In Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, Saba Mahmood has produced a valuable account both of how the idea of separating religion from politics came to be central to the development of the “religiously neutral” state in Europe (beginning with the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century and culminating in the new nations after the First World War) and of how that idea became politically important in the postcolonial Middle East. In particular, she describes how in constituting religious identities, the state in modern Egypt creates unexpected opportunities for political power and social confrontation among those who seek to regulate, as well as those who claim to represent, religious minorities. Her detailed analysis of the rich historical and ethnographic material she has assembled reinforces the conclusion that instead of regarding the secular state as the solution to discrimination against religious minorities, it must itself be understood as part of the problem. So I offer a few reflections prompted by her excellent study, first on liberal ideals that are commonly said to promote equal treatment for minorities, and then about the secular anxiety that preceded the 2013 coup against the elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Posts Tagged ‘equality’
This week at The Guardian‘s Belief page, the editors ask whether faith trumps equality: “When religions believe they must discriminate on grounds of sex, or gender, or of belief, what should the state do?” On Monday, the editors published the text of an address delivered by the Pope to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, and yesterday they added another religious perspective, that of Michael Scott-Joynt, bishop of Winchester and member of the House of Lords, to the debate.
Obama’s speeches are glorious. They are a joy to listen to and to read later. He is able to dig deep into the rich rhetorical tradition of the Christian world and of the Founding Fathers, and to articulate a call for awakening that is powerful. But how far is it from our world, from our time? There is an anachronistic edge not only in the cadence, but also in the logic—nothing here about the desertion of populations by the government, the allowance of the few to dominate the wealth produced by the many, and the turn to violence when other means wither in the quiver. Ethical systems cannot be built upon each other without any consideration of social transformations. It is not language alone that we must attend to, but even more so to the social context of the language. Celebrations of “American character” and of the “God-given promise that all are equal” are emotive, powerful symbols of an age that is now no longer with us.
For human rights advocates in Turkey, all political alliances are necessarily alliances of convenience. The reasons for this are myriad, ranging from the particular militancy of Turkish nationalism, to the bitterness of Turkey’s struggle with Kurdish separatism, to the remarkable trust that Turkish culture continues to bestow on Devlet Baba, the “Father State.” Under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is frequently framed as an Islamist Party and just as frequently as a liberal one, supporters of expanded human rights in Turkey have won significant victories and have many, many reasons for concern. […]
A woman emerges from a failed relationship of two years’ duration. Despondent over the relationship’s demise, she laments that family, friends, and work colleagues do not seem to grasp the depth of her despair. “It’s like a divorce!” she grieves. Except it isn’t. She and her male partner were never married. They were merely cohabiting. The shift toward private, contractual ordering of romantic and familial relationships in recent years has prompted such confusions. […]
Following the recent California Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, National Public Radio offered a report on “the coming storm” between two “titanic” legal principles: “equal treatment for same-sex couples” and “the freedom to exercise religious beliefs.” The report gave several examples of this “collision,” which opponents cite as proof that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty. The idea of an impending collision may overstate the intensity of impending legal conflicts. Still, the current portrayal of this conflict does foreground the complex relationship of marriage, religion, and the state to promote one form of marriage (white, heterosexual, monogamous).
In Turkey there is now a great deal of controversy about proposed revisions to the constitution that would include lifting the ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in universities. Many commentators have taken this to be an ominous sign of the intention of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, who represent the Justice and Development Party (AKP), to undermine Turkey’s secular republic in the interests of establishing an Islamist state. In Turkey, as elsewhere in Europe, the headscarf has become a symbol not only of political Islam, but of the oppression of women. […]
“Favoritism for religion,” says Justice Souter, “‘sends the . . . message to . . . nonadherents’ that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” Souter’s is increasingly a minority voice. We are all religious now. As a leading architect of integrating spirituality into medicine says, “our belief [is] that there is a spiritual dimension in every person’s life, even in those who deny that there is.” […]