Sunday, January 31, 2010

Religious oppression, repression doomed to failure

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 1/31/10

When the headlines read “China jails three for religious activity,” Americans generally don’t buy the reasons that the three threaten “public peace and harmony.” When the headlines read “Indonesians deny establishment of Christian church” because non-Christians invoke a law requiring “community approval,” we recognize the infringement on religious freedom and repression involved. When Algeria passes a law that sets prison terms for proselytizing by any religion other than Islam, we recognize it for what it is, religious repression and persecution.

What do we make of laws barring the wearing of crosses? Or bans on nun’s habits claiming that it is repressive to women? Or a country voting to make it unconstitutional to build steeples on Christian churches? The proponents of the ban argue that because the Bible offers instruction on the relationships among people, prescribes the relations between man and God and man and woman, that Christianity is more than just a way to life after death, but a way of life in the here and now. The steeple is a symbol of the growth of this dangerous movement, so eliminate the steeple as a symbol of Christianity’s place in town.

I think most Americans would recognize the above as violations of what we understand as freedom of religion and when criminal penalties are attached to violation of these laws, it is political repression. And that the examples given above are of countries that are, at best, democratically challenged or repressing Christianity, make it that much easier to recognize as “bad.” After all, the countries listed as repressing and persecuting people because of their religion on Human Rights Watch’s Web site are countries that we don’t need much convincing are bad actors: Tajikistan, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, to name those on just one of 42 pages.

Despite this long list of violators of values that Americans hold dear, we optimistic Americans believe that eventually these other nations will realize there is great value in religious freedom, that there is nothing to fear, that nations work well with religious tolerance, even if feathers occasionally get ruffled.

Furthermore, it is not just America, but the “west” that achieves what so many other countries seem unable: diverse religious populations that live in relative harmony with a state that protects the rights of all people regardless of religion.

Yet France is dabbling in religious repression, the banning of the burqa in public, claiming that by passing laws against women wearing this religiously and culturally related garb is really striking a blow for women’s rights and freedom. How silly. You will be fined or put in jail for following your customs in order to free you? That puts an entirely new twist on “live free or die.”

In a country known for its remarkable tolerance and commitment to pluralism, 57.5 percent of Swedes voted for a constitutional ban on minarets on mosques.

Hearing that someone has been convicted and may be put to death in Pakistan because they violated Pakistani blasphemy laws, we shake our heads and probably think “how medieval.” Yet at the beginning of this year, Ireland’s new blasphemy laws went into effect. Medieval? The U.N. is discussing such measures as well.

When has repression ever worked? In the short run, it can shore up a teetering, corrupt state apparatus. Does it work in the long run? Early Christians were repressed but they found ways around it. They developed secret symbols and laid low, but they were not extinguished. The Soviets tried to repress all religion. Russia is far from a religiousless society today. And once the weight of oppression was lifted, the bloody Balkan civil wars erupted.

How often does the history of repression end with the repressed and oppressed eventually overthrowing their oppressors? You can ban minarets and ban the wearing of burqas in public, you can ban and imprison people who hold prayer meetings in their homes. You can even try to exterminate the members of the religion. Despite the ultimate failures and eventual self-destruction that occurs, Nazi Germany, South Africa, the Soviet Union, to name some easy examples, these actions reflect fear of and a lack of confidence in freedom, especially religious freedom.

Religious freedom, both freedom of and from, not repression, is the best (not easiest) public policy.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Market fundamentalism

Blackwater a result of politicizing the justice department?

The dismissal of charges against the Blackwater security personnel who were accused of murdering 17 Iraqis a good example of why it is important to have good people working in the US justice department.

I wonder how many of those justicedepartment lawyers were hired for their ideological qualifications in the former Bush admin instead of for their legal credentials. Base on the NYT report, this seems bordering on prosecutorial misconduct.
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