I write with a brief update on Yara’s trial over the weekend. After her defense team challenged the validity of the prosecutor’s video allegedly showing her participating in the “illegal” anti-protest law protest, the judge moved to adjourn the trial until October 11. This means that Yara and her 22 co-defendants will remain detained for nearly another month, beyond the 87 days they have already served. Some of Yara’s co-defendants are now on hunger strike, along with more than 156 other political detainees throughout the Egyptian prison system.Oddly, the trial was not held in the usual courtroom in Heliopolis, but at a police academy instead. Yara and her co-defendant’s were, therefore, not confined to the typical defendant’s cages and appeared to have a little more freedom of movement. However, Yara’s parents were prevented from entering the courtroom and a female member of her defense team was verbally and physically assaulted by police guards as she entered. The photo below shows Yara’s response after she was informed of the thoughts and prayers for her by so many in the Notre Dame community and beyond. She remains, as is typical for Yara, in good spirits.Coverage of the trial in English language Egyptian media can be found here: http://www.madamasr.com/
content/ettehadiya-detainees- spend-another-month-prison- pending-trialYara’s LL.M. classmates and others throughout our LL.M. alumni network will continue to advocate for her release, though the context for political advocacy is increasingly difficult after Sec. Kerry’s visit to Cairo over the weekend to court Egypt’s participation in the the anti-ISIS coalition.So many of you wrote with fond memories of Yara’s time at Notre Dame Law School, especially the library staff with whom she worked closely. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers for Yara and her co-defendants.
Some commenters reject the attempts to distinguish ISIL from Islam more broadly. Their underlying belief seems to be that Islam is at war with the Judeo-Christian West. And it is a fact that self-described Islamic political actors have been fighting the West. The “clash of civilizations” story is alive and well. Yet there is a danger in the story: if people act as if the story is true, they risk turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Westerners will target Muslims, Muslims will target Westerners, and the conflict will escalate into all domains where Islam and West potentially collide. Wider still is what would happen if the story of civilizations at war extended to all Muslims and Christians–together, they make up over half the world’s population.
Other stories exist, yet haven’t reached many Muslims and Westerners. A crucial one is the path-breaking initiative in Muslim Christian relations known as “A Common Word Between Us”. This authoritative statement has been signed by diverse Muslim authorities from around the globe. The initiative seeks to affirm the two greatest commandments- to love God above all, and to love for one’s neighbor what one love’s for oneself- as the basis for relations between Muslims and Christians. It invites Christians to work with Muslims on this basis, and says that to do otherwise would be to risk not only our worldly well-being, but our very souls. The Common Word initiative provides principles for a constitutional reset in Muslim-Christian relations. As I have recently argued, institutional design founded on these principles can promote cooperation between Muslims and Christians.
Unlike the Catholic context, where the teaching of Nostra Aetate could be spread among Catholics within a generation through the structure of bishops, the Muslim world is decentralized. Religious instruction is not dominated by an ordained clergy, but by a less hierarchical community. Traditionally, well-trained scholars and spiritual masters were pre-eminent Muslim religious instructors. Consensus was difficult to achieve. In our age, traditional authority has further eroded, making consensus even harder. It is all the more remarkable that the initiative has been endorsed by such a wide geographic and theological range of Muslim scholars, including figures with tremendous reputations in different communities. The teaching thus has the status of an authoritative claim about how Muslims are to relate to Christians.
Despite an initial wave of publicity, the document is still not commonly known. To make the Common Word a widespread reality, creative emulation and reciprocation through networks and institutions are needed. This is not impossible. It demands transnational entrepreneurship, awareness-raising, and civic artisanship. Particularly valuable would be the demonstration that the initiative has provided meaningful avenues for the redress of grievances. This would help stem the turn to violent alternatives. Tangible results of cooperation can further change the clash story. And that possibility depends on what Muslims and Christians do now.
Here at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, we are proud to have graduated over 300 human rights lawyers from over 80 countries from our LL.M. program in human rights. Perhaps it is not surprising that some go on to be dissidents.
One of our alumna, Yara Sallam, was arrested in Egypt and will go on trial in Egypt tomorrow. Her story was documented in the New York Times and she is an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.
Sean O’Brien, who direct’s the center’s academic programs, wrote in an e-mail today to friends of the Center:
I write asking for your prayers. As you may know, our esteemed Egyptian alumna and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Yara Sallam (LL.M. ’10), goes on trial tomorrow in Cairo. She was arrested in June for being near a public protest (of the anti-public protest law, no less). Once the Egyptian military government realized that they had in their grasp one of Egypt’s most well known and beloved young human rights defenders, they gleefully transferred her to one of the country’s most notorious prisons. She has been held in deplorable conditions all summer, advocating for the rights of other women prisoners also being detained.She faces many years in prison at trial tomorrow before a corrupt and unjust legal system where evidence matters little. Her trial comes as Egypt’s military government is actively seeking to make examples of human rights lawyers and organizations. They have recently issued a decree forcing all human rights NGOs to register with the government, who will then control their budgets, programs of work, premises and contact with foreign visitors. Our other Egyptian alumni are facing the decision of whether to go into exile or remain in Egypt and face arrest after the November registration deadline passes. For them, registration is not an option.Seven political parties as well as journalist’s syndicates have called for a nation wide hunger strike tomorrow in protest of Yara’s unjust detention and trial. Among those supporting Yara at her trial are ND LL.M. alum Ziad Abdel Tawab (LL.M. ’10) and many of the human rights defenders whose rights Yara has so passionately defended in the past.Both during her time at Notre Dame and throughout the revolution in Egypt, Yara has been known for her warmth and her joie de vivre. She is quoted as saying “My life, if it can have any meaning at all or if it will ever be remembered, I want it to be about hope, laughter, joy, passion and love for life. My revolution is the same.”
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.
Today’s edition of the Washington Post tells the story of a 14 year-old Yazidi girl and her childhood friend, who were “given as gifts” to an ISIS commander and a cleric, respectively. Their experience – including such vicious elements as attempted rape, abuse, beatings, and a terrifying but ultimately successful escape – recalls the practices of Islamic militants in Nigeria and elsewhere, where women and girls are kidnapped, enslaved, forced into marriages, and brutally assaulted. It is important to note that men and boys are taken too, often killed or forced to fight for the militants. Yet the pervasive pattern of violence against women and girls is especially disturbing, and it does not end in conflict zones. As Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England, notes, there are thousands of forced marriages and threats of forced marriage in the U.K. every year, and when the targeted women and girls resist, they can end up dead. Defeating ISIS and combatting Islamic militancy is essential not just to protecting national security, but also to protecting the human dignity of women and girls everywhere. So, too, must we work to stop the cultural practices that sanction and perpetuate such violence.
As séances go, says Timothy Larsen in the latest issue of Books & Culture, most tend to be awfully one sided: a question, a gust of wind, a tap on the desk, a flicker of the lights. Not much of a dialogue, he says, which sadly tends to be the way we deal with the dead even when we’re using the tools of history and not a Ouija board.
The pillaging of the past for clear and unambiguous stories that make sense of the present day is not a new problem, but it’s earned a special place in the conflagration in Iraq in the last month. Yesterday, the New York Times ran some easy reading on how “Longtime Rivals Look to Team Up to Confront ISIS,” a feel good round up about how pretty much everyone in the region is grudgingly putting aside old enmities to face ISIS/ISIL together. “I don’t think there’s been anything like this since the seventh century,” quoted one former American ambassador. It’s a delicious piece of journalistic overstatement, but it also fingers the pitiless, and instrumentalist, way the history of the region is often picked over in the moment to score today’s talking points.
There has, in fact, been something like this since the seventh century. The now accepted truism that Shia and Sunni Muslim traditions are nearly eternal and intractable enemies neglects not only the basic political-theological history of a region, often defined by its mutual vulnerability to external threats (say, the Mongol demolition of central Asia), but also long histories of exchange and dialogue between groups that might alarm us. S. Frederick Starr in his important new book, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane makes a long point that not only did scholars and theologians across ‘long time rival traditions’ engage in regular debate and dialogue, but that dialogue was itself the fruit of a great deal of scientific, philosophical, theological, and medicinal innovation. Further, he speaks at length of the central Asian legacy of these achievements, not only their Islamic origin, harkening both to Zoroastrian and Buddhist roots of what only retrospectively gets called the Islamic renaissance of culture and science. We hear stories about paper making in Khwarazm, of that jewel of trade and culture Samarkand, the astronomical sophistication of Balk, and the urban academies of Merv.
But to read (some) political commentary on war in the region today would convince you that rival political-theological traditions of Islam have been making total war on each other since the first Fitna (656-661). This is true in the same way as the wars of religion in Europe (1618-1648) were an uncomplicated contest between Protestants and Catholics, an easy history which all but the most committed dogmatics have long since abandoned. In fact, the history of central Asia is replete with historical facts on both sides of the argument – of fitnas and dynastic war, but also of interreligious, scientific, and cultural renaissance.
It serves present-day sensibilities, and sensationalism, to give a picture of a region/religion that is hopelessly and eternally divided, driven to aligning tactically on the back of the atrocities of ISIS/ISIL. Tactical alignment, as Nasr says, may be a present reality, but it is neither a first, nor last time, something like that has happened in a region, one time Center of the World, one time home of the world’s greatest, most enduring empires. Dan Philpott writes about the global resurgence of religion that the more interesting question is not ‘why religion is back’ but ‘why we [in the West] ever thought it went away.’ Larsen might say a version of that question is the more interesting for central Asia too. The more interesting question is not ‘why regional interests have aligned for the first time since the seventh century’ but ‘why we ever thought they hadn’t before.’
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.)
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.
No, I do not recommend teaching non-violence as a remedy for the plague of sexual assault on American college campuses, as one might first assume from the title of this. The only problem I have ever seen with any self-defense class for women was whether I could fit the class into my schedule or not.
But addressing the assault aspect of sexual assault in isolation from the sexual aspect is insufficient. This has implications not only for our college campuses but for our international engagement in advocacy of women’s rights and efforts to improve women’s condition.
The point on which I think Gandhi offers us wise counsel is on the sexual side of sexual assault. He observed:
If we begin to believe that indulgence in animal passion is necessary, harmless and sinless, we shall want to give reins to it and shall be powerless to resist it. Whereas if we educate ourselves to believe that such indulgence is harmful, sinful, unnecessary, and can be controlled, we shall discover that self-restraint is perfectly possible.
The discussions I see happening across the media today about campus sexual assault are void of consideration about what sex even is. This absence of sex itself from these discussions results not at all from any squeamishness about the topic – hardly – but rather from a failure to question the now commonly held assumption that the purpose of sex is entertainment (and in turn that the purpose of entertainment is individual pleasure).
Gandhi rejected disassociating sex from its procreative aspect. He asserted:
I know that there are modern women who advocate these methods [of contraception]. But I have little doubt that the vast majority of women will reject them as inconsistent with their dignity. If man means well by her, let him exercise control over himself.
“If a man means well by her…” — this requires that he consider more than just his own amusement, that he consider who/what she is in a full and comprehensive sense, including her capacity to procreate in partnership with a man.
I do not advocate a ban on contraception as a way to counter sexual assault. But I do advocate that we need to address the sexual side of sexual assault. We need to foster public discussions which address fundamental questions too often ignored today such What is sex? What is woman? What is man?
At a time when Americans are a leading global advocate for improving women’s condition through both our government and private sector organizations, we would do well to view the problem of campus sexual assault as a plank we need first to remove from our own eye. We should consider the global implications of sexual assault on our college campuses not just in terms of our own credibility on women’s issues but also as an indication that there may be an impoverishment in our own notion of woman which we may be implicitly exporting in a variety of programs.
Viewing sex as nothing more than entertainment reduces those who engage in sex to tools for providing entertainment. Men and women become simply a means to an end for each other, with the end being a hook-up, namely a sexual encounter often even shorter than a one-night-stand. The result of the sexual liberation has become the hook-up culture. The result of the hook-up culture has become a culture of sexual assault.
To what extent are our foreign programs in the name of women’s rights rooted in a foundation informed by the assumptions of sexual liberation? To what extent might our sex-related foreign programs be laying the groundwork in other cultures for a transition into sexual liberation followed by hook-up culture followed by spread of sexual assault? These are hard questions we need to probe more actively and more deeply today.
Violence does not happen in a vacuum. Sexual assault does not come onto our university campuses out of nowhere. One of several sources which fuels the injustice of sexual assault is a culture that reduces sex to entertainment, and in so doing reduces women to objects of sexual lust. I think Gandhi understood this, and I think we could do more to serve men and women and to have greater peace between men and women both on our college campuses and in the world beyond if we understood this and took substantive and sustained action to reject the reduction of sex to entertainment and women to objects of sexual lust. Right now here in America is a good place to start.
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.