Posts Tagged ‘religious minorities’

March 22nd, 2016

Democracy and the secular predicament

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportIn the United States, the Middle East is almost always presented as a problem to be solved—most significantly, the problem of religious extremism and conflict. Popular explanations of such conflict turn on supposedly deep-seated cultural attributes within Arab societies and often tied to the nature of Islam. But even for those that avoid this essentializing turn, virtually all commentators take for granted the proposed solution: generate ever-more secular political practices. In other words, what the region needs are governing institutions that treat individuals of all religious backgrounds as civic equals and thus reduce confessional difference to a matter purely of private (and legally protected) choice.

March 3rd, 2016

Equality time

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportMost of Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report is an original and thorough exploration of the historical rise and unfolding of this finitude of our imagination—the difficulty of relating to the lives of religious communities, in their difference, without the arbitrating mediation of the state. Mahmood traces the gradual replacement of earlier Ottoman modalities of rule governing religious communities and the relationships between them by the state-centered secular mode of governance. The former was a tradition that did not promise equality but maintained religious pluralism, without intervening in what constituted religion and without attempting to reorganize religious life. Paradoxically, the hierarchy characteristic of that system of rule left religious communities more immune to the infiltration of state powers. On the other end, despite its promise of religious equality, secular governance, as Mahmood shows, contributed “to the exacerbation of religious tensions in postcolonial Egypt, hardening interfaith boundaries and polarizing religious difference.” At the center of the book is a story about the sovereign state, modern law—domestic and international—and the unequal power distributions between the West and the non-West during the colonial and post-colonial periods, all of which make up the forces of political secularism and the stage for its unfolding.

March 1st, 2016

Minority matters

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportTrenchantly framed as “a minority report,” Saba Mahmood’s Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report offers more than just one dissenting opinion. The book makes at least three distinct interventions—archival, critical, and methodological—that together call state secularism into question as a political project and normative ideal. This “minority report” has major significance. It raises crucial historical and ethical questions about the power—and limits—of the state and law to achieve “religious equality.”

February 16th, 2016

Legal age

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report“Now let us see how Bauer formulates the role of the state,” writes Karl Marx in his famous take on the minority question, which Saba Mahmood aptly recalls and perceptively reads. Marx recognized that Bruno Bauer, his interlocutor, was also fighting for emancipation and equality; Bauer was fighting for political emancipation. But Bauer failed “to examine the relationship between political emancipation and human emancipation.” He failed to recognize that, in Germany at least, the state is “a theologian ex professo.” Marx does grant that there may be some states where “the Jewish question loses its theological significance and becomes a truly secular question.” And yet he is also very clear that to stop at the secular (that is, at political emancipation) is insufficient. “Political emancipation from religion is not complete and consistent emancipation from religion, because political emancipation is not the complete and consistent form of human emancipation.” Her Marxian reservations notwithstanding, it is a proximate, urgent and enduring struggle, one for “religious equality,” that Mahmood documents and embraces. “As an aspiration and a principle, religious equality signaled a sea change in how interfaith inequality was historically perceived . . . the variety of social movements fighting for religious equality attests to the global reach of this ideal and its promise . . . The impossibility of its realization should not blind us to its power, its ongoing promise, and its constitutive contradictions.”

February 11th, 2016

A thought-provoking study

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportIn 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.

February 9th, 2016

Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report—An introduction

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Saba Mahmood | Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority ReportIt is no exaggeration to say that the religious diversity that characterized the Middle East for centuries is in precipitous decline. The reasons for this are multiple, including civil wars that have ravaged Iraq, Syria, and Libya; territorial expansion of militant Islamist groups (like ISIS); and steady erosion of political and civil rights in the region. The US invasion of Iraq and subsequent intervention in Libya have left wide swaths of the Middle East in utter disarray and brought the plight of religious minorities to a new impasse.

Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report is an exploration of the minority question not so much in the context of warfare but of stable governance where the promise of civil and political equality continues to hold sway. Because I am interested in how religious difference has come to be regulated and remade under secularism, I focus on the problem of religious minorities rather than groups defined by ethnic, linguistic, or other attributes.

February 23rd, 2015

Religion in Britain: Demography, identity, and the public sphere

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Over at Public Spirit, to coincide with the publication of the second edition of Grace Davie’s Religion in Britain, Tariq Modood comments on on three significant changes with demography, identity, and the public sphere are going to characterize the next few decades and perhaps beyond.

February 20th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values

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On November 7th, 2013, on the heels of a heated public debate about the role of religion in public life, the government of Quebec tabled its controversial Bill 60, “Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodement” (Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests). The legislation, introduced by Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic institutions and active citizenship, seeks to affirm the religious neutrality of the state, specifically by prohibiting public sector employees—including those working in hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and universities—from wearing “signes ostentatoires” [conspicuous religious symbols], examples of which include hijabs, kippas, Sikh turbans, and “large” crucifixes. The legislation also proposes to amend Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, in order to enshrine the equality of men and women as the highest human right, to which other rights (e.g. freedom of religious expression) would be subordinated.

January 15th, 2014

The forgotten story of the Flushing Remonstrance

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Walking down Bowne Street in Flushing, Queens, you may see a most interesting sign. “Bowne House; Built in 1661,” it reads, “A National Shrine to Religious Freedom.” Flushing is known for many things—the New York Mets, for example, or its Chinatown. It is not, however, known for being the location of one of the first debates over religious conscience and tolerance in the American colonies.

December 2nd, 2013

Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law: Dhimmis and Others in the Empire of Law

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In his new book, Religious Pluralism and Islamic LawAnver Emon discusses Islamic legal doctrines and their implications for religious diversity and tolerance in Islamic lands.

October 8th, 2013

The “good” and the “bad” Muslims of China

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The slim crescent that rose above the skyline on July 9th signifies the beginning of this year’s holy month of Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I have been teaching for the last four years. Pious Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex, swearing, and other unlawful behaviors from dawn to dusk, following the traditions of the Prophet to get closer to God. During this sacred month of spiritual renewal, the ritual of sharing food after sunset, known as Iftar, serves important social functions such as bringing families together and reinforcing community bonds. As the last strands of sunlight disappear from the horizon, many celebrate the day by enjoying a lavish dinner with friends and family. In the UAE, as everywhere else, Iftar parties have also become an opportunity for Muslims to reach out to non-Muslims and for non-Muslims to reciprocate the hospitality.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of Iftars parties this Ramadan, hosted by several institutions, both secular and religious. The most recent Iftar party that I attended was hosted by the Chinese Consulate General in Dubai, in a popular family restaurant situated on the legendary Sheikh Zayed Road. To strengthen the Unified Front and in the interest of building harmonious relationships among Chinese communities overseas, the Consul General extended invitations to more than 150 Chinese expatriates from various walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

August 29th, 2012

Pakistan and blasphemy

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TIF contributor Dr. Ebrahim Moosa recently posted on his blog a statement written by Mawlana Ammar Khan Nasir, editor of the Urdu monthly journal “al-Sharia,” regarding the current Pakistani blasphemy charge against Rimsha Mosin, an underage Christian girl.

June 13th, 2012

The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age

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In her new publication, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age, Martha C. Nussbaum discusses the growing issue of intolerance and analyzes the fear that fuels this problem.

June 1st, 2012

Multiculturalism in Europe

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After the rise of multicultural policies in the 1980s and 1990s, the winds have shifted in Europe. Terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Norway, and, most recently, in Toulouse, have furthered the securitization of Islam across Europe, while increasing immigration (predominantly from Muslim countries) has caused societal tensions. As a result, existing ideas concerning multiculturalism, religious pluralism, and national authenticity are being challenged. Past policies of cordon sanitaire are no longer in full effect, as mainstream political parties have come to adopt some of the ideas of their populist and right-wing peers; witness outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign rhetoric against immigration and Muslims following the strong showing by right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen.

We’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on the increasing influence of anti-immigration and anti-Islam ideas and parties across Europe and to offer their thoughts on how best to accommodate minority claims (especially those involving Islam) in a democratic and liberal Europe.

April 27th, 2012

Alawites, Alevis, and Assad

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n a recent article in The New RepublicSoner Cagaptay discusses how Syria’s sectarian divisions could exacerbate current divisions  in Turkey.

April 23rd, 2012

Protecting freedom of religion in the secular age

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I want to start with a paradox. In the secular age, as Charles Taylor has amply illustrated, religious belief no longer structures our social imaginary. Instead, it has become one option, one possibility, among others: one of the ways in which we give meaning to our lives. The secular age, then, is characterised by the fact of pluralism—an irreducible pluralism of beliefs, values, commitments. Yet we secular moderns also give special primacy to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is standardly presented as the archetypical liberal right. So the paradox is this: how (and why) do we protect freedom of religion in an age where religion is not special?

April 9th, 2012

The problem with the history of toleration

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The problem with the history of toleration is not that no one is studying it. There is now a rapidly growing number of books and articles approaching the topic from a number of angles and in several different countries. The problem is that we assume that all of those studying toleration are studying the same thing. Though in fact we are describing a diversity of arrangements, dynamics, and possibilities taking place in different societies at different times, we still write and think as if there were a single proper form of toleration to which all others should adhere, or an ideal like “religious freedom” to which all should aspire.

December 21st, 2011

Secularism and Alevism

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Writing in The Revealer, Jeremy F. Walton raises issues central to secularism as they pertain to Turkey’s Alevi, a religious and cultural community that follows a syncretistic religious tradition not officially recognized by the Turkish state.

June 14th, 2011

(In)Visible Copts

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At Jadaliyya, Anthony Shenoda reflects on the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.