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Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?
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More on Muslims at Mass
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Muslim-Catholic Solidarity in DC after Murder of Fr. Hamel
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How to Think About Islam in These Times
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Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom
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The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global
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The danger of exporting a post-Orlando, counter-orientalist discourse to the Middle East
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How Christians Respond to Persecution: View the Rome Conference
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After Orlando: The Culture War Over Islam Continues
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Are There Still Just Wars? New Catholic Thinking on Peace

Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?

The recent killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel by two Muslim extremists has provoked a debate in Europe that has synthesized the question of Islam with the meaning of martyrdom.  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat considers the debate in his column of this morning.

He reports two dueling interpretations among Catholics.  Here is the conservative one:

To many conservative Catholics, Father Hamel is an archetypal Christian martyr — killed in a sacred space by men motivated by hatred of his faith, dying with the words, “Go away, Satan!” on his lips. To cultural conservatives more broadly, he’s a potent symbol of the jihadi threat to Europe’s peace.

But there is a different interpretation:

But within Catholicism there is also strong resistance to this interpretation. It starts at the very top, with Pope Francis, who has deliberately steered clear of the language of martyrdom — first describing the priest’s murder as “absurd,” and then using one of his in-flight press conferences to suggest that the killers were no more religiously-motivated than a random Catholic murderer in Italy.

 Meanwhile, amid calls of “Santo subito!” — “Sainthood now!” – two of the pope’s biographers, Austen Ivereigh and (in these pages) Paul Vallely, wrote essays warning against doing anything that might inflame interreligious tensions or otherwise play into the Islamic State’s bloodied hands.
In this narrative, which is also the narrative that many secular Europeans reached for, Father Hamel’s murder belongs not to the old iconography of a church militant under siege by unbelievers, but to the modern vision of a multicultural, multireligious society threatened primarily by ignorance and fear. So the appropriate response is to reassert the importance of religious tolerance, to highlight commonalities between French Muslims and their Catholic neighbors, to create a broad category of “peaceful religion” and cast jihadists outside it.

These interpretations, says Douthat, need not be mutually exclusive:

In theory, it should be possible (for a pope, especially!) to plainly call Father Hamel’s death a martyrdom while also rejecting sweeping narratives about Islamic violence or religious war.

Yet, Douthat ends up questioning the optimism of a certain post-Vatican II liberalism in whose eyes Fr. Hamel’s murder was never supposed to happen.

Muslim-Catholic Solidarity in DC after Murder of Fr. Hamel

In response to the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in France on July 26 by two men claiming allegiance to ISIS, Muslims in France and other countries, including the U.S., reached out to Catholics today to show solidarity by attending Mass.

I was deeply moved that three Muslims – Imam Suhaib Webb, Maggie Siddiqi, and Sameer Siddiqi – came to Mass in Washington, DC today with Dr. Paul Heck and me at our parish, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. They came because they, as Muslims, wanted to show their solidarity with Catholics after the murder of Fr. Hamel while he was saying Mass.

Neither Paul Heck nor I had ever met these Muslims before.

A few days ago Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC, tweeted, “We can’t show ISIS we’re afraid. Let’s all go to a Catholic Mass this Sunday to show solidarity since they killed a priest. #IAmJacquesHamel.” When I saw on Twitter that Imam Suhaib Webb had responded, “Fr. I will be there,” I invited Imam Webb to come to Mass with me. And come he did, plus Maggie and Sameer Siddiqui came too after hearing Imam Webb’s July 29 Friday sermon encouraging Washington, DC Muslims to go to Mass this Sunday as a show of solidarity.

They accepted an invitation from a stranger. They all came to say, “We stand with you. We care.”  Strangers reaching out, strangers meeting, strangers supporting each other across differences of faith. In this way we bear witness to ISIS and to the world that love is stronger than hate. Fr. Schneider is right: “We can’t show ISIS we’re afraid.” Stronger together, we won’t.

 

 

Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom

Robert Kagan once wrote a book called Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus.  In the past few years, the United States as well as several European countries, the European Union, and Canada have developed policies promoting religious freedom (though Canada has recently reversed course and closed its Office of Religious Freedom).  Does this development show a turn towards cooperation and emphasis on common priorities?

Perhaps, but Mars-and-Venus-like differences have persisted.  Europeans stress “religious engagement” and “Freedom of Religion or Belief” while the U.S. is more likely to trumpet religious freedom.  Europeans are prone to a multilateral approach while the United States finds it natural to go at it alone.  Western European states host more secular populations than the United States.

Seeing hope for cooperation among the U.S. and its European allies over a critically important principle but also realizing the need for bridging differences, the British Council awarded one of its “Bridging Voices” grants to the University of Sussex and the University of Notre Dame to pursue a pair of policy dialogues on “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Foreign Policy,” both of which were held in 2015 at Wilton Park in England and Georgetown University in the United States.  The results are summarized in a policy brief that presents recommendations for a unified foreign policy of promoting global religious freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global

The afterglow of 4th of July fireworks is a good moment to reflect on religious freedom.  It used to be that Americans saw this principle as part of their common heritage, a constitutional principle that we teach to children in schools and that all take pride in.  Now we are starting to see religious freedom become one side in a culture war, even placed in scare quotes in the contemporary media.

Americans have also believed that their experiment in religious freedom was worth exporting.  President Roosevelt declared religious freedom as one of the “four freedoms” that made up U.S. aims in World War II.  After the war, the U.S. was instrumental in including religious freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then, after the Cold War, in 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act , institutionalizing the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

A recent group of critics is calling into question this global promotion.  We’ve engaged them in debate previously here at ArcU (see here, here, and here).  In the past year, the two leading voices, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Saba Mahmood, have published books with Princeton University Press that look critically at religious freedom. I review these two books in a piece that Lawfare published last week.  I take issue with their critique and seek to defend religious freedom.

 

The danger of exporting a post-Orlando, counter-orientalist discourse to the Middle East

In The Culture War Over Islam Continues, Daniel Philpott suggests that the interpretive frameworks through which the Orlando tragedy has been read in the US represent a polarization between two reified positions: the “hawk position” which demonizes Muslims and the “dove position” which negates any association between Mateen’s professed religious affiliation and the underlying structural drivers of conflict at work. Scholars of the Middle East — who have long been committed to exposing and fighting orientalism as a feature of Western interpretive frameworks for Islam (religion), Islamism (as a political ideology), and Muslims (as followers) — have eloquently exposed reductionisms, essentialisms, and bias in the American discourses on the Orlando crisis. These discourses are critically important to counterbalance the hawks’ discourses, some of which have perpetuated discourses of xenophobia and fear mongering.

There are multiple dangers involved, however, if scholarly contestations by Middle East academics fighting orientalism spatially (in the West) and temporally (specific to the phase following Orlando) are exported to the Middle East. In many regions, while there are multiple struggles for political, economic, and social justice, there is also a struggle against deep structures that seek to circumscribe spaces for multivocality and inclusivity. Discourses that condemn all critiques of Islamist political forces as Islamophobic can lead to a muting of the voices of activists locally such as Islam el Behery who, as a Muslim scholar, sought to expose certain teachings by Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest institution of religious teaching, that encroach on freedoms. Al Azhar filed a blasphemy lawsuit against him, and he ended up with a five-year prison sentence. Other than responses by some secular Muslim scholars and activists in Egypt, Behery’s case generated very little solidarity from around the world.

Dove-like discourses in the US have repeatedly reminded audiences that those who affiliate themselves with ISIS are not Muslims. Fine, but caution is needed when this discourse travels to the Middle East, where there is a struggle by reformers to make institutions such as Al Azhar take a categorical stance against movements such as ISIS. So far, Al Azhar has refused to declare ISIS as apostates even though some of its scholars have no qualms defining the country’s non-Muslims in those terms. It won’t make much of a difference for ISIS whether it lies in the “in” or “out” box set by Al Azhar’s demarcation, but the significance of such a demarcation lies in the message it sends to Muslims worldwide. When ISIS is seen simply as part of an unruly crowd on the margins of the Muslim community (khawaraj), this is dramatically different than when they are seen as outside of Islam altogether. There has been a struggle to press Al Azhar to take a stance against those who kill in the name of Islam. In other words, whereas the struggle in a post-Orlando US is to challenge those that claim allegiance to ISIS as followers of Islam, the struggle in other parts of the world is for Muslim scholars to get Islamic political forces and institutions to represent radical movements as anathema to Islam. This points to the importance of not only recognizing locally situated discourses and interpretive frameworks, but also being aware of the potential dangers of exporting the language, framing, and standpoint used in one context (such as that of Orlando) to one radically different in the Middle East.

After Orlando: The Culture War Over Islam Continues

Before saying anything else about Orlando, my heart weeps and mourns, and I pray that all America would weep and mourn together, for the sufferers of this atrocity.

Now, an observation.  Over the past couple of days, a great deal has been said about Islam.  The debate follows almost exactly the pattern that it has followed at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  There is a culture war in the West over Islam.  It has played out again and again on cable news, talk radio, the internet, and in newspapers every time Islam appears in some way to be linked with violence.  The murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.  Al Qaeda’s bombings in Madrid and London.  Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.  The Iraqi civil war following the invasion of the U.S.  The Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI.  The building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.  The Arab uprisings of 2011.  Shootings at Fort Hood and in San Bernardino.  The predations of Boko Haram and the Islamic State.  Charlie Hebdo.  And now Orlando.

There are hawks and doves.  Hawks hold that violence and intolerance are widespread in Islam; that Islam is hard wired for these pathologies through its texts and doctrines; that Islam is inhospitable to liberal democracy; and that the West must gird up for a long struggle against Islam’s threat.  Hawks have been excoriating President Obama for allegedly denying that Islam is behind violence like this as well as all those who have not recognized Islam for the violent religion that it is.  Donald Trump sings a hawkish tune.

Doves hold that Islam is pluralistic and diverse.  Like all religions, Islam has extremists, but they are few.  Where violence and intolerance do exist in Islam, it feeds off local and historically particular circumstances and are not hard-wired.  Islam is capable of democracy.  The west should acknowledge its own role in contributing to violence in Islam and engage in a dialogue that can increase the sphere of shared understanding.  They upbraid the hawks for being warmongers and point out that every religion has its peaceful and belligerent faces.

Which side is right?  Neither.  I will take a stab at explaining why in posts soon to come.  In the short run, here is a thoughtful statement by contemporary Muslim leaders mourning the Orlando shooting and affirming religious freedom.

 

 

Are There Still Just Wars? New Catholic Thinking on Peace

Maria Stephan, a policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, has written a fascinating piece about voices in the Catholic Church who are calling for the Church to move past thinking about a just war and to focus far more on building just peace.  The Church has allies in such a quest among other Christians and other faiths as well as secular voices.   The movement comes mostly from peace activists and is not on the verge of leading the magisterium of the Church to jettison the classic doctrine of a just war, dating back to St. Augustine.  Still, its message finds echoes among recent popes and now Pope Francis as well as among leaders and activists throughout the world.

I do not think that the Church should abandon is doctrine of the just war, for sometimes war is just and necessary, but still find Stephan’s message compelling insofar as possibilities for non-violent action are worth developing, pursuing and enacting.  Stephan’s book with political scientist Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, is a landmark.  An article version of it opened my eyes to see that non-violent movements are not the rarified exceptions of a King or a Gandhi but rather part and parcel of global politics.  They are common; they work; and they produce better and more lasting change than violence.

Now she situates her thinking in the Catholic context:

But it seems that Pope Francis – who is by all accounts a progressive thinker, unafraid to challenge old Church doctrines – might welcome a debate over the church’s foundational tenets on war and peace.

“Faith and violence are incompatible,” he repeated in a 2013 mass prayer gathering at the Vatican. Like his predecessors of the past 50 years, he has called for the abolition of war. But this pontiff has gone one step further in pressing for nonviolent alternatives.

She continues:

The concept of “just peace” is not new. It first emerged in the United States in the mid-1980s, when an interdenominational group of Christian scholars advanced alternatives to war that culminated in a just-peace framework.

It included practices like supporting nonviolent direct action; cooperative conflict resolution; advancing democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; fostering just and sustainable economic development; and encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

She reports on a conference at Rome that she recently attended:

or some at the Rome conference, the pope’s endorsement of the gathering was long overdue for the church. Many of those in attendance, like Sister Nazek Matty from Erbil, Iraq, had known war for years and were sick of it. She and other participants pressed the church to place greater focus on nonmilitary responses to the Islamic State and expand the creative imagination to fight injustices with active nonviolent means.

During one of the plenary sessions, Father Francisco José de Roux, a Jesuit priest from Colombia, decried how, since the mid-1960s, supporters of both the government and FARC insurgents, including local priests, have justified violence in the name of a “just war.” The outcome? Nearly 50 years of civil war.

Other Catholic leaders in Colombia have supported nonviolent civic action and “zones of peace” to keep armed groups out of local communities and have helped advance peace talks expected to culminate in a final settlement later this year. By putting a just-peace approach at the center of its work, the Catholic Church in Colombia opened multiple avenues to effective nonviolent action.

There is much more that is worth reading in this provocative piece.

© 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.