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Military and Reconciliation Measures Alike Needed Against the Islamic State
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ISIS and Religion
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Does Labor need a global resurgence of religion?
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The Persecution of Christians is for Real
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Welcome to Arc of the Universe

Military and Reconciliation Measures Alike Needed Against the Islamic State

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

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

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

Who is right?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

ISIS and Religion

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ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is a thing we have not seen before.  Not only is it carrying out a reign of terror in Iraq and Syria:  it also governs territory, has plenty of funding, and is displaying impressive military and logistical prowess.  ISIS members  have directly threatened Europe and North America.  The threat is real, possibly dire, and Westerners are going to have to adjust, again, to many months of high alerts and possibly some attacks.

Expect, too, shifts in our discourse about jihadist terrorism and religion more generally.  It is arguable that the catastrophic attacks of September 11, 2001, made Westerners more receptive to arguments against religion.  It may not be coincidental that 9/11 was followed by the marked rise of so-called New Atheism – led by aggressive religious skeptics such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett – and of the percentage of Americans who identify as non-religious.

The decrease in incidence of terrorism in the West, and the American-led wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, drew our attention away from jihadism and its meaning and causes.  Now we must pay attention again, and we can expect, once again, the predominance of three opposite views, all too simple.

First is the view that the fundamental problem is not religion at all, but material deprivation; poverty, many maintain, is the root cause of terrorism.  Empirical social science has thoroughly debunked that claim, but many have not gotten the word.  Second is the view that the fundamental problem is Islam.  Yes, Islam has much violence in its history and the Quran has passages that can incite violence.  But the same is true of other religions. Third is the view of the New Atheists and others that religion itself – which entails metaphysical beliefs not susceptible to empirical demonstration – is the problem.  But of course religious people are often peacemakers and work for justice or freedom, sometimes in times and places when non-religious people fear to tread.

Better to see radical jihadism as produced by a conglomeration of forces, one of which is not Islam or religion per se but a religious ideology, Islamism.  That ideology builds upon Islam but is particular to our historical moment.  Islamism arises out of traditional Islam’s ongoing encounter with modernity as carried by Western imperialism and Muslim secularizers of the 20th century.  As an ideology, Islamism is defined in opposition to various kinds of secularism.  As an ideology, Islamism is, in some ways, much like ideologies that roiled the Western world in decades and centuries past.  I will have more to say about this in the coming weeks and in my forthcoming book Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past.

Does Labor need a global resurgence of religion?

Tesco’s turning their workers into banded cattle, or at least that’s the way Brian Dijkema tells it in Canada’s National Post. Earlier this year, reports surfaced that workers at the grocer’s Dublin distribution center were “forced to wear armbands that measure their productivity so closely that the company even knows when they take bathroom breaks.” Writing for the American Interest, Walter Russell Mead described it as “vaguely menacing and dehumanizing.” There’s nothing vague about it.

This menace and dehumanization has its anchor set firmly in what Charles Taylor calls one of our ‘pathologies of the modern moral order,’ the instrumentalization  and economization not only of material reality, but of human labor and life itself. We’ve gorged aplenty on radical critiques of ‘capitalism gone wild,’ but – argues Taylor – it is not the economic system itself that is properly the center of our concern, but rather the monopoly of the modern logics of efficiency and consequentialism. As Gideon Strauss, writing for Comment magazine, says “Market economy? Yes! Market society? No!”

This month I joined Catholics and Protestants in Rome to discuss the enduring insights of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Rerum Novarum, too, was written in a period of rapid and disquieting economic and social change. Where the Pope wrote on ‘the new things’ others, like Abraham Kuyper, were writing on ‘the social question,’ wondering how peace, how mutuality and solidarity, could exist between an increasingly polarized capital and labor.

We still wonder that, and you don’t have to be especially religious, or be reading papal encyclicals, to realize the urgency of it. Like Dijkema, you can witness the banding of Tesco workers and wonder if this isn’t menacing and dehumanizing, if efficiency is really the best or priority virtue, if it should monopolize public and even private spheres of life. Charles Taylor agues in A Secular Age that to think beyond the dichotomy of efficiency and consequentialism necessitates a background, often an inescapable one (he calls it a ‘horizon’), against which not only our ends but also our means gain shape and meaning. What, after all, is an economy for? The efficient distribution of goods is essential, sure, but the economy is not exhausted by it. Work for man, not man for work! – argues Rerum Novarum, yielding an essential moral vocabulary for understanding not only the dignity of work, but its basic human condition. Through good work we are made more human. Good work is a gift, a vital one, to being fully human, not just a means toward an end, but an end in itself. And when the monopoly of efficiency overtakes the dignity of human work an economy has failed.

That, at least, would be the judgment of Rerum Novarum. Efficiency is a central virtue to any economy, but it is not the only virtue. Efficiency is a necessary, but not sufficient cause of economic success. To get deep into the guts of economic systems, we need a moral vocabulary beyond what mere secular economics provides. That moral vocabulary, it seems to me, is nowhere more prominent than in global religious discourse. Rerum Novarum is one example. There are more (Abraham Kuyper, among them). Maybe, to get deep into the guts of the economy is to end up, suddenly, surrounded by religion.

The Persecution of Christians is for Real

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

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

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

 

Welcome to Arc of the Universe

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

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

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

We look forward to a lively conversation.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.