Tag Archives: International Human Rights

Quero & Shoji, “Transnational Faiths”

Next month, Ashgate will publish Transnational Faiths: Latin-American Immigrants and Their Religions in Japan by Hugo Córdova Quero (Graduate Transnational FaithsTheological Union) and Rafael Shoji (Pontifical Catholic University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Japan has witnessed the arrival of thousands of immigrants, since the 1990s, from Latin America, especially from Brazil and Peru. Along with immigrants from other parts of the world, they all express the new face of Japan – one of multiculturality and multi-ethnicity. Newcomers are having a strong impact in local faith communities and playing an unexpected role in the development of communities.

This book focuses on the role that faith and religious institutions play in the migrants’ process of settlement and integration. The authors also focus on the impact of immigrants’ religiosity amidst religious groups formerly established in Japan. Religion is an integral aspect of the displacement and settlement process of immigrants in an increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural and pluri-religious contemporary Japan. Religious institutions and their social networks in Japan are becoming the first point of contact among immigrants. This book exposes and explores the often missed connection of the positive role of religion and faith-based communities in facilitating varied integrative ways of belonging for immigrants. The authors highlight the faith experiences of immigrants themselves by bringing their voices through case studies, interviews, and ethnographic research throughout the book to offer an important contribution to the exploration of multiculturalism in Japan.

Report: Obama Administration to Increase Aid to Syrian Rebels

 

Kessab19

Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Church in Kessab

The Wall Street Journal reports today that President Obama’s national security advisers have agreed on a proposal to increase US aid to “moderate” Syrian rebels. Although the advisers disagree on the advisability of more aggressive military intervention, they have apparently coalesced around a plan for US Special Forces to train and equip the moderates. This is in line with a report on Walter Russell Mead’s blog that Obama agreed during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia to supply the rebels with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, or “manpads.”

One can understand the Administration’s frustration. Two-and-a-half years after Obama said that Assad would have to go, and several months after the President’s about-face on chemical weapons, the Assad regime seems more secure than it has for a long time. But two factors counsel strongly against more aggressive assistance to the rebels. First, as Patrick Brennan writes, “for months and months now, it’s been obvious that the effective parts of the Syrian opposition are militant Islamists” like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Pro-Western moderate rebels, the sort the Administration likes to promote, are more or less “powerless.” If the opposition were to succeed in overthrowing Assad, it’s quite possible that the Islamists would overwhelm their secular allies–perhaps through a democratic election, as in Egypt in 2012–and transform Syria into an Islamist state. How would that advance America’s interests? 

Second, assistance to the rebels would almost certainly worsen the already dire situation of Syria’s Christians. Just in the last two weeks, the Nusra Front attacked the Armenian town of Kessab, displacing thousands of Christians. Fortunately, first reports of a massacre seem to have been unfounded. Indeed, the rebels are conducting a PR offensive to assure Kessab–and the world community–that they mean no harm. Christians are skeptical, and with good reason. ISIL recently imposed the centuries-old dhimma in a different Christian town, Raqqa, and, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed this morning, “gross human rights violations undeniably continue.” Islamists have kidnapped nuns and bishops and murdered clergy. Only today, masked gunmen, presumably Islamist rebels, murdered a Catholic priest in a rebel-controlled district in the city of Homs. For these reasons, Syria’s Christians mostly support the Assad regime, usually quietly, sometimes vocally.

At this writing, it’s not clear whether the plan to equip and train the Syrian rebels will be adopted. In the words of the Journal report, “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.”

Confino, “A World Without Jews”

Next month, Yale University Press will publish A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocidby Alon Confino (University of A World Without JewsVirginia).  The publisher’s description follows.

Why exactly did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible everywhere in Germany on November 9, 1938? The perplexing event has not been adequately accounted for by historians in their large-scale assessments of how and why the Holocaust occurred. In this gripping new analysis, Alon Confino draws on an array of archives across three continents to propose a penetrating new assessment of one of the central moral problems of the twentieth century. To a surprising extent, Confino demonstrates, the mass murder of Jews during the war years was powerfully anticipated in the culture of the prewar years.

The author shifts his focus away from the debates over what the Germans did or did not know about the Holocaust and explores instead how Germans came to conceive of the idea of a Germany without Jews. He traces the stories the Nazis told themselves—where they came from and where they were heading—and how those stories led to the conclusion that Jews must be eradicated in order for the new Nazi civilization to arise. The creation of this new empire required that Jews and Judaism be erased from Christian history, and this was the inspiration—and justification—for Kristallnacht. As Germans imagined a future world without Jews, persecution and extermination became imaginable, and even justifiable.

Dingemans, et al., “The Protections for Religious Rights”

This past October, Oxford University Press published The Protections for Religious Rights: Law and Practice by Sir James Dingemans, Can Yeginsu, Tom The Protections for Religious RightsCross, and Hafash Masood. The publisher’s description follows:

The Protections for Religious Rights is the first practitioner work to offer a full and systematic treatment of the law as it pertains to religious rights in the UK and abroad. A practical working aid to a sensitive and important area of increasing litigation and public debate, this text examines the applicable legal instruments, considers the current state of the law, and reviews domestic, comparative, and international case law to provide a comprehensive reference resource that informs on all matters of significance in this area.

The protections for religious rights in the UK are rooted in international law and the English common law. Religious conflicts have arisen when communities have perceived that their religious rights have been targeted for suppression, or ignored. Despite international human rights instruments which are intended to protect such rights, many courts have adopted a narrow and restrictive approach towards these aspects.

Panel on International Religious Freedom in Washington (Feb 25)

The Berkley Center at Georgetown will host a panel discussion tomorrow, “Is International Religious Freedom Policy Becoming Respectable?”:

Some fifteen years after the establishment of the US Office of International Religious Freedom and the position of US ambassador at large (currently vacant), the government of Canada has become the first country to follow suit. In 2012, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper created the Office of Religious Freedom in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and in February 2013 appointed its first ambassador, Andrew Bennett. Meanwhile, a (sometimes controversial) mainstay of the US international religious freedom policy is the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose job is to sharpen and improve the policy implemented by the State Department. To what extent has the commission been successful? Can the American experience of success and failure help inform Canada’s new policy? What can the United States learn from its neighbor to the north?
Andrew Bennett, Canadian ambassador for religious freedom, and Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom will examine these questions. They will also discuss whether the two North American democracies encourage others to increase attention to international religious freedom. Join us as we discuss and debate these and other questions on February 25. Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, will moderate.
For details, please click here.

Sachedina, “Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights by Abdulaziz Sachedina (George Mason University). The publisher’s description follows.Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights

In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the International Declaration of Human Rights, a document designed to hold both individuals and nations accountable for their treatment of fellow human beings, regardless of religious or cultural affiliations. Since then, the compatibility of Islam and human rights has emerged as a particularly thorny issue of international concern, and has been addressed by Muslim rulers, conservatives, and extremists, as well as Western analysts and policymakers; all have commonly agreed that Islamic theology and human rights cannot coexist.

Abdulaziz Sachedina rejects this informal consensus, arguing instead for the essential compatibility of Islam and human rights. He offers a balanced and incisive critique of Western experts who have ignored or underplayed the importance of religion to the development of human rights, contending that any theory of universal rights necessarily emerges out of particular cultural contexts. At the same time, he re-examines the juridical and theological traditions that form the basis of conservative Muslim objections to human rights, arguing that Islam, like any culture, is open to development and change. Finally, and most importantly, Sachedina articulates a fresh position that argues for a correspondence between Islam and secular notions of human rights.

The UN, Children, and the Vatican

Here is the latest evidence of the clash between contemporary human rights norms and traditional religions. Last week, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child reported on the Vatican’s compliance with an international treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention, which virtually every UN member, including the Holy See, has ratified (though not the US), lists universal rights of children, including the right to be protected from discrimination; the right to be free from violence, including sexual abuse; the right to health and welfare; and so on.

The committee had blunt words for the Vatican. With respect to the sexual abuse crisis, it complained, “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.” The committee had several suggestions for how the Vatican could do better job, including the immediate removal of “all known and suspected child sexual abusers” and referral of cases “to the relevant law enforcement authorities.”

Critics complain that the that the committee did not sufficiently acknowledge the steps the Vatican has taken to address the crisis. I’ll leave that question to others. Whether or not the Vatican’s response has been adequate, everyone agrees that sexual abuse is a violation of children’s rights. But the committee also addressed subjects on which everyone does not agree. It suggested that the Vatican alter its positions on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality in order to meet its obligations under the Convention.

For example, the committee stated that the prohibition of abortion “places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls”and urged the Vatican to amend canon law to “identify circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.” It expressed “serious concern” about the Vatican’s policy of “denying adolescents access to contraception.” The Vatican must put “adolescents’ best interests” ahead of other concerns, the committee said. And the committee expressed concern that the Holy See’s disapproval of homosexuality may lead to discrimination against LGBT children and the children of LGBT parents. It recommended that the Holy See amend canon law to recognize diverse family arrangements. 

As my former colleague Julian Ku explains, these recommendations don’t follow clearly from the text of the Convention, which lacks “specific language about LGBTQ rights, the appropriate circumstances for abortions, or birth-control education.” On the contrary, Ku says, the report is based upon an “aggressive” reading of the treaty. And the recommendations obviously conflict with fundamental teachings of one of the world’s great religions. Given these facts, shouldn’t the committee have dialed it back a bit? Why push an aggressive, contestable interpretation of a treaty that purports to be universal, notwithstanding the inevitable conflict with the Catholic Church and other traditional religions?

There are probably two explanations. First, to the committee, these recommendations seem morally incontrovertible. Who could doubt that children’s best interests call for liberalized abortion, unrestricted access to contraceptives, and the recognition of same-sex marriages? From the secular human rights perspective, these propositions are frustratingly obvious. The idea that one might in good faith define “best interests” differently–that many world religions in fact do define “best interests” differently–doesn’t make sense. The committee simply cannot credit the other point of view.

Second, the secular human rights regime believes it is at the brink of final victory in these matters. (It has believed so for about 50 years now.) The forces of obscurity are in retreat and religion no longer dictates people’s lives, at least in the civilized West. The Catholic Church, in particular, is on the ropes, a victim of its own sins and intransigence. Why not put an end to its obstructionism once and for all? This would help the cause of progress, and actually be a good thing for the Church, too.

The committee no doubt expected the negative reaction of the Vatican to last week’s report. But it may have been surprised that so many in the elite media objected too. The Economist criticized the report for being sloppy and taking positions on issues where consensus is lacking. The Atlantic‘s  Emma Green complained that the report inappropriately critiqued deeply-held religious beliefs. And the Boston Globe‘s John Allen argued that the report would only confirm the opinion of skeptics that the UN is motivated by politics and secular ideology. Perhaps the final victory is still a ways off.

Banning Circumcision in Scandinavia

The Great Synagogue, Copenhagen

A serious campaign is underway in Scandinavia to ban the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. A Danish doctors’ association says that, unless medically indicated, circumcision is a kind of child abuse. A Swedish medical association recommends setting the minimum age for the procedure at 12 and requiring the boy’s consent. Last September, the Nordic Ombudsmen for Children issued a joint statement declaring non-therapeutic circumcision of boys a violation of international human rights law. Although for now no country seems ready to outlaw the practice, surveys suggest large numbers of Scandinavians would favor a ban.

To put it mildly, a ban on the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys would cause some hardship for Jews and Muslims. At the very least, parents who wished to have their sons circumcised for religious purposes would need to have the circumcisions performed outside their countries–assuming a ban on circumcisions would not also prohibit parents from transporting children for such purposes. Most likely, a ban would simply cause Jews and Muslims to leave Scandinavia in large numbers. In fact, opponents of the ban allege that is its goal.

I doubt that religious bigotry, as such, has much to with it–though anti-Muslim sentiment, at least, is on the rise in Scandinavia, as in much of Europe. Rather, what we’re seeing is a clash of values between a secular worldview that has little patience for traditional religious expression, and the followers of the traditional religions themselves. To put it bluntly, the secular human rights community finds it increasingly difficult to take seriously the arguments traditional religion puts forward, especially when sex is somehow involved.

Here’s an example. Last week, The Copenhagen Post ran an op-ed by Morten Frisch, a doctor and sex researcher who favors a ban. Circumcision, Frisch writes, is problematic not only because it violates a boy’s bodily integrity when he is too young to consent. (Actually, any medical treatment would present that problem). What’s really bad is that circumcision decreases sexual pleasure later in life. “To most Europeans,” Frisch writes, “circumcision is an ethically problematic ritual that is intrinsically harmful to children: every child has the right to protection of his or her bodily integrity and the right to explore and enjoy his or her undiminished sexual capacity later in life.”

What about the fact that Judaism and Islam have required male circumcision for millennia? Isn’t that a factor to consider? You might think that practices that have lasted thousands of years come with some presumption of validity, even if you disagree with them. Millions of people across time have thought such practices important, even sacred. Frisch summarily dismisses these concerns. “Religious arguments,” he writes, “must never trump the protection of children’s basic human rights. To cut off functional, healthy parts of other people’s bodies without their explicit and well-informed consent can never be anybody’s right–religious or otherwise.”

Now, I don’t know whether exploring one’s undiminshed sexual capacity really qualifies as an international human right nowadays; I don’t follow the literature too closely. And this is the first I’ve heard that male circumcision leads to to a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life (I’m not speaking of female circumcision). But let’s assume what Frisch says is correct. The fact that he so impatiently dismisses any hardship a ban would cause traditional religious communities is striking. There is, it seems, simply nothing to be said for traditional practices that violate contemporary norms in this context; the sooner we get rid of them, the better. Frisch’s essay, like the proposed ban itself, is another indication that the clash between religious tradition and secularism is heating up, and that secularism is in little mood to compromise.

Too “Christian” to Excite the Left, Too “Foreign” to Excite the Right

Here’s a great piece by The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty on the persecution of Mideast Christians. Doughtery offers an explanation for why the human rights community in the West is largely ignoring the problem:

Western activists and media have focused considerable outrage at Russia’s laws against “homosexual propaganda” in the lead-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. It would only seem fitting that Westerners would also protest (or at the very least notice) laws that punish people with death for converting to Christianity.

And yet the Western world is largely ignorant of or untroubled by programmatic violence against Christians. Ed West, citing the French philosopher Regis Debray, distils the problem thusly: “The victims are ‘too Christian’ to excite the Left, and ‘too foreign’ to excite the Right.”

That really says it quite well.

Patterson, “Genocide in Jewish Thought”

This January, Cambridge University Press will publish Genocide in Jewish Thought by David Patterson (University of Texas- Dallas).  The publisher’s Genocide in Jewish Thoughtdescription follows.

Among the topics explored in this book are ways of viewing the soul, the relation between body and soul, environmentalist thought, the phenomenon of torture, and the philosophical and theological warrants for genocide. Presenting an analysis of abstract modes of thought that have contributed to genocide, the book argues that a Jewish model of concrete thinking may inform our understanding of the abstractions that can lead to genocide. Its aim is to draw upon distinctively Jewish categories of thought to demonstrate how the conceptual defacing of the other human being serves to promote the murder of peoples, and to suggest a way of thinking that might help prevent genocide.