Around the Web This Week

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

“Religious Responses to Violence” (ed. Wilde)

In December, the University of Notre Dame Press will release “Religious Responses to Violence: Human Rights in Latin America Past and Present,” edited by Alexander Wilde (American University).  The publisher’s description follows:

During the past half century, Latin America has evolved from a region of political instability and frequent dictatorships into one of electedp03204 governments. Although its societies and economies have undergone sweeping changes, high levels of violence have remained a persistent problem. Religious Responses to Violence: Human Rights in Latin America Past and Present offers rich resources to understand how religion has perceived and addressed different forms of violence, from the political and state violence of the 1970s and 1980s to the drug traffickers and youth gangs of today. The contributors offer many fresh insights into contemporary criminal violence and reconsider past interpretations of political violence, liberation theology, and human rights in light of new questions and evidence.

In contrast to many other studies of violence, this book explores its moral dimensions—up close in lived experience—and the real consequences of human agency. Alexander Wilde provides a thoughtful substantive introduction, followed by thematic chapters on “rights,” “violence,” and case studies of ten countries throughout the region. The book breaks new ground examining common responses as well as differences between Catholic and Evangelical pastoral accompaniment. These new studies focus on the specifically religious character of their responses—how they relate their mission and faith to violence in different contexts—to better understand how and why they have taken action.

Pupcenoks, “Western Muslims and Conflicts Abroad”

In December, Routledge will release “Western Muslims and Conflicts Abroad: Conflict Spillovers to Diasporas,” by Juris Pupcenoks (Marist College).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book explains why reactive conflict spillovers (political violence in response to conflicts abroad) occur in some migrant-background 9781138915527communities in the West. Based on survey data, statistical datasets, more than sixty interviews with Muslim community leaders and activists, ethnographic research in London and Detroit, and open-source data, this book develops a theoretical explanation for how both differences in government policies and features of migrant-background communities interact to influence the nature of foreign-policy focused activism in migrant communities. Utilizing rigorous, mixed-methods case study analysis, the author comparatively analyses the reactions of the Pakistani community in London and the Arab Muslim community in Detroit to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during the decade following 9/11. Both communities are politically mobilized and active. However, while London has experienced reactive conflict spillover, Detroit has remained largely peaceful.

The key findings show that, with regards to activism in response to foreign policy events, Western Muslim communities primarily politically mobilize on the basis of their ethnic divisions. Nevertheless, one notable exception is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is viewed through the Islamic lenses; and the common Islamic identity is important in driving mobilization domestically in response to Islamophobia, and counterterrorism policies and practices perceived to be discriminatory. Certain organizational arrangements involving minority community leaders, law enforcement, and government officials help to effectively contain excitable youth who may otherwise engage in deviant behavior. Overall, the following factors contribute to the creation of an environment where reactive conflict spillover is more likely to occur: policies allowing immigration of violent radicals, poor economic integration without extensive civil society inter-group ties, the presence of radical groups, and connections with radical networks abroad.

The Argument for Athens’ Democracy

Theseus and the “democratic peace” thesis

In his colloquy with the Theban herald, Theseus is not, I think, advocating any form of the “democratic peace” thesis (on which see Michael W. Doyle, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs (1983)). Certainly Theseus is not claiming that democratic Athens is reluctant to go to war: as we have seen, fifth century Athens was more or less continually at war. Nor is he even claiming that Athens is unlikely to make war with other Greek democracies: that claim too is unsupported. (From 415 to 413, democratic Athens was at war with democratic Syracuse.) See Eric Robinson, Reading and Misreading the Ancient Evidence for Democratic Peace (2001).

Theseus and the claim that democracy is epistemically superior

What Theseus is saying, I think, is that democracies will make better decisions

Well, perhaps not.

Well, perhaps not.

about war than non-democratic states, both because more sources of information will be consulted, and also because the arguments for and against war will be more fully and critically examined. The historian Christian Meier, in his Athens: A Portrait of the City in Its Golden Age (English trans. 1998 (1993)) tells us that “Athenian democracy followed two fundamental principles: First, all decisions were to be made as openly as possible and on the basis of public discussion, with the deliberating bodies being as large as feasible. Second, as many citizens as possible were to take part in the political process and also hold office. Organized groups of aristocrats were thus prevented from using their influence in the appointment of public officials. In general, political manipulation by small groups was not to be tolerated.”

The Athenians often extolled the virtues of democratic deliberation. In his funeral oration (Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book II, c. 40), Pericles says that the Athenians “weigh what we undertake, and apprehend it perfectly in our minds; not accounting words for a hindrance of action, but that it is rather a hindrance to action to come to it without instruction of words before.” Moreover, Pericles argues (with an eye to Sparta) that Athens’ proclivity for deliberation does not prevent it from showing courage and daring when in arms: “For also in this we excel others; daring to undertake as much as any, and yet examining what we undertake; whereas with other men, ignorance makes them dare, and consideration dastards.” Indeed, Pericles claims, the kind of knowledge Athens acquires through deliberation is a necessary condition of the virtue of courage, rightly considered: “they are most rightly reputed valiant, who though they perfectly apprehend both what is dangerous and what is easy, are never the more thereby diverted from adventuring.”

Thucydides himself may have been more skeptical of the merits of deliberative

Democratic deliberation

Democratic deliberation

democracy than Pericles (as Thucydides represents him) was. Thucydides’ account of the Athenian Assembly’s debates over the fate of the city of Mitylene, which had rebelled against Athens in wartime, is illustrative. After suppressing the revolt, the incensed Athenians had voted in a moment of fury to put the entire male population of Mitylene to death, and dispatched a vessel to convey their decision to the commander of their forces at the city. The next day, in a more sober and reflective mood, they decided to reconsider their hasty decree. Thucydides gives us the opposing speeches of Cleon (who advocated carrying out the original order) and Diodotus (who wanted it rescinded). See Thucydides, Book III, cc. 37-48. In a close vote, the Assembly decided to rescind the decree and spare those Mityleneans who had had nothing to do with the revolt. Luckily the vessel they dispatched to countermand the original order arrived before the first one did.  Thucydides seems to want to illustrate both the pitfalls of the Assembly’s decision-making (it can act from passion and without consideration, and even its amended decree is extremely harsh) and also its desirable features (it provides a workable procedure for error-correction).

In this light, we can see the colloquies of the opening scenes between Theseus and the suppliants, and then between Theseus and Aethra, as modeling the debates of the Athenian assembly. The colloquies show us a process in which information is gathered and assessed, arguments and counter-arguments (including women’s) are heard, and appeals to the emotions of pity and pride are admissible along with considerations of national interest. And certainly the policy outcome – intervention against Thebes – seems to be better than the defective outcomes produced by one-man rule in Argos and Thebes.

If this interpretation is right, Euripides will be anticipating, through Theseus, a defense of deliberative democracy that Aristotle would later set forth: that it incorporates epistemically superior decision procedures. (More recent authors speak in this connection of “the wisdom of crowds.”)  Aristotle says that when many different people

of whom each individual is not a good man, . . . meet together [they] may be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of excellence and practical wisdom, and when they meet together, just as they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses, so too with regard to their character and thought. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole.

Quoted and analyzed in Jeremy Waldron, The Wisdom of the Multitude:  Some Reflections on Book 3, Chapter II of Aristotle’s Politics (1993). Waldron interprets Aristotle to be saying here that “the many acting collectively may be a better judge than the few best not only of matters of fact, not only of social utility, but also and most importantly of matters of ethics, value, and the nature of the good life.” It is this very claim to epistemic superiority that critics of Athenian democracy like the Pseudo-Xenophon will deny: “Someone might say that they ought not to let everyone speak on equal terms and serve on the council, but rather just the cleverest and finest.”

Modern scholars on democracy’s epistemic advantages

Modern scholars have developed interesting defenses of democracy that harken back to these Greek debates, arguing that the Athenian experience supports the claim that democracy as a decision procedure offers epistemic advantages over alternative processes. See Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge:  Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens (2008). The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, e.g., using a model of democratic decision-making derived from John Dewey, contends that democracy should be seen as akin to experimentally-based scientific investigation. Ideally, democracy pools widely distributed information from the many diverse knowers who participate in it, subjects their different claims to shared deliberation and critique, reaches public policy conclusions on that basis, permits dissent, ensures accountability, and makes policy changes after getting feedback. These characteristics promote sound policy choices and give democracies a competitive edge over other systems. See Elizabeth Anderson, The Epistemology of Democracy (2006). In particular, democratic procedures arguably give democracies a competitive advantage in waging war.  In Why Societies Need Dissent (2003), the legal scholar Cass Sunstein points to evidence that the superior performance of the American and British democracies over the Germany, Italy and Japan was owed to the fact that the public and press in a democracy are free to review, debate and criticize the government’s actions, while in totalitarian systems, criticisms and suggestions are both unwanted and unheeded, and the streams of information and authority run from the top on down. (To be sure, the superior wartime performance of the Stalinist Soviet Union cannot be explained in this way.) Democracies are therefore more likely to make adaptations and correct errors when it is useful to do so.    

Further, both Euripides’ Theseus and modern researchers are saying that once democracies go to war, they will tend to prosecute it more determinedly, because the citizens who fight it have done so of their own accord, and because they rather than their overlords stand to enjoy the rewards of victory. “Making decisions about the city was . . . an essential part of being a citizen, and those who made the decisions had also to be ready to die for them on the battlefield” (Sophie Mills). There is substantial support for this view: in Democracies at War (2002), Dan Reiter and Allan C. Stam amass the evidence that

democratic elites [are] far less likely than other kinds of states to enter into war impulsively, and thereby avoiding risky and costly military adventures. On the battlefield, democratic political culture imbues democracies’ citizens with individual attributes that serve both the citizens and the state well in war as well as in peace. More often than not, the sons of democracy outfight the sons of tyranny by showing better individual initiative and leadership than their counterparts raised in and fighting for autocratic regimes.

Finally, Theseus is saying that democracies will make war with less wastage of life – or at least, with less wastage of its own citizens’ lives – because the citizens and the decision-makers are one and the same. Modern democracies behave similarly: in the 1999 war in Kosovo, the NATO democracies attempted to wage a “zero-casualty” war – meaning, that their forces would suffer no casualties.

Theseus and the Theban Herald, Round Two:  Why Athens fights

Theseus’ debate with the Theban herald is not over: there remains the question of explaining to Thebes why Athens will fight.

The core of Theseus’ argument is, of course, that Athens will fight to uphold the laws and customs of Greece. But Theseus is not content simply to refer to those laws; instead, he undertakes to show their rationality. Some readers take this to indicate that Euripides was a rationalist or humanist who did not credit the divine authority of the laws. That may be so, but there is a simpler explanation for this turn of the drama: the Thebans already know that they are violating a religious prescription (an action they consider justified by Argos’ impiety in attacking them). Theseus’ effort to display the rationality of the laws therefore addresses an aspect of the situation that Thebes has insufficiently considered. In any case, here is what Theseus says:

I claim the right to fulfill the law of all Hellas

In burying those dead bodies. Wherein lies the offence?

If you were injured by those Argives – they are dead.

You fought your foes with glory to yourselves, and shame

To them.  That done, the score is paid.  Permit their bodies

To hide below ground, and each part to return there

Whence first it came into this light; breath to the sky,

Flesh to the soil.  For we have in our own bodies

But a life-tenancy, not lasting ownership;

At death, the earth that bred us must receive us back.

Do you think that you hurt Argos by not burying them?

Far from it; this is a hurt done to the whole Hellene race,

When dead men are denied their proper rites, and left

 Unburied.  Should such practice become general,

Brave men would shrink from battle.  And do you, who hurl

At me these threatening speeches, tremble at dead men

Unless they lie unburied?  What fear troubles you?

Do you think that from their graves they’ll undermine your town,

Or in their earthy chambers beget sons, from whom

Vengeance will haunt you? . . .

Yield us the bodies to inter;

We wish to give them pious rites.  If you will not –

In plain terms, I will come with arms and bury them.

It never shall be published through the Hellene lands

That I and this city of Pandion, called upon

To uphold this ancient, divine ordinance, let it die.

Theseus is invoking the ideal of “helping the wronged” – an ideal that held a powerful attraction for Athens and its public. Matthew Christ, in The Limits of Altruism in Democratic Athens (2012), argues that “the Athenians were drawn to the notion that they were a noble people who were always prepared to intervene on behalf of fellow Greeks in distress and to save them from their oppressors.” Abundant evidence supports this view. For instance, in his funeral speech, Pericles argues that Athens intervenes on behalf of other Greeks states disinterestedly, without a view to its own gain – and thereby earns their esteem and gratitude (which, incidentally, serves its interests):

we purchase our friends, not by receiving, but by bestowing benefits. And he that bestoweth a good turn, is ever the most constant friend; because he will not lose the thanks due unto him from him whom he bestowed it on. Whereas the friendship of him that oweth a benefit, is dull and flat, as knowing his benefit not to be taken for a favour, but for a debt. So that we only do good to others, not upon computation of profit, but freeness of trust.

It is true, as Christ also shows, that this ideal, despite its attractiveness as a matter of Athens’ self-image, did not appreciably affect its relationships with other cities: his analysis shows that Athenian intervention in practice was regularly based on strategic considerations, not on compassion. It is also true that what Athens presented to itself and to its allies as “humanitarianism” could be a cloak for imperialism: in arguing for going to war on behalf of Athens’ Sicilian allies, Alcibiades is reported to have told the Assembly that Athens acquired its empire precisely through (ostensibly) benign intervention:

the way whereby we, and whosoever else hath dominion, hath gotten it, hath ever been the cheerful succouring of their associates that required it, whether they were Greeks or barbarians. (Thucydides, Book VI, c. 18)

But within the dramatic world of The Suppliants, such strategic thinking does not appear. The only hint of it I can discern occurs near the end of Theseus’ exchange with the Theban herald, when the latter accuses both Theseus and Athens of “busy-bodiness” or “meddlesomeness” (prassein poll’) and Theseus replies that that habit makes Athens very prosperous (poll’ eudaimonei). “Busy-bodiness” can occupy the same semantic field as “interventionism,” as when the Athenians tell the Camarineans in Sicily that they have come as allies to the cities on that island that have suffered injustice (adikoumenois) from Syracuse, and that they are intervenors (polla prassein) and liberators because they have much to guard against on Sicily themselves (Book VI, c. 87, 2). But if Euripides is implying a connection between interventionism and imperialism, he does not develop it in this play.

A final note

One final note on Theseus’ speech. In seeking to explain the rationality of the Greek laws relating to the burial of the combat-dead, Theseus remarks that if the custom of permitting the bodies of the defeated side were not upheld, “brave men would shrink from battle.” That may well have been true in classical Greece. In describing the retreat of the beaten and demoralized Athenian army from Sicily, Thucydides tells us that the soldiers were struck “both with fear and grief” in seeing their dead comrades lying unburied on the ground (Book VII, c. 75). Something similar might even be true nowadays. I once asked the grandfather of one of my students, who had taken part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, what he remembered most about that day. He recalled first his own “fear and grief” at seeing the dead bodies of other GIs stacked up.

There is a subtle, ironical consequence to Theseus’ argument, however. If the custom of burying the combat-dead is not honored, then men will be reluctant to fight – and so the chances of future war will be less. On the other hand, by enforcing the war code, Theseus will be making future wars more likely. The code thus seems to be a way of perpetuating the institution of war, not of limiting or ending it. We shall see other ironies of a similar kind as the drama nears its conclusion.

“Migration and Religion” (Beckford, ed.)

In January, Edward Elgar Publishing will release “Migration and Religion: Volume I” edited by James A. Beckford (University of Warwick, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

The complex and changing relations between religion and migration are central to many urgent questions about diversity, inequality and pluralism. This wide-ranging collection of articles explores these questions in different periods of history, regions of the world and traditions of faith. There is particular emphasis on how religions inspire, manage and benefit from migration as well as how the experience of migration affects religious beliefs, identities and practices. These volumes examine the interface between religion and migration at levels of analysis ranging from the local to the global, and from the individual to the faith community.

“Reimagining the Sacred” (Kearney & Zimmermann, eds.)

Next month, Columbia University Press will release “Reimagining the Sacred” edited by Richard Kearney (Boston College) and Jens Zimmermann (Trinity Western University). The publisher’s description follows:

Contemporary conversations about religion and culture are framed by two reductive definitions of secularity. In one, multiple faiths and nonfaiths coexist free from a dominant belief in God. In the other, we deny the sacred altogether and exclude religion from rational thought and behavior. But is there a third way for those who wish to rediscover the sacred in a skeptical society? What kind of faith, if any, can be proclaimed after the ravages of the Holocaust and the many religion-based terrors since?

Richard Kearney explores these questions with a host of philosophers known for their inclusive, forward-thinking work on the intersection of secularism, politics, and religion. An interreligious dialogue that refuses to paper over religious difference, these conversations locate the sacred within secular society and affirm a positive role for religion in human reflection and action. Drawing on his own philosophical formulations, literary analysis, and personal interreligious experiences, Kearney develops through these engagements a basic gesture of hospitality for approaching the question of God. His work facilitates a fresh encounter with our best-known voices in continental philosophy and their views on issues of importance to all spiritually minded individuals and skeptics: how to reconcile God’s goodness with human evil, how to believe in both God and natural science, how to talk about God without indulging in fundamentalist rhetoric, and how to balance God’s sovereignty with God’s love.

“Living in the Ottoman Realm” (eds. Isom-Verhaaren & Schull)

In January, the Indiana University Press will release “Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries,” edited by Christine Isom-Verhaaren (Brigham Young University) and Kent F. Schull (SUNY Binghamton).  The publisher’s description follows:

Living in the Ottoman Realm brings the Ottoman Empire to life in all of its ethnic, religious, linguistic, and geographic diversity. The 9780253019431_medcontributors explore the development and transformation of identity over the long span of the empire’s existence. They offer engaging accounts of individuals, groups, and communities by drawing on a rich array of primary sources, some available in English translation for the first time. These materials are examined with new methodological approaches to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be Ottoman. Designed for use as a course text, each chapter includes study questions and suggestions for further reading.

Milton-Edwards, “The Muslim Brotherhood”

In December, Routledge will release “The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face,” by Beverley Milton-Edwards (Queen’s University Belfast).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Muslim Brotherhood is the most significant and enduring Sunni Islamist organization of the contemporary era. Its roots lie in the 9780415660013Middle East but it has grown into both a local and global movement, with its well-placed branches reacting effectively to take the opportunities for power and electoral competition offered by the Arab Spring.

Regarded by some as a force of moderation among Islamists, and by others as a façade hiding a terrorist fundamentalist threat, the potential influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on Middle Eastern politics remains ambiguous. The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face provides an essential insight into the organisation, with chapters devoted to specific cases where the Brotherhood has important impacts on society, the state and politics. Key themes associated with the Brotherhood, such as democracy, equality, pan-Islamism, radicalism, reform, the Palestine issue and gender, are assessed to reveal an evolutionary trend within the movement since its founding in Egypt in 1928 to its manifestation as the largest Sunni Islamist movement in the Middle East in the 21st century. The book addresses the possible future of the Muslim Brotherhood; whether it can surprise sceptics and effectively accommodate democracy and secular trends, and how its ascension to power through the ballot box might influence Western policy debates on their engagement with this manifestation of political Islam.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, this book presents a comprehensive study of a newly resurgent movement and is a valuable resource for students, scholars and policy makers focused on Middle Eastern Politics.

Venter, “Constitutionalism and Religion”

In December, Edward Elgar Publishing will release “Constitutionalism and Religion” by Francois Venter (North-West University, South Africa). The publisher’s description follows:

This topical book examines how the goals of constitutionalism – good and fair government – are addressed at a time when the multi-religious composition of countries’ populations has never before been so pronounced. How should governments, courts and officials deal with this diversity? The widely accepted principle of treating others as you wish them to treat you and the universal recognition of human dignity speak against preferential treatment of any religion. Faced with severe challenges, this leads many authorities to seek refuge in secular neutrality. Set against the backdrop of globalized constitutionalism in a post-secular era, Francois Venter proposes engaged objectivity as an alternative to unachievable neutrality.

Bringing together the history of church and state, the emergence of contemporary constitutionalism, constitutional comparison and the realities of globalization, this book offers a fresh perspective on the direction in which solutions to difficulties brought about by religious pluralism might be sought. Its wide-ranging comparative analyses and perspectives based on materials published in various languages provide a clear exposition of the range of religious issues with which the contemporary state is increasingly being confronted.

Worrall et. al.,”Hezbollah: From Islamic Resistance to Government”

In November, Praeger will release “Hezbollah: From Islamic Resistance to Government” by James Worrall, Simon Mabon, and Gordon Clubb. The publisher’s description follows:

This is the first book of its kind to offer a comprehensive study of Hezbollah, providing an overview of the organization’s key personalities, events, and structures over the past three decades. Inspired by the latest terrorism research and contemporary developments in the Middle East, the book reflects upon Hezbollah’s religious foundations and its present role as a player in Middle East relations.

Chapters place Hezbollah within the Middle East security environment, analyzing the rise of the Party of God within the context of Iranian-inspired Shi’a activism, examining the ideological underpinnings of the movement, and addressing its dominant political position post Arab Spring. This authoritative volume introduces the party’s full range of activities, including resistance, propaganda, organized crime, and educational facilities. The content highlights Hezbollah’s role as a social welfare provider—specifically, the types of aid given, the source of financing for the endeavor, and the challenge this role presents to the Lebanese state.