Tag Archives: Terrorism

New York Times Columnist: Hobby Lobby Majority is Like Boko Haram

Really, I mean it.

It’s tough to keep pace with the monumental, colossal stupidity these days about this case. It would be a full-time job to respond to all of the garbage, and who’s got the energy or inclination for that? This poor man aligns the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court majority with ISIS and Boko Haram. The unifying thread–both are anti-American:

The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery….

Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.

The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.

“The founders” certainly were not “explicit” in the Constitution about the points that Egan makes. “Explicit” means “clearly stated.” Where are the points Egan makes about the Constitution clearly stated? What “intent” does he refer to? There is lots of evidence that at least some of “the founders” actually would recognize that religion sometimes can provide grounds for viable and cognizable objections to civil laws. Nothing “explicit” in the Constitution absolutely prohibits such a recognition. And I daresay that “the founders” would rise up in unison to shout down the abject fool who lumped together organizations that kidnap, torture, and kill people with a court of law that, agree or disagree with its decision, does its best to interpret the law. There are many times when I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decisions as to fundamental questions. But I recognize that those are legal disagreements. Cannot Egan do the same? In what way did “five members of the Supreme Court” align themselves with a “violent God” by ruling as they did, rather than simply issue a decision with which Egan disagrees?

Where is there to go with such talk? What is there left to say?

Bosco, “Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State”

Next month, the University of Michigan Press will publish Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State by Robert Bosco (Centre College). The publisher’s description follows.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Western nations have increasingly recognized religion as a consideration in domestic and foreign policy. In this empirical comparison of the securitization of Islam in Britain, France, and the United States, Robert M. Bosco argues that religion is a category of phenomena defined by the discourses and politics of both religious and state elites.

Despite significant theoretical distinctions between securitization on the domestic and the international levels, he finds that the outcome of addressing religion within the context of security hinges upon partnerships. Whereas states may harness the power of international allies, they cannot often find analogous domestic allies; therefore, states that attempt to securitize religion at home are more vulnerable to counterattack and more likely to abandon their efforts. This book makes a significant contribution to the fields of political theory, international relations, Islamic studies, and security/military studies.

Ryan, “Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy”

This month, Columbia University Press published Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America by Michael W. S. Ryan (Jamestown appFoundation).  The publisher’s description follows.

By consulting the work of well-known and obscure al-Qaeda theoreticians, Michael W. S. Ryan finds jihadist terrorism strategy has more in common with the principles of Maoist guerrilla warfare than mainstream Islam. Encouraging strategists and researchers to devote greater attention to jihadi ideas rather than jihadist military operations, Ryan builds an effective framework for analyzing al-Qaeda’s plans against America and constructs a compelling counternarrative to the West’s supposed “war on Islam.”

Ryan examines the Salafist roots of al-Qaeda ideology and the contributions of its most famous founders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a political-military context. He also reads the Arabic-language works of lesser known theoreticians who have played an instrumental role in framing al-Qaeda’s so-called war of the oppressed. These authors readily cite the guerrilla strategies of Mao, Che Guevara, and the mastermind of the Vietnam War, General Giap. They also incorporate the arguments of American theorists writing on “fourth-generation warfare.” 

Through these texts, readers experience events as insiders see them, and by concentrating on the activities and pronouncements of al-Qaeda’s thought leaders, especially in Yemen, they discern the direct link between al-Qaeda’s tactics and trends in anti-U.S. terrorism. Ryan shows al-Qaeda’s political-military strategy to be a revolutionary and largely secular departure from the classic Muslim conception of jihad, adding invaluable dimensions to the operational, psychological, and informational strategies already deployed by America’s military in the region.

Berger on American Civil Religion and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Peter Berger has a very smart column describing both the shortcomings and the advantages of American civil religion, as expressed and manifested in the rituals and ceremonies after the Boston Marathon bombing.  A bit:

Soon after the bombings a makeshift memorial was spontaneously put up. A Globe article described it as “an eclectic collection of crosses, candles, teddy bears, medals, running shoes, and hundreds of other personalized items that reflect a common sorrow.” I don’t know when or where this practice originated, but it has occurred on other occasions of shared grief, for example following the death of Princess Diana. There were a few overtly religious messages inserted into the display, but the memorial as a whole had a clearly ritual, quasi-sacral character. People were coming and going, stood quietly in an attitude of prayer, wrote messages. A six-year old girl laboriously wrote a message saying “We love you so much!”. That was the major theme—expressions of affection for the victims. Then there were affirmations of resolve against violence, and expressions of the intent to run again in next year’s Marathon. Sacral ritual or not, no denominationally specific religion was visible here . . . .

The opening address at the Cathedral service was delivered by the Reverend Liz Walker, a Presbyterian minister. I was struck by the following passage: “How can God allow bad things to happen? Where was God when evil slithered in and planted the horror that exploded our innocence?” She said that she had no answer, and added, “But this is what I know: God is here, in the midst of this sacred gathering and beyond.”

I would not be misunderstood: I have no problem whatever for a minister not knowing “the answer” to the age-old question of theodicy. After all, I co-authored a book with the title In Praise of Doubt—by definition, I think, faith implies an absence of certainty—I don’t have to believe what I know. But that is not the point here. The point is this: The faith that Walker represents does have an answer, centered on the redemptive process inaugurated by the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, culminating on that Day of Judgment when all evil will finally be punished. But what is more: She could not (whether in tones of certainty or not) explicate this answer in the context of this service. Once again, I would not be misunderstood: I have no criticism of Walker’s reticence about the Christian faith she is supposed to represent. It would have been inappropriate here for her to come out with overtly Christian (let alone with Protestant or, if such there are, Presbyterian) references.  But it is useful to reflect about the relation between any specific faith and the civil religion affirmed in this service . . . .

Grace Davie, a British sociologist, has written about the way in which established churches, in moments of collective grief, become the official mourners of the nation, even though only a minority of citizens worship in their services. The Church of England played this role at the funeral of Princess Diana, as did the Lutheran Church of Sweden (it has recently been disestablished) when the cruise ship “Estonia” sank in the Baltic Sea and a large number of Swedish tourists perished. The United States of course has no state church, but all the denominations together serve to legitimate the civil religion that can be embraced by all citizens.

This is a very distinctive American version of the separation of church and state, a quite strict legal separation, yet with diverse religious groups noisily present in public life. I think that, by and large, this has been a very successful arrangement. It presupposes that a religious group, when it enters public space, must translate its commentaries into terms that can be understood and debated by all citizens, most of whom will not be members of the particular group. Put differently, if one wants to persuade fellow-citizens in public space, one must employ a secular discourse. That discourse does have a moral foundation, the value system of the “American Creed”. Adherents of this or that specific faith may find these values more vague, even superficial, than the ones derived directly from faith, and they themselves may understand their allegiance to the Creed in terms specific to their faith. Thus the secular discourse of the public space coexists with the plurality of specific (if you will, “sectarian”) religious discourses.

I wonder about the point about translation, which reminds me a little bit of Rawls’s proviso.  It may be more accurate to say that the specific religious discourses not only coexist with the civil religion, but themselves somehow constitute it.  That could be compatible with believing that the whole of civil religion is greater (and, of course, also less) than the sum of its discrete sectarian parts.  But it would also be compatible with rejecting the metaphor of translation.  Because, as Berger himself suggests, there are deep features of the specific traditions that do not translate (as in, for example, his example of theodicy) but may nevertheless in some way constitute part of the civil religion amalgam.

Guiora, “Freedom from Religion”

Freedom from ReligionThis month, Oxford University Press published Freedom from Religion: Rights and National Security, Second Edition by Amos Guiora (Quinney College of Law, University of Utah).  The publisher’s description follows.

Although many books on terrorism and religious extremism have been published in the years since 9/11, none of them written by Western authors call for the curtailment of religious freedom and freedom of expression for the sake of greater security. Issues like torture, domestic surveillance, and unlawful detentions have dominated the literature in this area, but few, if any, major scholars have questioned the vast allowances made by Western nations for the freedoms of religion and speech.

Freedom from Religion challenges the almost sacrosanct inviolability of these two civil liberties. By drawing the connection between politically-correct tolerance of extremist speech and the rise of terrorist activity, this book sets the context for its unique proposal that governments should introduce new limits on religious practice within their borders. To demonstrate the wisdom of this course, the author presents the disparate policies and security circumstances of five countries: the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Israel. The book benefits not just from the author’s own counter-terrorism experience in Israel and the U.S. but also from an international advisory group of leading scholars from all five of the countries under review.
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District Court Dismisses Muslims’ Suit Against FBI Under State Secrets Doctrine

A federal district court in California ruled Tuesday that the state secrets doctrine precludes a religious-discrimination lawsuit local Muslims had filed against the FBI. Plaintiffs alleged that the FBI had violated their constitutional and civil rights by conducting “an indiscriminate ‘dragnet’” that “gathered information about them and other innocent Muslim Americans in Southern California” solely on the basis of their religion. Specifically, they alleged that the FBI had employed a covert operative to conduct surveillance of mosques and Muslims in southern California. The court ruled that litigation of plaintiffs’ claims would “require or unjustifiably risk disclosure of secret and classified information regarding the nature of the FBI’s counterterrorism investigations, the specific individuals under investigation and their associates, and the tactics and sources of information used in combating possible terrorist attacks on the United States and its allies.” The court made its decision, with obvious reluctance, on the  basis of Attorney General Eric Holder’s formal invocation of the state secrets privilege and the court’s own “skeptical” examination of the FBI’s public and classified, ex parte, submissions. Plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, plan to appeal. The case is Fazaga v. FBI, 2012 WL 3327092 (C.D. Cal., Aug. 14, 2012).

Aziz on Selective Enforcement of Material Support Laws Against Muslim Charities

Sahar F. Aziz (Tex. Wesleyan U. School of Law) has posted Countering Religion or Terrorism? Selective Enforcement of Material Support Laws Against Muslim Charities. The abstract follows.

The laws that prohibit providing material support to terrorism are the linchpin of the preventive counterterrorism paradigm. These laws are often the fall-back criminal provisions employed when the government cannot prove terrorism charges. But they are so broad and vaguely worded that they effectively criminalize a myriad of activities that would otherwise be constitutionally protected. Moreover, as the government is not statutorily required to prove that the defendant had a specific intent to support terrorism, it has carte blanche to prosecute a broad range of legitimate activities, such as charitable giving, peace building, and human rights advocacy. The Department of Justice, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has consequently criminalized training and advocacy in support of nonviolence on the justification that such activities legitimize a designated group or individual. The government’s standards for what it deems as “legitimizing” are so broad that then- Solicitor General Elena Kagan went so far as to call for prosecuting lawyers for filing an amicus brief on behalf of a terrorist organization. Continue reading

Crimm on Muslim Relief Organizations

Nina Crimm (St. John’s) has posted Reframing the Issue and Cultivating U.S.-Based Muslim Humanitarian Relief Organizations. The abstract follows.

Funded by Muslim-American donors, legitimate U.S.-based Muslim charities for decades provided crucial funds and services in geographic areas ravaged by natural disasters, many with Muslim populations. These charities’ humanitarian aid, offered directly or through local non-governmental organizations, benefited the affected people, winning their gratitude and allegiance during the rescue, relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations following tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and other such catastrophes. Their assistance also conserved and expanded opportunities to provide development aid to these same regions and individuals, not only to improve their communities and lives but also to secure their hearts and minds.

The U.S. government’s “war on terror” dramatically impacted these constructive influences and relationships. The post-9/11 counterterrorism laws and their stern enforcement fomented fear and anger among Muslim-Americans, substantially diminishing their goodwill toward the government. The government’s actions also engendered an inhospitable philanthropic environment for Muslim-Americans. These resulted in a significant reduction in Muslim- Continue reading

Nussbaum, “The New Religious Intolerance”

From Harvard University Press, a new book by Martha Nussbaum (University  of Chicago), The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (forthcoming 2012). The publisher’s description follows.

What impulse prompted some newspapers to attribute the murder of 77 Norwegians to Islamic extremists, until it became evident that a right-wing Norwegian terrorist was the perpetrator? Why did Switzerland, a country of four minarets, vote to ban those structures? How did a proposed Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan ignite a fevered political debate across the United States? In The New Religious Intolerance, Martha C. Nussbaum surveys such developments and identifies the fear behind these reactions. Drawing inspiration from philosophy, history, and literature, she suggests a route past this limiting response and toward a more equitable, imaginative, and free society.

Fear, Nussbaum writes, is “more narcissistic than other emotions.” Legitimate anxieties become distorted and displaced, driving laws and policies biased against those different from us. Overcoming intolerance requires consistent application of universal principles of respect for conscience. Just as important, it requires greater understanding. Nussbaum challenges us to embrace freedom of religious observance for all, extending to others what we demand for ourselves. She encourages us to expand our capacity for empathetic imagination by cultivating our curiosity, seeking friendship across religious lines, and establishing a consistent ethic of decency and civility. With this greater understanding and respect, Nussbaum argues, we can rise above the politics of fear and toward a more open and inclusive future.

Seeking Moral Guidance on the Iraq Withdrawal

On December 15, 2011, President Obama formally announced the end of the eight-and-a-half year Iraq war.  American troop presence in Iraq has dwindled to a fraction of its former strength:  In 2007, 170,000 Coalition troops occupied Iraq from 505 bases; in December, 2011, 4000 operated there from only two.  President Obama has also said he will not send any more troops to Iraq, even if the nation devolves into civil war; instead, America’s role will be limited to a political one, using diplomacy to resolve future conflicts.

Our war, then, is essentially over.  But whether war is over for Iraqis is a separate question, one with significant moral import for the United States.  Though American troops will be gone, Iraqis still face the specters of terrorism, government oppression, and civil war.  And because America started hostilities in 2003—whether justly or unjustly—it bears at least some responsibility to aid the nation it now leaves to its own devices.  Major religious bodies like the Catholic and Anglican Churches have yet to speak directly to this grave issue, one essential to America’s moral obligations to the Iraqi people.

What moral guidance, then, can we draw upon to evaluate this moment in contemporary history?  Shall we be overjoyed that a war is over, or shall we lament a moral failure?

For more on the situation in Iraq and a moral discussion of our withdrawal, please follow the jump. Continue reading