Byman, “Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement”

In July, Oxford University Press releases “Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Daniel Byman (Georgetown University School of Foreign Service). The publisher’s description follows:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the entire world was introduced to Al Qaeda and its enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden. But the organization that changed the face of terrorism forever and unleashed a whirlwind of counterterrorism activity and two major wars had been on the scene long before that eventful morning. In Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know, Daniel L. Byman, an eminent scholar of Middle East terrorism and international security who served on the 9/11 Commission, provides a sharp and concise overview of Al Qaeda, from its humble origins in the mountains of Afghanistan to the present, explaining its perseverance and adaptation since 9/11 and the limits of U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts.

The organization that would come to be known as Al Qaeda traces its roots to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Founded as the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda achieved a degree of international notoriety with a series of spectacular attacks in the 1990s; however, it was the dramatic assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 that truly launched Al Qaeda onto the global stage. The attacks endowed the organization with world-historical importance and provoked an overwhelming counterattack by the United States and other western countries. Within a year of 9/11, the core of Al Qaeda had been chased out of Afghanistan and into a variety of refuges across the Muslim world. Splinter groups and franchised offshoots were active in the 2000s in countries like Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen, but by early 2011, after more than a decade of relentless counterterrorism efforts by the United States and other Western military and intelligence services, most felt that Al Qaeda’s moment had passed. With the death of Osama bin Laden in May of that year, many predicted that Al Qaeda was in its death throes. Shockingly, Al Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in the last few years. In almost every conflict in the Muslim world, from portions of the Xanjing region in northwest China to the African subcontinent, Al Qaeda franchises or like-minded groups have played a role. Al Qaeda’s extreme Salafist ideology continues to appeal to radicalized Sunni Muslims throughout the world, and it has successfully altered its organizational structure so that it can both weather America’s enduring full-spectrum assault and tailor its message to specific audiences.

Authoritative and highly readable, Byman’s account offers readers insightful and penetrating answers to the fundamental questions about Al Qaeda: who they are, where they came from, where they’re going-and, perhaps most critically-what we can do about it.

Atzori, “Islamism and Globalisation in Jordan: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Quest for Hegemony”

In June, Routledge released “Islamism and Globalisation in Jordan: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Quest for Hegemony” by Daniel Atzori (FC Business Intelligence). The publisher’s description follows:

This book explores the activities of the local Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. It examines how the Brotherhood, working to establish an alternative social, political and moral order through a network of Islamic institutions, made a huge contribution to the transformation of Jordanian society. It reveals, however, that the Brotherhood’s involvement in the economic realm, in Islamic financial activities, led it to engage with the neo-liberal approach to the economy, with the result that the Islamic social institutions created by the Brotherhood, such as charities, lost their importance in favour of profit-oriented activities owned by leading Islamist individuals. The book thereby demonstrates the “hybridisation” of Islamism, and argues that Islamism is not an abstract set of beliefs, but rather a collection of historically constructed practices. The book also illustrates how globalisation is profoundly influencing culture and society in the Arab world, though modified by the adoption of an Islamic framework.

Baker and Smith, “American Secularism”

In September, the New York University Press will release “American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems,” by Joseph O. Baker (East Tennessee State University) and Buster G. Smith (Catawba College). The publisher’s description follows:

A rapidly growing number of Americans are embracing life outside the bounds of organized religion. Although America has long been viewed as a fervently religious Christian nation, survey data shows that more and more Americans are identifying as “not religious.” There are more non-religious Americans than ever before, yet social scientists have not adequately studied or typologized secularities, and the lived reality of secular individuals in America has not been astutely analyzed. American Secularism documents how changes to American society have fueled these shifts in the non-religious landscape and examines the diverse and dynamic world of secular Americans.

This volume offers a theoretical framework for understanding secularisms. It explores secular Americans’ thought and practice to understand secularisms as worldviews in their own right, not just as negations of religion. Drawing on empirical data, the authors examine how people live secular lives and make meaning outside of organized religion. Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith link secularities to broader issues of social power and organization, providing an empirical and cultural perspective on the secular landscape. In so doing, they demonstrate that shifts in American secularism are reflective of changes in the political meanings of “religion” in American culture.

American Secularism addresses the contemporary lived reality of secular individuals, outlining forms of secular identity and showing their connection to patterns of family formation, sexuality, and politics, providing scholars of religion with a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews that do not include traditional religion.

“Voltaire’s Revolution” (Noyer, ed.)

In July, Prometheus Books will release “Voltaire’s Revolution: Writings from His Campaign to Free Laws from Religion,” translated and edited by G.K. Noyer. The publisher’s description follows: 
Voltaire, the pen name of François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), was one of the most influential leaders of the Enlightenment. This book presents the first full English translations of selected writings from Voltaire’s legendary pamphlet campaign for tolerance, which forcefully drove the movement to grant freedom of beliefs and end state-imposed religions. Voltaire wrote close to two hundred works advocating for that change. John Adams wrote that Voltaire “did more for religious liberty than Calvin, Luther or even Locke.” 
This collection also contains accounts of Voltaire’s battle as seen by the great mathematician-philosophe Condorcet, King Frederick the Great of Prussia, and others, long unavailable in English―a valuable addition to the library of anyone with an interest in human rights and freedom of thought.

“Religious Diversity in European Prisons: Challenges and Implications for Rehabilitation” (Becci & Roy, eds.)

In June, Springer released “Religious Diversity in European Prisons: Challenges and Implications for Rehabilitation” edited by Irene Becci (University of Lausanne) and Oliver Roy (European University Institute). The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines how prisons meet challenges of religious diversity, in an era of increasing multiculturalism and globalization. Social scientists studying corrections have noted the important role that religious or spiritual practice can have on rehabilitation, particularly for inmates with coping with stress, mental health and substance abuse issues. In the past, the historical figure of the prison chaplain operated primarily in a Christian context, following primarily a Christian model. Increasingly, prison populations (inmates as well as employees) display diversity in their ethnic, cultural, religious and geographic backgrounds. As public institutions, prisons are compelled to uphold the human rights of their inmates, including religious freedom. Prisons face challenges in approaching religious plurality and secularism, and maintaining prisoners’ legal rights to religious freedom.

The contributions to this work present case studies that examine how prisons throughout Europe have approached challenges of religious diversity. Featuring contributions from the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, this interdisciplinary volume includes contributions from social and political scientists, religion scholars and philosophers examining the role of religion and religious diversity in prison rehabilitation.  It will be of interest to researchers in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Social and Political Science, Human Rights, Public Policy, and  Religious Studies.

Mideast Christians and Authoritarian Regimes

2000px-Coptic_cross.svgLast week’s ruling in Obergefell took up a lot of attention, but I’ve been meaning to link a couple of good articles about Mideast Christians, specifically, their relationship with authoritarian regimes. Outsiders often criticize Mideast Christians for coming to terms with such regimes. But the regimes are often the best alternative in a terrible situation.

First, at Crux, John Allen has been writing a series on Egypt’s Copts, who are going through one of the worst periods of persecution in their long history. Yesterday, he posted an interesting piece on relations between Copts and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. El-Sisi has made a number of high-profile gestures of solidarity with Copts, including attending a Christmas Liturgy, and the vast majority view him very favorably. The Coptic Church is solidly behind him, and for most Christians, Allen writes, “it’s axiomatic that el-Sisi is the best thing that’s happened in a long time.”

But there are dissenting views. Allen interviews a few Copts who say El-Sisi’s warmth is just for show, and that his regime continues to oppress Copts, just as the Mubarak and Morsi governments did. Crimes against Copts continue to go unpunished, and there is still  “forced displacement, harassment under the country’s anti-blasphemy laws, kidnappings and physical assaults.” Indeed, one commentator reports that, “in virtually every category… the number of incidents today is going up rather than down.” Perhaps Christians’ support for el-Sisi is misplaced–or perhaps, as most Copts argue, el-Sisi is doing all he can to change traditional Egyptian attitudes, and is the best option in a very imperfect situation. My sense, from reading Western news accounts, is that the latter is the case. But I’ll admit Allen’s reporting makes me wonder a bit.

The second is this wide-ranging interview from La Stampa’s “Vatican Insider” with Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. Aphrem–who previously served as his church’s archbishop in America, incidentally–discusses a number of topics, including Christians’ relations with the Assad regime. Here’s a snippet:

Some Western circles accuse the Christians of the East of submitting to authoritarian regimes.

“We have not submitted ourselves to Assad and the so-called authoritarian governments. We simply recognise legitimate governments. The majority of Syrian citizens support Assad’s government and have always supported it. We recognise legitimate rulers and pray for them, as the New Testament teaches us. We also see that on the other side there is no democratic opposition, only extremist groups. Above all, we see that in the past few years, these groups have been basing their actions on an ideology that comes from the outside, brought here by preachers of hatred who have come from and are backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. These groups receive arms through Turkey too, as the media have shown us.”

You have to read between the lines here. What he’s saying, it seems to me, is not that Assad is wonderful, but that the alternative for Christians is incomparably worse. Aphrem makes other allegations that seem dubious, for example, that the West is arming terrorist groups that are massacring Christians. I guess he’s referring to Turkey’s alleged links with ISIS. Anyway, it’s hard to argue with his basic point that the West should not judge Syria’s Christians for the choices they have to make. Like the Allen piece on Copts, the La Stampa interview is worth reading for a sense of the pressures Mideast Christians face every day.

Movsesian at ICON-S Conference This Week

ICON-S-logoOn Thursday, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual ICON-S conference on Public Law, to be held this year at New York University. The conference is sponsored by the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and draws scholars from around the world. My panel, “The Foundation of an Uncertain Law,” will discuss Cambridge’s new collection of commentary on the jurisprudence of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cartabia & Simoncini eds. 2014). Other panelists include Michel Rosenfeld (Yeshiva), Ran Hirschl (Toronto), and John Garvey (Catholic University of America). The panel will be moderated by Sabino Cassese, formerly of the Italian Constitutional Court. CLR Forum readers at the conference, please stop by and say hello!

Omar and Duffey, “Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions”

This month, Wiley-Blackwell released “Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions,” by Irfan A. Omar (Marquette University) and Michael K. Duffey (Marquette University). The publisher’s description follows:

Written by top practitioner-scholars who bring a critical yet empathetic eye to the topic, this textbook provides a comprehensive look at peace and violence in seven world religions. 

* Offers a clear and systematic narrative with coverage of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Native American religions

* Introduces a different religion and its sacred texts in each chapter; discusses ideas of peace, war, nonviolence, and permissible violence; recounts historical responses to violence; and highlights individuals within the tradition working toward peace and justice

* Examines concepts within their religious context for a better understanding of the values, motivations, and ethics involved

* Includes student-friendly pedagogical features, such as enriching end-of-chapter critiques by practitioners of other traditions, definitions of key terms, discussion questions, and further reading sections. 

White, “Reforming Sodom”

In August, the University of North Carolina Press will release “Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights,” by Heather R. White (University of Puget Sound). The publisher’s description follows:

With a focus on mainline Protestants and gay rights activists in the twentieth century, Heather R. White challenges the usual picture of perennial adversaries with a new narrative about America’s religious and sexual past. White argues that today’s antigay Christian traditions originated in the 1920s when a group of liberal Protestants began to incorporate psychiatry and psychotherapy into Christian teaching. A new therapeutic orthodoxy, influenced by modern medicine, celebrated heterosexuality as God-given and advocated a compassionate “cure” for homosexuality.

White traces the unanticipated consequences as the therapeutic model, gaining popularity after World War II, spurred mainline church leaders to take a critical stance toward rampant antihomosexual discrimination. By the 1960s, a vanguard of clergy began to advocate for homosexual rights. White highlights the continued importance of this religious support to the consolidating gay and lesbian movement. However, the ultimate irony of the therapeutic orthodoxy’s legacy was its adoption, beginning in the 1970s, by the Christian Right, which embraced it as an age-old tradition to which Americans should return. On a broader level, White challenges the assumed secularization narrative in LGBT progress by recovering the forgotten history of liberal Protestants’ role on both sides of the debates over orthodoxy and sexual identity.

McGinnis on the Roberts Opinion in King v. Burwell

This isn’t about law and religion, but readers might enjoy John McGinnis’s essay in the City Journal on last week’s decision in the Affordable Care Act case, King v. Burwell. John argues that Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion is principled, though wrong, on statutory interpretation. Did I mention John cites my early scholarship on statutory interpretation? My salad days, before I discovered law and religion.