Tag Archives: Human Rights

Al-Jabri, “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought”

This November, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought” by Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri (Mohammed V University, Morocco).  The publisher’s description follows:

9781780766508Mohammad Abed al-Jabri is one of the most influential political philosophers in the contemporary Middle East. A critical rationalist in the tradition of Avincenna and Averroes, he emphasizes the distinctive political and cultural heritage of the Arab world whilst rejecting the philosophical discourses that have been used to obscure its democratic deficit. This volume introduces an English-language audience for the first time to writings that have had a major impact on Arab political thought. Wide-ranging in scope yet focused in detail, these essays interrogate concepts such as democracy, law, and human rights, looking at how they have been applied in the history of the Arab world, and show that they are determined by political and social context, not by Islamic doctrine. Jabri argues that in order to develop democratic societies in which human rights are respected, the Arab world cannot simply rely on old texts and traditions. Nor can it import democratic models from the West. Instead, he says, a new tradition will have to be forged by today’s Arabs themselves, on their own terms.

“Religion in the Public Square” (Uitz, ed.)

This September, Eleven International Publishing releases “Religion in the Public Square: Perspectives on Secularism” edited by Renáta Uitz (Central European University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Screen shot 2014-09-24 at 11.04.05 AMWhat is the place of religion and religious convictions in government, politics and in public life – taking into consideration the need to respect the free exercise of religion? In the separation or neutrality paradigm, religious organizations (churches) are expected to stay away from public affairs. But other models of state neutrality and secularity – rooted in historical struggles and influenced by experiences and mistakes – result in differing forms of cooperation between religious organizations and the state.

Cismas, “Religious Actors and International Law”

In July, Oxford University Press released “Religious Actors and International Law” by Ioana Cismas (New York University Law School). The publisher’s description follows:

This book assesses whether a new category of actors-religious actors-has been constructed within international law. Religious actors, through their interpretations of the religion(s) they are associated with, uphold and promote, or indeed may transform, potentially oppressive structures or discriminatory patterns. This study moves beyond the concern that religious texts and practices may be incompatible with international law, to provide an innovative analysis of how religious actors themselves are accountable under international law for the interpretations they choose to put forward.

The book defines religious actors as comprising religious states, international organizations, and non-state entities that assume the role of interpreting religion and so claim a ‘special’ legitimacy anchored in tradition or charisma. Cutting across the state / non-state divide, this definition allows the full remit of religious bodies to be investigated. It analyses the crucial question of whether religious actors do in fact operate under different international legal norms to non-religious states, international organizations, or companies. To that end, the Holy See-Vatican, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and churches and religious organizations under the European Convention on Human Rights regime are examined in detail as case studies.

The study ultimately establishes that religious actors cannot be seen to form an autonomous legal category under international law: they do not enjoy special or exclusive rights, nor incur lesser obligations, when compared to their respective non-religious peers. Going forward, it concludes that a process of two-sided legitimation may be at stake: religious actors will need to provide evidence for the legality of their religious interpretations to strengthen their legitimacy, and international law itself may benefit from religious actors fostering its legitimacy in different cultural contexts.

O’Halloran, “Religion, Charity and Human Rights”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases Religion, Charity and Human Rights by Kerry O’Halloran (Queensland University of Technology). The publisher’s description follows:

For the first time in 400 years a number of leading common law nations have, fairly simultaneously, embarked on charity law reform leading to an encoding of key definitional matters in charity legislation. This book provides an analysis of international case law developments on the ever growing range of issues now being generated by clashes between human rights, religion and charity law. Kerry O’Halloran identifies and assesses the agenda of ‘moral imperatives’, such as abortion and gay marriage that delineate the legal interface and considers their significance for those with and those without religious belief. By assessing jurisdictional differences in the law relating to religion/human rights/charity the author provides a picture of the evolving ‘culture wars’ that now typify and differentiates societies in western nations including the USA, England and Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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“Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe” (Requejo & Ungureanu, eds.)

Next month, Routledge Press will release Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe: Secularism and Post-Secularism, edited by Ferran Requejo and Camil Ungureanu, both of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The publisher’s description follows:

Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe

In contrast with the progressive dilution of religions predicted by traditional liberal and Marxist approaches, religions remain important for many people, even in Europe, the most secularised continent. In the context of increasingly culturally diverse societies, this calls for a reinterpretation of the secular legacy of the Enlightenment and also for an updating of democratic institutions.

This book focuses on a central question: are the classical secularist arrangements well equipped to tackle the challenge of fast-growing religious pluralism? Or should we move to new post-secular arrangements when dealing with pluralism in Europe? Offering an interdisciplinary approach that combines political theory and legal analysis, the authors tackle two interrelated facets of this controversial question. They begin by exploring the theoretical perspective, asking what post-secularism is and looking at its relation to secularism. The practical consequences of this debate are then examined, focusing on case-law through four empirical case studies.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of political theory, philosophy, religion and politics, European law, human rights, legal theory and socio-legal studies.

European Human Rights Court to France: Do Whatever You Want

This week, Americans understandably have been occupied with the Hobby Lobby case and its implications for religious freedom in our country. But across the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights was handing down its own decision on the scope of religious freedom, S.A.S. v. France. The European Court held that France’s ban on clothing designed to cover one’s face in public–what everyone knows, for obvious reasons, as the “burqa ban”–does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The court’s ruling reveals the challenges of enforcing a regional, European standard with respect to religious expression.

Some background: Article 9 of the European Convention recognizes a right to manifest one’s religion or belief, subject to limitations that are necessary to promote certain legitimate state interests, including public safety and “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Any such limitation must be proportionate to the interest the state asserts. The European Court has made clear that Article 9 need not apply uniformly across Europe. Given different national histories and cultures, states have discretion to adapt article 9 in light of the needs and values of their particular societies. The Europeans refer to this discretion as the states’ “margin of appreciation.”

France argued that the ban on burqas is necessary to promote public safety and protect the rights and freedoms of others–specifically, the right of people to live in an “open society” characterized by “civility” and “social interaction.” The court rejected the first argument. Even assuming the burqa posed a risk in some circumstances, it held, a blanket ban is disproportionate. If the concern were public safety, a more targeted ban would be appropriate–in the context of security checks, for example.

The court agreed with France, though, that the ban could be justified on the basis of promoting an “open society”–at least, an open society in the French manner. Obviously, not all societies see the burqa as problematic. In Europe, only Belgium has a similar ban. But the French people had decided that the burqa violates “the ground rules of social communication” in their country. This decision deserved deference, the court held. Given the margin of appreciation in such matters, the court would honor France’s determination that “the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is … incompatible with the fundamental requirements of ‘living together’ in French society.”

This level of deference is really quite breathtaking. Essentially, the European Court is saying, a state can ban religious expression in order to maintain local norms of “living together.” What ban on religious expression would not be allowed under such a standard? Let’s pose a hypothetical case. France already prohibits conspicuous religious dress in public schools. Let’s assume France decides to extend this ban to all public places, arguing that conspicuous religious dress in public creates unnecessary tension and interferes with social interaction à la française. Under the court’s deferential approach, wouldn’t such a ban be permissible? What would be the basis for second guessing France’s assertion about what French social norms require?

The deference to national norms is unavoidable in the context of the Council of Europe, a regime that includes scores of states with widely varying cultures and histories. One size simply doesn’t fit all. If the European Court is to have any legitimacy, it will often need to defer to national judgments on sensitive issues. Still, the European Court purports to pursue a common European standard in respect of human rights. Decisions like S.A.S. suggest that pursuit has a long way to go.

Trejo, “Popular Movements in Autocracies: Religion, Repression, and Indigenous Collective Action in Mexico”

This July, Cambridge University Press will publish Popular Movements in Autocracies: Religion, Repression, and Indigenous Collective Action in Mexico by Guillermo Trejo (Duke University). The publisher’s description follows.Popular Movements in Autocracies

This book presents a new explanation of the rise, development and demise of social movements and cycles of protest in autocracies; the conditions under which protest becomes rebellion; and the impact of protest and rebellion on democratization. Focusing on poor indigenous villages in Mexico’s authoritarian regime, the book shows that the spread of U.S. Protestant missionaries and the competition for indigenous souls motivated the Catholic Church to become a major promoter of indigenous movements for land redistribution and indigenous rights. The book explains why the outbreak of local rebellions, the transformation of indigenous claims for land into demands for ethnic autonomy and self-determination, and the threat of a generalized social uprising motivated national elites to democratize. Drawing on an original dataset of indigenous collective action and on extensive fieldwork, the empirical analysis of the book combines quantitative evidence with case studies and life histories.

USCIRF Issues Annual Report

The US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan government advisory body, has issued its annual report for 2014. As it does every year, the report designates countries with bad records on religious freedom. The “countries of particular concern” for 2014 are Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. In addition, the report names countries with somewhat less bad, but still problematic records, the so-called “Tier 2 countries”: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey. Finally, the report names countries and regions that merit watching, including, somewhat surprisingly, Western Europe, which makes the list this year, among other reasons, because of recent bans on religious dress and ritual slaughter.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the United States to coordinate its efforts on behalf of international religious freedom with global actors–not only the UN and the OSCE, but also other national governments that now make religious freedom part of their foreign policy. The geopolitics of religious will be the the subject of one of the panels at our upcoming conference on international religious freedom this summer in Rome (watch this space for further details).

The report is pretty long, about 200 pages, but quite worthwhile. For a good summary, check out this piece by the Commission’s Knox Thames and Elizabeth Cassidy.

Barras, “Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey”

9780415821780This month, Routledge publishes Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey: The Case of the Headscarf Ban by Amelie Barras (University of Montreal). The publisher’s description follows.

Over the past few years, secularism has become an intrinsic component of discussions on religious freedom and religious governance. The question of whether states should restrict the wearing of headscarves and other religious symbols has been particularly critical in guiding this thought process.

Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey documents how, in both countries, devout women have contested bans on headscarves, pointing to how these are inconsistent with the ‘real’ spirit of secularism. These activists argue that it is possible to be simultaneously secular and religious; to believe in the values conveyed by secularism, while still remaining devoted to their faith. Through this examination, the book highlights how activists locate their claims within the frame of secularism, while at the same time revisiting it to craft a space for their religiosity.

Addressing the lacuna in literature on the discourse of devout Muslims affected by these restrictions, this book offers a topical analysis on an understudied dimension of secularism and is a valuable resource for students and researchers with an interest in Religion, Gender Studies, Human Rights and Political Science.

Baran, “Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It”

Next month, Oxford will publish Dissent on the Margins:9780199945535_140
How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It, by Emily B. Baran (Middle Tennessee State University). The publisher’s description follows.

Emily B. Baran offers a gripping history of how a small, American-based religious community, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, found its way into the Soviet Union after World War II, survived decades of brutal persecution, and emerged as one of the region’s fastest growing religions after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. In telling the story of this often misunderstood faith, Baran explores the shifting boundaries of religious dissent, non-conformity, and human rights in the Soviet Union and its successor states.

Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fascinating case study of dissent beyond urban, intellectual nonconformists. Witnesses, who were generally rural, poorly educated, and utterly marginalized from society, resisted state pressure to conform. They instead constructed alternative communities based on adherence to religious principles established by the Witnesses’ international center in Brooklyn, New York. The Soviet state considered Witnesses to be the most reactionary of all underground religious movements, and used extraordinary measures to try to eliminate this threat. Yet Witnesses survived, while the Soviet system did not. After 1991, they faced continuing challenges to their right to practice their faith in post-Soviet states, as these states struggled to reconcile the proper limits on freedom of conscience with European norms and domestic concerns.

Dissent on the Margins provides a new and important perspective on one of America’s most understudied religious movements.