In the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain resides a centuries-old tradition of religious coexistence that might help fast-track a new paradigm of respect for the “other” in a deeply troubled region.
How would religious freedom decrease transnational terrorism, thereby decreasing the need for counterterrorism coordination? The answer, I believe, lies in a nation’s level of authoritarianism. Put another way, with more democracy will come more open theological debates on sensitive public policy issues and less resort to violence to address grievances. In turn, terrorist groups will find it more difficult to manipulate religious doctrine to persuade recruits their cause is just and sanctioned by God.
A free marketplace of religious ideology will provide the political space needed for religious scholars to openly challenge on the merits Al Qaeda, ISIS, or their progeny’s twisted interpretations of Islam.
The scourge of violent extremism proliferates in an atmosphere of discursive suffocation. Islamist radicals and extremists enjoy a monopoly over religious discourse. We will not really succeed in confronting this menace until we break up this monopoly. The key to doing so involves protecting free speech.
By Peter Henne
The Global War on Terrorism—a massive US-led struggle to defeat al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks—was one of the defining aspect of 21st century international relations. This effort also raised important questions for the study and promotion of religious freedom, namely whether its promotion would strengthen counterterrorism efforts.
Would greater religious freedom in Muslim countries have prevented the rise of al-Qaeda and its supporters, by decreasing grievances in their societies? Or would this have made counterterrorism efforts harder, by decreasing states’ control over “extremist” religious voices? My research on religion and counterterrorism finds that religious freedom can complicate counterterrorism efforts, but its promotion is ultimately preferable to support for repression.
By: Fr. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
The state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated. Many observers have become numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.