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The State Department's Great Leap Faithward PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 17:29
The State Department's Great Leap Faithward
In February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy? Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.
Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."
To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.
As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.
American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."
Critics pointed to the Department's vigorous opposition to congressional legislation in the late 1990s that ultimately created the Office of International Religious Freedom. Then, during the Bush administration, even after several federal agencies created faith-based offices, the State Department appeared to be of little faith.
To be fair, the State Department did pour billions of dollars into Muslim outreach in the aftermath of 9/11. But that public diplomacy effort focused primarily on making America more popular in the Middle East rather than on genuinely listening to and partnering with Muslims and other religious communities around the world on issues of mutual interest.
Organizational theory tells us that all institutions, including government agencies, have a distinctive organizational culture -- a complex set of norms, values, and systems that implicitly govern corporate life. That culture is cemented over time, becoming increasingly difficult to change. Among America's diplomats, it seems organizational culture included the strict separation of church and the State Department.
But that culture is changing. Under Clinton and now Kerry, the State Department has developed a wide range of religious engagement efforts that paved the way for the Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. No congressional pressure was necessary. Engaging religious actors is increasingly viewed as part and parcel of American statecraft. A new U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement calls for broader collaboration with religious groups on sustainable development, human rights, and conflict mitigation.
Kerry underscored this strategy in his remarks announcing the faith-based office: "I say to my fellow State Department employees, all of them, wherever you are, I want to reinforce a simple message: I want you to go out and engage religious leaders and faith-based communities in our day-to-day work. Build strong relationships with them and listen to their insights and understand the important contributions that they can make individually and that we can make together. You will have the support of this Department in doing so."
Given the context of the remarks, Kerry's "simple message" was the most straightforward and forward-leaning directive on religious engagement ever voiced by an acting Secretary of State.
In her 2006 book The Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for greater foreign policy attention to religion but lamented her own inattention to global religious dynamics during her time as America's top diplomat. As a corrective, she urged future diplomats to "learn as much as possible about religion, and then incorporate that knowledge into their strategies."
Kerry is putting Albright's advice into practice. But the faith-based office is not an end in itself. It's just the end of the beginning. What waits to be seen now is what impact Kerry's directive and the new office will have on the State Department's ability to advance U.S. interests in a faith-filled world.
Creating a hopeful office doesn't guarantee the hoped for outcomes. Still, my former State Department colleague, Peter Mandaville, has argued that the new office "has the potential to be genuinely transformational with respect to how the United States does diplomacy."
To realize its transformative potential, the faith-based office must continue to shape the Department's culture in a more faith-attentive direction--by both modeling constructive religious engagement and by training colleagues to go and do likewise. After all, most faith-based engagement will take place outside the faith-based office, principally in U.S. embassies overseas. Our diplomats need to be better equipped to address the complex ways religious beliefs and motivations intertwine with politics, economics, and other issues.
Admittedly, religion is a diplomatic and constitutional minefield. It's often quite tricky for diplomats, especially those not well versed in religion, to know who, when, where, and how to engage.
But the why is always clear. As Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House faith-based office, said at the launch event last week, "The potential for religious communities to spark both positive and negative movement makes it essential for the United States to understand these communities and to engage with them. As the State Department does its work around the world, it must have a firm grasp of these dynamics and it must know how to address them in ways that are informed and intelligent."
In other words, diplomatic engagement with religious groups is in U.S. national interests. That's ultimately why it matters. And that's why the faithward evolution of the State Department's culture and the creation of the faith-based office are such promising developments.

by Judd Birdsall

BirdsallIn February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy?  Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.

Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."

To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.

As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.

American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 21:39
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Behind the Glass Wall of FECRIS PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 23:43

 

Bashy Quraishy, Chairman of European Network Against Racism Advisory Council (ENAR), Chair of the European Platform for Jewish Muslim Cooperation, and 
bashy quraishy
Secretary General for the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) was excited to attend the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS) meeting after receiving an invitation from their Treasurer. The secrecy he witnessed and the harassment he experienced shocked him.

 

“I was disgusted by the tone of the speeches there, the campaigns they were making against certain religions, and how secretive they were,” Quraishy said.

Formed in 1994, FECRIS, labeled an NGO, claims to be “politically, philosophically, and religiously neutral.” However, 93 percent of the “NGO’s” funding comes directly from the French government. With this backing, FECRIS appears to command an army working to take down unconventional religions across the Western sphere.

The FECRIS website states that members agree to a series of principles, including “respect of religious, philosophical, and political pluralism” as well as “objectivity and pragmatism.” However, Quraishy watched one speaker after another “making campaigns against certain sects and certain religions” and “not one suggestion about how to deal with the issues,” he explained in a video interview.

The FECRIS website also states that the organization “alert[s] public authorities and international institutions in the event of punishable activities.” However, when Quraishy asked FECRIS President Tom Sackville after biased presentations why FECRIS doesn’t “take people to court instead of making campaigns and why are the conferences so secretive,” he was met with hostility.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 00:40
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U.S. State Department Receives Failing Marks as Religious Freedom Watchdog at IRFA Hearing PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 June 2013 19:47

On June 13, 2013 the first Congressional hearing for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was held since former President Clinton signed the bill.department_of_state.svgIRFA states the U.S. Government must “strengthen [its] advocacy” of religious freedom, but fifteen years later religious persecution has reached its peak worldwide.

According to a 2012 PEW Research Center’s Forum On Religion and Public Life report, “three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion,” a five percent rise from the previous year.

IRFA was passed with the purpose of monitoring global religious freedom by sanctioning countries whose government violently suppresses its citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and worship. Three entities were created by IRFA to ensure its effectiveness – an International Religious Freedom Office within the State Department headed by an Ambassador-at-Large, a bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and a Special Advisor on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.

The hearing’s panel included five witnesses: 

  • Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Thomas F. Farr, Ph.D., Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
  • Ms. Tina Ramirez, veteran religious freedom activist and President of Hardwired, Inc.
  • N. Mahmood Ahmad, Assistant National Director of Public Affairs at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
  • Chris Seiple, Ph.D., President of Institute for Global Engagement 

Several speakers noted Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook’s absence from the panel, although she reportedly accepted the invitation to testify.

According to Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department notified Johnson Cook of the scheduled hearing in May. However, after learning Johnson Cook would be sharing a panel with witnesses from Non-Government Organizations, the State Department refused to send any representative. Chaffetz called Johnson Cook’s absence “terribly disappointing” and “a waste of Congress’ time.” 

The panelists expressed their discontent that while USCIRF annually designates Countries of Particular Concern (CPC’s) for the State Department to consider, the State Department has not named a single CPC since August 2011, although it is mandatory for it to do so annually. Designated CPC’s lose their status after two years, so the State Department has until August to release names, Lantos Swett said.

Religious persecution is a global security issue, Lantos Swett emphasized, citing 9/11. There are countless examples of government officials or private citizens carrying out violent acts in the name of religion, both at home and cross-border.

Last Updated on Monday, 24 June 2013 16:19
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When Universal Human Rights Violators Go Unchecked: Remembering a Religious Kidnapping Victim PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 15 July 2013 16:11

 

July 13 marked the tragic anniversary of Takako Fujita’s suicide. Fujita, a Japanese Unification Church member, was 27 when she took her life after family members
Takako Fujita, 27
and deprogrammers held her in captivity for four months.

 

Sixteen years later, kidnappings and forced religious de-conversions remain an issue in Japan, invoking physical and psychological pain on Unification Church members.

“The failure to provide the victims of such kidnappings with equal protection under the law, and the impunity of those responsible, constitutes a serious violation of the Japanese people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and the international human rights standard to which Japan is legally bound,” Human Rights Without Frontiers Chairman Willy Fautré said.

Fujita was introduced to the Unification Church during her first year at Kacho College, Kyoto, where she was studying social welfare. She officially joined the church in June 1989 and was “blessed” (married) to Mr. Lee, a South Korean, in 1995. In 1996 Fujita officially moved to South Korea to live with her husband.

On March 8, 1997 Fujita visited Japan, excited to spend time with her family. When her husband phoned her parents’ home the next evening, he reached the answering machine. He assured himself the family was on an outing. Fujita’s friend later contacted her father’s work, trying to get in touch. She was told Mr. Fujita was on a long vacation. Finally, a co-worker told a family friend that Mr. Fujita was on leave, working on bringing his daughter out of the Unification Church.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 16:52
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Eritrea: Hidden Gem or Intolerant Tyranny? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 15:54

Eritrea has been referred to as “The Hidden Gem in Africa” because of its rich history and natural attractions. Yahoo! published a travel article in 2007, advertising

churchesndmosque_eritreaEritrea as a prime family vacation destination. The article mentions ancient ruins, scuba diving, snorkeling, and religious attractions. It describes Eritrea’s town of Asmara as a place where Christians and Muslims harmoniously coexist.
In reality, Eritrea is suffering from an oppressive government, which has not changed presidents since 1993 and often arrests people practicing a religion other than one of the four registered religions – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Sunni Muslim.

This past May 37 Christian students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the Eritrean town of Adi Kihe and five men from the Church of the Living God in Asmara were arrested for practicing an unregistered strain of Christianity, Charisma News reported.

“Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive, and inaccessible countries in the world,” Amnesty International’s Eritrea Researcher, Claire Beston, told the BBC. 

According to the U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, 1,500 people were imprisoned in Eritrea because of their religious beliefs last year. At least 105 arrests were Christians, 31 of which died in prison, the World Watch List reported.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:10
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