to both types of climate change start with invigorating our social commons to generate participatory answers. This means nurturing a more responsible global civics: acknowledging and affirming the humanity of the other through an ethic for mutual obligation, such as the Golden Rule; including religion, not solely for the pragmatics and semantics, but also for the consciousness of the intrinsic worth of nature; appreciating that diverse scales and social ecological settings require a polycentric approach, while supporting the critical functions of central government; and maintaining vigilance against the vigilantes on all sides, cooling identity-based conflict escalations and promoting cooperation for the common good.

Islam and Democracy in 2015

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In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s gradual but unmistakable centralization of power continues apace. Turkey, Egypt, Iran – all have at various times tried one kind or another of hybrid between Islamism and democracy. Which raises what may be the most vital long-term political question for Muslims: Is Islam compatible with democracy? The question is vital not just because non-Muslims frequently put it to Muslims. It also is the case that people the world over, including a vast majority of Muslims, aspire to live in democracies. More than two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama’s famous “end of History” thesis declared liberal democracy the winner in humankind’s age-old contest of ideas. Fukuyama’s declaration was premature at best, but it remains true that words such as “democracy” and “freedom” continue to have a grip on billions of people. The late Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi probably spoke for most jihadis when he rejected democracy as “a religion and disbelief.” But in most majority-Muslim countries, people emphatically reject the Zarqawi thesis: they say they want democracy (even if they do not trust the United States to help them achieve it).

As anyone who lives in a democracy knows, however, the word “democracy” is, empirically speaking, a container into which all manner of content can be poured. Some (too few) social scientists, such as Frederic Schaffer, have explored the subjective aspect of democracy – how people in different times and places mean different things by it. Precisely what various Muslims mean by it is in need of further investigation. But it is clear that for at least large numbers of devout Muslims, liberal democracy, at least as currently practiced in the West, is a stumbling block.

When North Americans, Europeans, and, increasingly, Latin Americans say “democracy,” they mean “liberal democracy.” Liberal democracy takes various institutional forms across countries, but in general it is an attempt to marry individual rights and popular government. As has been pointed out many times, both of these things cannot be maximized all the time: sometimes the majority wants to violate individual rights, and sometimes certain notions of individual rights go against popular opinion. In such moments, a polity must choose one or the other. But it is the sustained, consensual attempt to keep individual rights and majority rule together that defines liberal democracy.

Already, some cultures have difficulty with liberal democracy for its attachment to individual rights – as opposed to group rights, or to a strong notion of rights at all. Lee Kwan Yew, éminence grise of Singapore, is famous for saying that Westerners value individual freedoms, whereas Asians value honest and effective government.

The matter becomes even more complicated for many faithful Muslims when individual liberties are interpreted in the 21st-century Western manner. When the United States was founded in the late 18th century, the chief threat to liberty was thought to be government, which possessed coercive power and tended toward centralization. Thus the American Bill of Rights lists rights of individuals against the state. In the 21st century, by contrast, most Western elites hold that the chief threats to individual liberty come from society – traditional institutions such as churches, families, even cultures – and that the state ought to safeguard liberty from those things. Hence the culture wars that we are perpetually reassured do not exist.

A traditional Muslim may want to have a guaranteed voice in who governs, but will likely not want to live under laws and courts that seek to weaken the role of Islam – including clergy, mosques, and schools – in public life. Democracy, then, must take on a different modifier – perhaps constitutional, which denotes the rule of law.

I consider this question, among many others, in my new book Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past. By “West’s past” I mean not encounters between the Western and Muslim “worlds,” but rather the West’s own internal ideological struggles over the past 500 years – between, among others, monarchism and republicanism in the 19th century and communism and liberal democracy in the 20th. One lesson is that hybrid ideologies and institutions may emerge from a long struggle. Such happened in the late 19th century as “conservative liberalism,” a fusion of monarchism and republicanism, emerged in most European states. We may hope for another kind of fusion – Islamic democracy – in the Middle East. But the degeneration of democracy in Turkey over the past two years bodes ill.

Voltaire is Not the Answer for France

The New York Times has published at least three pieces in the past three weeks documenting France’s reassertion of its historic secularism — known as laïcité – in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings and the accompanying attack on a Jewish supermarket in early January.  See here, here, and here.

A policy of state-promoted secularism, laïcité was advanced in the French Revolution and saw its triumph during the Third Republic, culminating in the landmark 1905 law that separated church and state in a way that gave the state great control over the Catholic Church.

Now, France is doubling down on laïcité, making December 9th a new Day of Laïcité; requiring prospective teachers to demonstrate their grasp of laïcité; and forcing students and parents to sign a charter pledging respect for the principle. Such a draconian reassertion appears motivated by shock and fear, not only towards the attacks themselves but also in reaction to the large number of Muslims students who refused to observe a moment of silence for the victims.

While the students’ refusal is troubling, and while sympathy for the attacks, and ever more so the attacks themselves, are reprehensible, I wish to argue, as I did in an earlier post, that more laïcité is not the answer.

Towards Muslims, laïcité has meant a ban on headscarves and veils worn by girls in schools; the heavy restriction of minarets on mosques; the state’s failure to build enough mosques to accommodate Muslims; and attempts to pass laws banning Islamic sermons not in French, halal meat, and slaughterhouses that observe Islamic law.

By contrast, the state allows Catholic schools (which it also heavily governs) to hold mass every day; sanctions public holidays on Catholic holy days; and allows schools to serve fish on Fridays and to observe the liturgical calendar.

Add to this combination of restrictions and allowances the state’s permission of magazines to publish pictures that render in obscene fashion both the Prophet Mohammed and the members of the Trinity, and it is not hard to see why French Muslims fail to feel respected as equal citizens.

It is time for France to reconsider its history of the state managing religion and imposing secularism on the nation and rather adopt the principle of religious freedom, which allows religious people to manifest their faith freely and to govern their own communities — as long as, crucially, religious people are willing to respect the full human rights, including the religious freedom, of others.  In this sense, Muslims will have to do their part.  But will they not be more willing to do it if they are respected as equals?

One of the Times pieces quotes political scientist Dominique Moïsi as calling for moving on beyond laïcité, which “has become the first religion of the Republic, and it requires obedience and belief.”  He continues, “[t]o play Voltaire in the 21st century is irresponsible.”

 

 

 

 

 

Religion runs through the rate cut

The collapse of oil has shocked any number of economies over the last few months. The Russian central bank has scrambled to prop up the ruble, running rates as high as 17% to attract foreign capital. Canada’s own Bank actually cut rates by a quarter point, dropping the Canadian dollar significantly. All these responses look like good old fashioned supply and demand economics, but there is more than a little political theology that runs through these rates.

Oil prices aren’t set to recover quickly. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holdings, nephew of the late King Abdullah, made it clear that Saudi Arabia will continue to double down on these prices. Saudi Arabia, a country that takes nearly 90 per cent of its budget from oil, remains committed to its levels of production, which is to say its supply. The prince blamed the fall in price on demand. The country will not be the first to blink.

“Eventually there’s no doubt that some countries have to blink and reduce their production…I don’t see Saudi Arabia or OPEC countries blinking,” he said.

Students of religion and history can clearly see at least two countries in the crosshairs of this game of brinkmanship: America, and its boom in fracking, and the rival Shia state of Iran. A fringe benefit has been the near collapse of the Russian ruble.

The list of Saudi grievances is long. Riyadh has been annoyed by American unwillingness, or incapacity, to resolve the Palestinian problem, its détente with Iran and seeming tolerance of Iranian nuclear ambitions. Far more than annoyed, it has been heavily engaged in the civil war in Syria, which has now spilled out and threatens the tenuous remains of the Iraqi government after the American withdrawal. Some have even labelled this a proxy war funded by the oil money of religious zealots around the Persian Gulf, lined up on Sunni/Shia religious lines.

Among the many sides of that war include somewhat famously Iran, its subsidized Shia brigades, and its increasingly unsteady overtures to the Kurds and to the West to protect Shias in the brutal path of destruction ISIL is cutting.

We may never see $100 a barrel again, warned Prince Alwaleed on Jan. 23, a statement that if true will cripple (North) America’s comparatively expensive oil production, and gut the state finances of its religious rival Iran. Maybe that’s a happy coincidence.

The oil politics of the Middle East will always have an Islamic political theology, or maybe more to the point rival theologies, running through it. And that’s a lesson that Governor Stephen Poloz, pun intended, took to the Bank.

ISIS Is Modern, Not Medieval

Fraser Nelson has an astute article in the Daily Telegraph arguing that ISIS is not, as we like to say, a throwback to the Middle Ages.  To say so is, in fact, to slander the Middle Ages.  ISIS is a modern movement, with much in common with twentieth-century totalitarian movements that sought complete control of populations.  Most discouraging, perhaps, is that, like fascism and communism, ISIS’s radical Islamism is, on its own terms, progressive.

#TakeLashes4Raif

Six of my colleagues on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and I have been very gratified by the outpouring of support and prayers following the release of our letter to the Saudi ambassador, which I wrote about here, concerning the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger sentenced to a thousand lashes. We’ve been especially amazed by all the people who have called and written to ask how they can join us in solidarity and offer to take a lash for Badawi as well. While we can be fairly certain the Saudi government won’t give a thousand people one lash each instead of lashing Badawi, the gesture of so many standing together for freedom of religion and freedom of speech–for justice, really–is deeply important. Those who wish to add their name can do so here:

takelashes4raif.org

Another frequent question I’ve heard is why we chose to take up this particular case among the far-too-many atrocities around the world. I wrote a bit about that this week in US News & World Report here.

Silencing Debate on Islam?

As prior posters to this blog and media worldwide have noted, the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre reignited a debate that has been flaring off and on for years; namely, whether freedom of expression should be limited, among other things, by religious sensibilities (or sensitivities, as some might say).  Not always but often, this debate is framed as one of Westerners (especially those in the U.S., where free speech has very few legal limits) versus Muslims.  Thus, it was particularly interesting to note a recent Washington Post article by Asra Q. Nomani, a former WSJ reporter and author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.  In that article, Nomani charts what she identifies as a 10-year campaign led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others to police Muslim and non-Muslim critics of Islam under the guise of combatting “Islamophobia”.  The tactics she describes have the effect of “quashing civil discourse”, preventing much needed conversation about the meaning and future of Islam.  Nomani, who has received death threats, calls for renewed attention to ijtihad – the Islamic law concept of critical thinking and interpretation.  Her analysis is not uncontested, but it is an important contribution to the debate and worth reading.

The Politics of Hypocrisy

Freedom of speech, like freedom of religion, is one of those things pundits like to cry foul on for hypocrisy, partly because it’s so easy, partly because there’s so often some truth to it. Some truth being the operative, and highly misleading watch phrase.

In the forthcoming issue of Convivium Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, gets the question put to him in Turkey when calling, very frankly, for the restoration of both civil and ecclesiastical properties to Jewish and Christian communities. In response, one of the people talking with him said: “Well, thank you, Ambassador Bennett, for engaging with us on these questions and raising these issues with us. Perhaps we could come and help you with Quebec.”

Foreign affairs always runs a  hypocrite’s gamble: pressuring and encouraging the virtues that Canadians hold dear abroad, when our practice at home is far from perfect. The launch of the Office of Religious Freedom in 2013 dovetailed a little too conveniently for some with the (defeated) Charter of Quebec Values, raising the now often repeated charge to ‘get our own house in order’ before going abroad. This argument makes two very important political mistakes.

First, it intentionally ignores the spectrum on which political and social problems take place, falsely presuming that scale and severity does not matter. To say that the Charter of Quebec Values would have been a violation of religious freedom of the same kind as Turkey’s seizure of places of worship is to say Canada is a lawless society of the same kind as, say, Somalia and its infamous offshore piracy because there is jay walking in Montreal during rush hour. Both are lawless acts, but prudential politics recognizes degree matters.

The second major mistake in this argument is the expectation that Canadian society will have worked out to a nearly perfect degree the fullest expression of its most cherished virtues before preaching them. Obviously this will never be true. Canada’s most cherished virtues are aspirational. We aspire to be people of generosity, of fairness, of tolerance, of justice, and of genuine pluralism. Societies and people do not arrive at these things. They aspire to them. And it is, after all, what we love, what we aspire to, that is the best definition of a people and of a country.

The same basic mistakes are scrawled across editorial pages after the terrible events of Paris. We are not all Charlie, of course, and that I choose not to use my freedom of speech to post satirical cartoons of other’s faiths does not somehow make me complicit in this terrible violence. I can defend the right of those who do without joining in. I can defend the virtues of freedom even wishing we used those virtues different ways. Degree – how and why I disagree – and intent – what I am aiming for – matter.

Every liberal society worthy of its name treasures freedom of speech, just like freedom of religion. And every society on opening its mouth to say so is a hypocrite. That’s not a reason to stay close mouthed. But it is a good reason to try harder.

Sommes-nous Charlie Hebdo?

It may be narcissistic, and in poor taste, to talk so soon about how the Charlie Hebdo massacre relates to the rest of us. But of course American pundits are doing it anyway, and I’ll join the fray long enough to note four things.

First, although freedom of speech and of the press have been in the U.S. Constitution since the beginning, and were adopted in European countries at various times, religious blasphemy has not always been protected speech in the West. It is only in recent decades, as our societal elites have become more skeptical of religion, that courts have come to protect speech that ridicules religion.

Second, it took many people in the West a long time to make peace with the right to lampoon religion. Here is a fascinating video clip from 1979 of some of my favorite Englishmen – Malcolm Muggeridge, John Cleese, and Michael Palin – arguing vehemently over the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, whose final scene is taken by many (me included) to be ridiculing Christ’s crucifixion.

Third, one can agree with Muggeridge, who was a fearless journalist, and the Bishop of Southwark in the video that the Monty Python film is blasphemous and ought not to have had the crucifixion scene, and at the same time maintain that Monty Python must be allowed to make and distribute that film without fear of state prosecution or private violence. The same goes for Charlie Hebdo and the lampooning of Muhammad. We have arrived at a point in Western culture where almost nothing is sacred, and maintaining our constitutional freedoms requires that we not carve out exceptions for blasphemy.  We must not flinch.

Fourth, as David Brooks notes in a brilliant column today, this goes for campus speech codes as well.  As we have de-sacralized religion, we have sacralized the tender feelings of students, and censorship is rife on campuses.  The horrific events in France and our reactions to them expose our silliness and incoherence.

© 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.