'Islamic State',  Freedom & Liberty

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd on ISIS vs the freedom lobby

Hurd’s post opens with the announcement that a charter for religious freedom is to be signed in Oslo by a group of parliamentarians in an “attempt to counter the dark networks of ISIS, al Qaeda and others focused on religious persecution and violence, with one committed to freedom of thought, religion and belief.”.  This seems like a pretty unexceptionable inititiative, but Hurd thinks otherwise:

It was only a matter of time until the Baroness [Berridge] and others in the international religious freedom (IRF) lobby sought to capitalize on the moral panic surrounding ISIS to advance their agenda.

It is quite often remarked that the far right and religious extremists feed each other; here Hurd makes a similar point about ISIS and the International Religious Freedom (IRF) supporters:

Let’s be clear: ISIS and the IRF lobby cannot be equated. Yet they share more in common than either would care to admit. Both claim to be driven by the objective of universal emancipation and collective religious flourishing; both draw strength from an intensive, explicit, and highly politicized focus on religious and sectarian divisions; and both have the answer to how we should live together. In some sense they are each other’s nemesis, supporting and sustaining each other in an endlessly provocative (and for some, quite lucrative), globalized version of the American culture wars.

Everything before the but is bullshit – and here the ‘yet’ is an honorary ‘but’.  This is a grotesque parallel.  The IRF lobby wants to promote freedom by allowing all to follow the faith of their choice, or no faith. ISIS wants to impose the most rigid form of Islam by the most brutal means, killing dissenters.  She goes on, in an egregious example of middle ground fallacy, to propose that some kind of compromise between religious freedom and ISIS is what is required:

Might the perception of a choice between religious freedom and religious tyranny rest in a misunderstanding of both of these supposed alternatives?

She then claims that advocacy for religious freedom forces authorities to choose between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ religion. If this is the case then that’s a problem with the advocates, not with religious freedom per se. (Similarly, in another piece, she complains that it causes orthodox Christians to be favoured over ‘sects’ – again, this seems to be a situation requiring more, not less, religious freedom.) Of course when religion is practised in such a way as to shut down the religious freedoms of others (as with ISIS) then, yes, there is a tension. Most people don’t agonise over whose side to take.

She asserts:

Religious freedom advocacy singles out individuals and groups for legal protection as religious individuals and collectivities

Well – yes – but it’s unclear what the problem is. That’s what all civil rights activism does.  Religious tyranny, by contrast, singles out individuals and groups for persecution. She makes a fair point about the dangers of only listening to certain community leaders but that is not in itself any kind of argument against religious freedom advocacy, only (possibly) part of an argument for better religious freedom advocacy.

She identifies police brutality, the oppression of the Palestinians and ‘impossibly repressive governments’ as things we need to understand when judging ISIS.  This seems to imply, bizarrely, that secularist protestors (of course not all were secularists) in the Arab Spring can be lumped in with ISIS.  And the fate of those suffering from the brutality and oppression of ISIS is not mentioned.

She continues:

Undermining ISIS is a long-range project that involves, among other measures, unsettling the assumption that the boundaries dividing Jew from Christian from Muslim from Hindu from unbeliever are the only ones that matter. They aren’t.

But they are for ISIS.