Category - Religious Freedom

1
Islam, Religious Freedom, and Getting the Word Out
2
Dignitatis Humanae at 50
3
Calvin and the Caliphate
4
Is It Islamic (or Christian)? The State Doesn’t Get to Say
5
The God Squad
6
Islam and Democracy in 2015
7
Voltaire is Not the Answer for France
8
#TakeLashes4Raif
9
Religious Repression is China’s Answer to Vatican’s Outstretched Hand
10
#IAmRaif

Islam, Religious Freedom, and Getting the Word Out

co-authored with Areej Hassan

In a 2015 discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations about countering violent extremism, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah said,

The problem is more a communication problem than it is actually a problem of rooting these truths in the tradition itself. That part is the easier part because there’s plenty of things that enable us to do that. But the problem is, how do we get this rootedness in the tradition for these concepts out to much larger audiences?

In this, Shaykh bin Bayyah expresses the experience we have had in studying Islam and religious freedom. We find that the Islamic faith has rich traditions, not least of all the overarching objectives of the Islamic faith, as well as sophisticated interpretive tools, to help Muslims in the modern day find ways to live authentically with their faith and peacefully in the diverse societies of their globalized world.

When it comes to religious freedom, the problem is not lack of content by Muslims supporting religious freedom from within their own faith tradition. Rather the problem is a lack of awareness of and access to these Muslim faith resources related to religious freedom.

It is true that restrictions related to religious freedom have increased in some Muslim-majority countries due, in part, to a strict or ignorant understanding of certain hadiths or Quran verses. This is not only problematic, from the perspective of many Muslims, but also ironic. Using these primary sources for the justification of very specific actions with little to no indication of a greater good to be expected from such actions, as has happened in many Muslim-majority countries, is at odds with the Islamic tradition. Islam’s theological and juridical traditions demonstrate that religiously motivated calls to action must be critically assessed, consistent with the greater objectives of the religion, and understood within the context of the existing environment, as underscored by classical jurists’ recognition of local custom as a factor when they strove to understand divine rulings.

Though there are many Muslims who recognize this and who address issues related to religious freedom critically in a manner more in line with the traditions of Islam, their works remain unavailable to many other Muslims. Their media are banned in some countries, and these media are available often in languages inaccessible to many and in publications marketed only to academic audiences.

It is for this reason that the Islam and Religious Freedom Project was created. The mission of this project is to increase availability and circulation of media on religious freedom-related topics by Muslims who engage with the Quran and hadith as well as the intellectual juridical approaches established by the Islamic tradition.

The Islam and Religious Freedom Project takes already-existing religious freedom media by Muslims, and then (to the extent copyrights allow) in three ways increases the availability and circulation of these media:

  1. More languages: The project includes media in, at present, 13 languages. We search across many languages for media, we commission translations of texts, and we subtitle videos.
  2. More media formats: The project creates audio-books from our pool of written media and we hope to expand soon into the creation of video presentations of texts.
  3. More media outlets: The project has created YouTube and SoundCloud channels for video and audio, respectively, and an important part of this project is promoting circulation of these media via Twitter, Facebook, and an e-newsletter. In addition the project has created and is constantly adding to a free online bibliography of Islam and religious freedom media at Zotero.

When it comes to Muslim support for religious freedom, this is what Shaykh bin Bayyah would call a “communication problem,” not a content problem.

To learn more, visit the Islam and Religious Freedom Project’s website at www.IslamAndReligiousFreedom.org

Jennifer S. Bryson is Director of the Zephyr Institute in Palo Alto, CA and Areej Hassan is Project Manager of the Zephyr Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Project.

Dignitatis Humanae at 50

This coming December 7th, the Catholic Church will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

Of all of the Council’s teachings, Dignitatis Humanae evoked the hottest debate and broke most sharply with the past.  A great enthusiast for the document, I recall sharing my interest with my Protestant grandmother: “Well, it was about time,” she shot back tartly.

Why indeed did the Catholic Church take so long to embrace a principle that Protestants had discovered three centuries earlier and that Enlightenment philosophers had proclaimed two centuries earlier?

The Enlightenment was part of the problem.  While Rousseau and the Jacobins who launched the French Revolution pushed for religious freedom for the individual, they brooked no sympathy for the institutions of the Catholic Church — the purveyor of inquisitions and purges and a siphon of loyalties that should now be directed towards the state, as they saw it.  So, they forced Catholics to swear loyalty to a Church without the Pope, exiled and beheaded priests and nuns, and carried out what was perhaps the first modern genocide against Catholics in the Vendee region.  Throughout the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, liberal republican legatees of the Revolution continued to advocate for a state management of religion that curtailed the powers of the Church.

The Church’s slowness to come around to religious freedom was not mere reaction, though.  Its ideal of Church-state relations continued to be that derived from the Middle Ages: a close partnership in which Church and state worked together to fashion a thoroughly Christian society.  The Church would direct its members’ loyalty towards the state.  The state would not only guard the privileges of the Church but would actively promote Catholic culture, customs, morals, and beliefs.   And, centuries after the heretic’s pyre and medieval torture chambers had disappeared, the Church still taught that it could, in principle, where possible, legally restrict non-Catholic expression of religious faith.  Even as late as the 1950’s, the Pope and top cardinals espoused this doctrine.

How did the Church go from this stance to its declaration that all people enjoy the human right of religious freedom?

First, Catholic intellectuals, including John Henry Newman, Jacques Maritain, Heinrich Rommen, and John Courtney Murray, did the hard intellectual work of laying the groundwork for a genuinely Catholic doctrine of religious liberty, one that explained why people and communities of every religion had the right to express and practice their faith, but that also was rooted in philosophical and theological commitments friendly to Catholic beliefs.  Their ideas at once broke with medieval politics and avoided the pitfalls of Enlightenment individualism.  The key was human dignity — the dignity of the human person as one who searches for and potentially embraces religious truth.

Second, in the West, regimes that were hostile to religious freedom eventually became liberal democracies friendly to religious freedom, thus convincing the Church that it could flourish and operate in a democratic context.  This did not happen until the close of World War II.  Indeed, upon closer inspection it turns out to be an anachronism to say that the rest of the world had arrived at religious freedom while the Church remained behind.  The fascist and communist regimes that arose in the 1920s and 1930s were among the harshest deniers of religious freedom in the history of the world, while regimes like that of Mexico in the 1920s also suppressed religious freedom sharply.  Even Protestant rulers like Bismarck were imprisoning Jesuit priests in the late 19th century.  After World War II however, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy all sprouted liberal democratic constitutions with fairly robust religious freedom.  Catholic statesmen like Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi, and Konrad Adenauer served as great political leaders during this period.

Third, by the time of the Second Vatican Council, new and serious threats to religious freedom had emerged, especially where the Church lived under Communism, as it did in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine, and China.  Such regimes exceeded Jacobinist restriction and replaced it with totalitarian eradication.  One of the most eloquent advocates of religious freedom at the Second Vatican Council was Polish Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.  In places like Poland, religious freedom meant the Church’s survival.

Fourth was the United States.  There, the Church lived under liberal democracy but had a very different experience than it did in liberal republican Europe.  It flourished in an environment of freedom created by the First Amendment’s religious liberty clause.  Doubtless, anti-Catholicism was directed at Catholics, sometimes in the form of violence and discrimination.  By and large, though, the Church grew and could flourish in practicing its faith.  While the lesson came slowly perhaps, the United States taught the Catholic Church that freedom and faith could co-exist in practice.

This coming December, a major conference in Rome will commemorate Dignitatis Humanae by looking at how Christian communities around the world respond to persecution.  The very idea of the conference reflects a new reality for the Catholic Church fifty years after the Council.  In countries spanning from China to India to Pakistan, Catholics are now the persecuted rather than the persecuting.  Even in advanced liberal democracies, they are experiencing new restrictions.  What does Dignitatis Humanae mean now, then?

Calvin and the Caliphate

ISIS fighters on parade in Tel Abyad, Syria, January 2014. (Reuters / Yaser Al-Khodor)

I have Catholic friends who never quite tire of quoting Cardinal Newman at me, that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” I’ve often wondered if the same sort of thing isn’t true of international relations scholars; that to be deep in history is to leave the narrow, ransacked way the discipline tends to treat international history. At which point, what John Owen does is doubly special in his latest argument in Foreign Affairs (from his book, Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from The West’s Past).

A little historical comparative can go a long way to moderating the conversation on the contemporary Middle East. At its broadest level, he writes, “Western history shows that the current legitimacy crisis in the Middle East is neither unprecedented in its gravity nor likely to resolve itself in any straightforward way.” Political-theological strife is hardly unknown in the West, and even after the so-called church and state question was “settled”, many – like David Koyzis – have argued that the various ‘isms’ that tore Europe apart in the nineteenth and twentieth century were more than a little religious. It is hard, as an inheritor of the western canon and tradition, to sit too smugly on this side of the twentieth century and claim the special privilege of having transcended sectarian and religious conflict.

In fact, what Owen writes of the seventeenth century might ring just as true of the twenty-first, that “choosing an ideology was as much a political commitment as a religious one…”  Certainly this is the argument of people like William T. Cavanaugh who, in The Myth of Religious Violence, makes a long case that the Wars of Religion were more about supplanting an old political-theological sub-stratum with a new one, or as he puts it, a hostile takeover of the church by the state, than an orderly separation. None of which invalidates the history Owen writes about, though it does make it clear – as he does – that the contest in the Middle East today is at once about the meaning of the religious and the secular, their boundaries, and how those things shape political legitimacy, as they were in Europe.

Is It Islamic (or Christian)? The State Doesn’t Get to Say

Dan Philpott and I both have posted on how to think about the relation of ISIS to Islam, and noted that President Obama has presumed to declare that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’” The President has made similar proclamations since – saying last month at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that: “They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” President Bush made similar statements, e.g., on September 17, 2001: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

Nor has the Obama administration limited its doctrinal pronouncements to Islam. Early in 2012, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, published a letter reporting discussions the Council had with White House staff over the “Obamacare” mandate that employers pay for contraception and other procedures to which the Catholic Church has grave objections. According to Dolan, White House staff “advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation …. The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so … now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.”

As Reihan Salam wrote in a trenchant article last month at Slate, it really is not for an American President to say what is or is not Islamic. It is not simply because Obama is a Christian and hence an outsider to Islam. No more does the Head of State of the United States have any business telling Christians what is true Christian teaching, or which clergy are authoritative.  It is for the faithful to decide, without state coercion, what they believe and who their authorities are.

When a President tells the faithful what does and does not constitute a particular religion, he would seem to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Statements such as those of Obama and Bush also are likely to be self-defeating. Ultimately, the faithful – Christians, Muslims, and others – will see state attempts to establish religious doctrine as illegitimate, and they will side with their religious institutions over the American state.

The God Squad

The U.S. government now has a “God Squad.” Religious factors impact many U.S. foreign policy issues. The government needs a stronger toolbox to engage with religious actors and factors in foreign policy. It has been a long, hard road, but the U.S. government is increasing this capacity and commitment. This week Dr. Shaun Casey, Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, headlined a panel discussion on “The Future of Religion and Diplomacy” to shine a light on the U.S. State Department’s efforts to help policy makers better understand and engage with the religious dimensions of world affairs. The event was hosted by the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, which does important work to educate people in the First Amendment principles of the U.S. Constitution. The State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs has issued guidance to the Department of State and all U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world regarding engagement with religious actors and factors in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Also, several special envoys with responsibilities for religious foreign policy issues are being consolidated into the Religion and Global Affairs Office. This “God Squad” aims to improve the U.S. government’s capacities to effectively navigate the religious dimensions of foreign policy.

This process began in the 1990s, with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. Religion was neglected as a factor in foreign policy during the Cold War, as it was thought to be unimportant in the fight against “Godless Communism.” The fallacy of this view was shown in events from the Iranian revolution to the resurgence of religion with the fall of the Soviet Empire. The 1998 IRFA law created several institutions to promote religious freedom, the external, independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom outside of government, and within the State Department, the IRFA law created an Office of International Religious Freedom and an Ambassador of International Religious Freedom (a position now held by Amb. David Saperstein). The State Department IRF Office was charged with producing the annual IRF report. But it also was mandated to interact with civil society, including religious actors, persecuted groups, and human rights groups, as this would be necessary to gather the information for the report and to help guide U.S. foreign policy in this area. This small office, while important to promote religious freedom, was not enough to address all the areas where religion impacts U.S. foreign policy. It has been supplemented with a Special Representative to Muslim Communities (the position now held by Shaarik Zafar), the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (Ira Forman now holds this post), and the Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (Arsalan Suleman is Acting Special Envoy). Over a year ago, a new office of Religion and Global Affairs was created, directed by Special Representative Dr. Shaun Casey. Now these positions are consolidated into the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, bringing this expertise together. The office is located on the 7th Floor of the State Department, a sign of the importance of the issue to Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry noted at this week’s event that “Religion matters in the world today. If I were to go back to college today, I’d major in Comparative Religions.” Madame Secretary Albright concurred, picking up a theme from her book  The Mighty and the Almighty, noting the challenge before us lies in “harnessing the unifying potential of faith while containing its capacity to divide.”  The heartbreaking headlines from Syria show great challenges lie before us. Godspeed to the “God Squad.”

Islam and Democracy in 2015

IMG_5396

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

Religious Repression is China’s Answer to Vatican’s Outstretched Hand

It is a wintry season for religious freedom in China.

Freedom in general is suffering in China, as this article in the New York Times explained vividly at the beginning of the year.  The Maoists are back, apparently.  Religious freedom, whether for Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhist, Falun Gong, or Christians, is worsening distinctly.  China already holds a position in the most repressive tier of the world’s violators, as attested by the the rigorous rankings of the Pew Forum.  It seems little interested in moving upwards.

Take the case of Beijing’s treatment of the Catholic Church.  Over many months, Pope Francis has been signaling interest in rapprochement, even declining to meet with the Dalai Lama in the Vatican late last year so as not to offend the Chinese government.  But this regime is not returning the affection.

For the Catholic Church, religious freedom is in one sense a more demanding claim than for other religions: it involves respect for its transnational communion of bishops, centered on the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter. Dating back to the 1950s, the Government of China has strongly managed, regulated, and constricted the Catholic Church through the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which rejects the authority of the Pope over the Church by requiring bishops to be ordained under its own authority.

In this manner, China’s regime violates the freedom of the Catholic Church with respect to its essential structure. The Church’s authority to ordain its own bishops is the prerogative that it has insisted upon most vigorously against the encroachments of kings, emperors, and dictators, dating from the Investiture Conflict of the 11th century, to Henry VIII’s seizure of the Church in England in the 16th century, to the French Revolution, to modern Communist dictatorships.

Admittedly, complexity has entered the relationship between the Vatican and China in the past three decades or so as the Vatican has come to recognize the authority of many bishops ordained under the CPCA. Still, the fundamental denial of the Church’s freedom by the CPCA arrangement persists. Over the past half-decade, the Chinese government has become more entrenched in its hostility to the Church’s hierarchy by ordaining several bishops against the wishes of Rome.  A news story of today reveals that China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs intends to continue this practice.  In addition, the government has imprisoned a bishop who refused to join the CPCA soon after his ordination and persists in holding Chinese Christians in jail for worshipping contrary to government regulations.

Accompanying these stories are the reports that have surfaced over the past year of the Chinese government destroying churches and removing crosses, especially in Zhejiang Province.  One news story reports that that “2014 saw the worst persecution of Chinese Christians in a generation.”  During this year, 60 churches were destroyed in Zhejiang province.

Still another recent story in the Financial Times documents the general climate of increasing religious repression in China.

Updated, February 2, 2015.  See this story on China’s crackdown on western textbooks.

 

#IAmRaif

Yesterday, I joined six of my colleagues on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in an open letter (see below) to the Saudi ambassador in Washington concerning the case of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger who is being punished for expressing dissenting views on religion and politics. He was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and six hundred lashes. On appeal, his sentence was raised to ten years in prison and one thousand lashes, as well as a hefty fine of one million riyal, the Saudi currency. (A freelance writer has a good summary of the case and a roundup of news links here.) The lashing, which began a couple of weeks ago, is to be carried out in installments of fifty lashes, each Friday for twenty weeks. (The UK’s Daily Mail covered the first round of the beatings here.) Round two of beatings, to be held this past Friday, was delayed because he had not healed sufficiently from the first week’s beatings to withstand another one quite so soon. I suppose the authorities might find themselves a bit red-faced if he died before they had barely gotten started, but some observers think there is a good chance this will kill him before it’s over in any case.

In the letter to the Saudi ambassador, the seven of us call on his government to halt this brutal, unjust punishment, and, failing that, we offer to each take one hundred of the lashes. When this idea was originally floated, my first thought was that I was too scared (cowardly?) to sign on. My second, more comforting thought was that the Saudis would never call our bluff, as it were, so it was a safe gamble in our attempt to bring enough negative attention to the case that they might reconsider their cruelty. (There’s also a slim hope that the publicity will move President Obama and Secretary Kerry, who are understandably embarrassed at the absence of high-level US officials from the recent, massive rally in France—where, by the way, many carried #IAmRaif placards—to involve themselves in this matter.) My third thought, though, was that I should not sign the letter unless I was genuinely committed to taking the lashes if the Saudis took us up on our offer. Especially in light of the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day earlier this week, I’ve been thinking what it means to sacrifice for others, to go to the Cross, as some might say, in the fight for justice. Similarly, for those who believe it is something to be emulated and not just admired, what does it mean to say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”? What is our responsibility for this man who is suffering for nothing more than exercising his freedom of speech and freedom of religion?

PDF version of our letter: Standing in Solidarity with Raif Badawi

(Worryingly, the website of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, led by one of the signatories, went down right after posting the letter. I’m told that signs point to a cyberattack, but I don’t know more.)

Raif1

© 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.