What’s Happening in Argentina?

I confess I don’t follow Argentine politics. So when an Argentine friend posted the message “Yo Soy Nisman” on her Facebook page this week, I didn’t get the reference. I asked her about it, and she directed me to several news items on the death Sunday of an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who was about to testify about an alleged deal to immunize the perpetrators of one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in recent history. It is an astonishing story.

In 1994, a bomb exploded at a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people. Iranian agents are suspected, and Interpol has issued arrest warrants against some Iranian officials. This month, Nisman accused the Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner, of blocking the investigation. Kirschner, he claimed, had made a secret agreement with Iran to shield the officials from prosecution in exchange for Iranian oil. He filed a criminal complaint against her and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman. Both Kirschner and Timerman deny the charge. They say that Nisman was being manipulated by their political opponents.

Nisman had an appointment to testify before Argentine legislators on Monday. On Sunday, police found him dead in his apartment, with a gunshot wound to the head. Kirschner first called the death a suicide, which is how the police described it. Many Argentines were skeptical, as Nisman had left no note and forensic evidence didn’t point to a suicide.

Now, apparently, Ms. Kirschner is skeptical as well. On her website yesterday, she wrote that she believes Nisman was murdered–implicitly, by the same people who had manipulated him to bring the charges against her in the first place. “They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead,” she wrote. Presumably, the plot was to get Nisman to indict Kirschner on phony charges, and then kill him before the plot against Kirschner could be revealed.

So: A prosecutor claims he has evidence that the president has made a secret deal with a foreign country to cover up a attack on a religious minority that killed 85 people, then dies under mysterious circumstances the day before he is to testify. The president first claims it’s a suicide, then changes her mind and says, without providing evidence, that it’s a murder directed, ultimately, at her. Does any of this make sense? What’s happening in Argentina?

Holt v. Hobbs Podcast

Mark and I have recorded a podcast on this week’s Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs, the prison beard case. We discuss the facts, the holding, and broader implications for RFRA and religious liberty.

 

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Commins, “Islam in Saudi Arabia”

In February, I.B.Tauris will release “Islam in Saudi Arabia” by David Dean Commins (Dickinson College). The publisher’s description follows:

In the popular imagination, Saudi Arabia is a monolithic and static relic from an earlier age, wedded to a reactionary interpretation of Islam and led by an authoritarian monarchy whose alliance with a retrograde religious establishment has assured its survival. David Commins challenges this view by tracing the origins and evolution of the Saudi state from its eighteenth century roots through the present day. For Commins, Saudi Arabia’s contemporary social and political order is the product of dynamic historical and ongoing struggles, both internal (pitting dynasts against religious traditionalists, Wahhabi true believers against non-Wahhabis and their more liberal Wahhabi allies, and an old guard against a younger generation habituated to a world of social media, cable television, and consumerism) and external (including threats from imperial powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Arab nationalists in the 1950s-60s, Saddam’s Iraq in the 1990s, and, currently, Iran and al-Qaeda). Commins tracks the Al Saud’s efforts to balance and overcome these challenges, in the process creating a system whose defining characteristics are contradiction and ambiguity.

Sciorra, “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City”

Later this month, the University of Tennessee Press will release “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City” by Joseph Sciorra (Queens College). The publisher’s description follows:

Over the course of 130 years, Italian American Catholics in New York City have developed a varied repertoire of devotional art and architecture to create community-based sacred spaces in their homes and neighborhoods. These spaces exist outside of but in relationship to the consecrated halls of local parishes and are sites of worship in conventionally secular locations. Such ethnic building traditions and urban ethnic landscapes have long been neglected by all but a few scholars. Joseph Sciorra’s Built with Faith offers a place-centric, ethnographic study of the religious material culture of New York City’s Italian American Catholics.

Sciorra has spent thirty-five years researching these community art forms and interviewing Italian immigrant and U.S.-born Catholics. By documenting the folklife of this group, Sciorra reveals how Italian Americans in the city use expressive culture and religious practices to trans- form everyday urban space into unique, communal sites of ethnically infused religiosity. The folk aesthetics practiced by individuals within their communities are integral to understanding how art is conceptualized, implemented, and esteemed outside of museum and gallery walls. Yard shrines, sidewalk altars, Nativity presepi, Christmas house displays, a stone-studded grotto, and neighborhood processions—often dismissed as kitsch or prized as folk art—all provide examples of the vibrant and varied ways contemporary Italian Americans use material culture, architecture, and public ceremonial display to shape the city’s religious and cultural landscapes.

Written in an accessible style that will appeal to general readers and scholars alike, Sciorra’s unique study contributes to our understanding of how value and meaning are reproduced at the confluences of everyday life.

“The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding” (Omer et al., eds.)

This March, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding” edited by Atalia Omer (University of Notre Dame), R. Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame), and David Little (Harvard Divinity School).  The publisher’s description follows:

Oxford HandbookThis volume provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary account of the scholarship on religion, conflict, and peacebuilding. Looking far beyond the traditional parameters of the field, the contributors engage deeply with the legacies of colonialism, missionary activism, secularism, orientalism, and liberalism as they relate to the discussion of religion, violence, and nonviolent transformation and resistance.

Featuring numerous case studies from various contexts and traditions, the volume is organized thematically into five different parts. It begins with an up-to-date mapping of scholarship on religion and violence, and religion and peace. The second part explores the challenges related to developing secularist theories on peace and nationalism, broadening the discussion of violence to include an analysis of cultural and structural forms. In the third section, the chapters explore controversial topics such as religion and development, religious militancy, and the freedom of religion as a keystone of peacebuilding. The fourth part locates notions of peacebuilding in spiritual practice by focusing on constructive resources within various traditions, the transformative role of rituals, youth and interfaith activism in American university campuses, religion and solidarity activism, scriptural reasoning as a peacebuilding practice, and an extended reflection on the history and legacy of missionary peacebuilding. The volume concludes by looking to the future of peacebuilding scholarship and the possibilities for new growth and progress.

Bringing together a diverse array of scholars, this innovative handbook grapples with the tension between theory and practice, cultural theory, and the legacy of the liberal peace paradigm, offering provocative, elastic, and context-specific insights for strategic peacebuilding processes.

Rajan, “Al Qaeda’s Global Crisis”

In February, Routledge Press will release “Al Qaeda’s Global Crisis: The Islamic State, Takfir and the Genocide of Muslims” by V.G. Julie Rajan (Rutgers University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Al Qaeda's Global CrisisThis book focuses on the crises facing Al Qaeda and how the mass killing of Muslims is challenging its credibility as a leader among Islamist jihadist organizations.

The book argues that these crises are directly related to Al Qaeda’s affiliation with the extreme violence employed against Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the decade since 9/11. Al Qaeda’s public and private responses to this violence differ greatly. While in public Al Qaeda has justified those attacks declaring that, for the establishment of a state of ‘true believers’, they are a necessary evil, in private Al Qaeda has been advising its local affiliates to refrain from killing Muslims. To better understand the crises facing Al Qaeda, the book explores the development of Central Al Qaeda’s complex relationship with radical (mis)appropriations and manifestations of takfir, which allows one Muslim to declare another an unbeliever, and its unique relationship with each of its affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author then goes on to consider how the prominence of takfir is contributing to the deteriorating security in those countries and how this is affecting Al Qaeda’s credibility as an Islamist terror organization. The book concludes by considering the long-term viability of Al Qaeda and how its demise could allow the rise of the even more radical, violent Islamic State and the implications this has for the future security of the Middle East, North Africa and Central/South Asia.

This book will be of much interest to students of political violence and terrorism, Islamism, global security and IR.

When Doesn’t a Religious Accommodation “Detrimentally Affect Others”? And a Few Other Holt v. Hobbs Thoughts

Not too much to add to Rick Garnett’s analysis of Holt v. Hobbs. A short and precise opinion from Justice Alito. Here are just a few other questions and comments about the opinion and concurrences:

1. Rick quotes Justice Ginsburg’s one-paragraph concurrence, which states that she only joins the Court’s opinion “on th[e] understanding” that the accommodation here “would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.” I guess she felt she had to use the occasion to say something pejorative about Hobby Lobby, which she also quotes. It seems she has bought the line pressed by those who claim that the Establishment Clause prohibits third-party burdens, yet she articulates the standard that they champion rather expansively. There may be a big difference between arguing that the Establishment Clause prohibits religious accommodations that impose “significant burdens on identifiable third parties” (if memory serves, this was the standard favored by academic defenders of this argument) and arguing that the Establishment Clause prohibits religious accommodations that “detrimentally affect” anybody who doesn’t share the claimant’s religious beliefs. I don’t believe the former is a correct reading of the Establishment Clause. But the latter formulation seems a good deal broader. What constitutes a “detrimental effect” under that approach? Might symbolic harms count? I don’t see why they wouldn’t. And as Justice Alito points out, Arkansas made no argument that an exemption was not feasible as a matter of cost or other resources (“the Department has not argued that denying a petitioner an exemption is necessary to further a compelling interest in cost control or program administration”). Had the Department made an argument about cost control (with evidence, which was seemingly in short supply on its side), would any evidence of increased cost (no matter how small) not only been enough to find against the claimant as a RLUIPA matter, but actually have triggered an Establishment Clause violation had the prison accommodated the inmate? Suppose I am a prison inmate who thinks 1/2 inch beards are beautiful as a fashion statement, or because I come from a long line of bearded ancestors and it is important to me to observe the tradition (not so far from the truth in my case, other than the bit about being a prison inmate). Am I not “detrimentally affected” by the inequality of treatment that results from Holt’s accommodation, but not mine? Surely I am. It seems to me that this sort of standard, as well as its more careful academic progenitor, strikes at the heart of these religious accommodation statutes.

2. Following from that point, the heart of these statutes (as Rick also notes) is to provide “very broad protection for religious liberty” or “expansive protection for religious liberty,” as the Court says right at the start of the opinion. This case was an easy one according to that standard, even with a thumb on the scale of deference toward prison administrators, which the Court reaffirms (it rejects “unquestioning deference” but it acknowledges the “respect” that is due the prison administrators’ “expertise”). Should not Hobby Lobby, in which there was no such presumptive deference or “respect” accorded to the government, also have been an easy case according to that standard? Should it at least have been as easy, in light of the absence of deference toward the government in the latter? And yet Holt was unanimous while Hobby Lobby split 5-4.

3. The breadth of protection for religious freedom contemplated by the statutes (RFRA and RLUIPA) and affirmed by the Court was notable, but so was the rigor with which the least restrictive means portion of the analysis was applied. In Holt, the prison argued that its concerns about the shaving of facial hair and escape were unique because of the particular sort of prison it operated, and that its rule was therefore the least restrictive means of securing against the possibility of escape. But the Court rejected that argument for the simple reason that the prison had not done enough to distinguish itself from other prisons that allow facial hair and that had managed these concerns. Other prisons, that is, whose situation was analogous to the Arkansas prison (even if not identical) used less restrictive means to achieve their security interests. The Court looked to the variety of less restrictive means on offer out there in the national universe, and found that the Department should have used one or more of those. This is perhaps a useful elaboration of the least restrictive means test. Unless the government can prove that its burden is truly unique, the Court will look to analogous (even if not identical) solutions to similar problems reached by other governmental entities. If those other solutions seem to have worked without an imposition on religious freedom, then the government has not used the least restrictive means.

Houlihan, “Catholicism and the Great War: Religion and Everyday Life in Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1922″

In March, Cambridge University Press will release “Catholicism and the Great War: Religion and Everyday Life in Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1922” by Patrick Houlihan (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

This transnational comparative history of Catholic everyday religion in Germany and Austria-Hungary during the Great War transforms our understanding of the war’s cultural legacy. Challenging master narratives of secularization and modernism, Houlihan reveals that Catholics from the losing powers had personal and collective religious experiences that revise the decline-and-fall stories of church and state during wartime. Focusing on private theologies and lived religion, Houlihan explores how believers adjusted to industrial warfare. Giving voice to previously marginalized historical actors, including soldiers as well as women and children on the home front, he creates a family history of Catholic religion, supplementing studies of the clergy and bishops. His findings shed new light on the diversity of faith in this period and how specifically Catholic forms of belief and practice enabled people from the losing powers to cope with the war much more successfully than previous cultural histories have led us to believe.

Steenbrink, “Catholics in Independent Indonesia:1945-2010″

In February, Brill will release “Catholics in Independent Indonesia: 1945-2010” by Karel Steenbrink (Utrecht University). The publisher’s description follows:

Catholics in Independent Indonesia: 1945-2010 concludes Steenbrink’s three volume historical account of Catholicism in Indonesia with a detailed report of the survival and growth of this minority religion in Muslim Indonesia since its independence in 1945. Colonial Catholicism survived in the independent Republic of Indonesia during the nationalist Sukarno regime (1945-1965) and regained a new dynamic during the general religious revival that was part of the New Order of Soeharto after 1965. From a Dutch-inspired institution it became a fully Indonesian steered community with a modern and international character. The second half of the book will deal with the different regional developments in this vast country.