The US State Department has issued its annual report on religious freedom as experienced around the world. As is sadly usual, Saudi Arabia does not fare well and remains a “country of particular concern”, as it has been since 2004. The country report on Saudi Arabia can be found HERE. There is nothing particularly new here. The same violations of the rights of Saudi Shi’ites, discrimination toward non-Muslim foreign workers, and the absolute lack of freedom to practice religions other than Islam continue. Only the names of those arrested, threatened, or deported have changed over the years.
The global report draws attention to the rise of religious discrimination around the world, including that aimed at Muslims. It points to particular problems with laws that punish apostasy and the impunity with which people act in various countries when governments condone — or at least take no action against — religious discrimination.
Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose…we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace. President Barack Obama
Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted, and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe–including the freedom not to believe–is a universal human right.
Freedom of religion and belief and the right to worship as one chooses fulfill a deep and abiding human need. The search for this freedom led the Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right. All states are committed to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been the touchstone and the global standard for the protection of human rights around the world since 1948.
The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being. Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012. One of the basic elements of the International Religious Freedom Act is the requirement that the Department of State publish an annual report on the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, and the record of governments in protecting–or not protecting–this universal right.
A Saudi imam is among those visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp, as part of a Holocaust Awareness program, Arab News reports. I wish it could have been a few hundred. Holocaust denial is a problem among Saudis; they simply don’t believe it happened and are willing to accept any ‘proof’ that it didn’t no matter how bad or biased the source. Having clerics visit the site — as well as the various museums that describe Jewish life in Poland before the Nazi conquest and implementation of labor and death camps — would certainly help to open their eyes to a bit of history they might politically prefer not to know.
Interfaith harmony: Imams to visit Auschwitz
WARSAW: ARAB NEWS
A Saudi preacher is among 14 Muslim scholars from across the globe who will visit the former Nazi Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland next week as part of a Holocaust awareness and anti-genocide program, organizers said yesterday.
“This is an opportunity for imams who are influential in their communities to look at the Holocaust first hand and to go to Auschwitz, to see what that kind of hatred led to,” Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told AFP yesterday.
“It’s to make sure that civilization doesn’t fail again.”
Other visiting imams are from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Palestine, Turkey and the US. They will also visit a new museum in the Polish capital Warsaw focusing on centuries of Jewish life before the Holocaust, John C. Taylor from the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom told AFP.
The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue has opened in Vienna, Austria to much fanfare. And a bit of criticism.
The choosing of Vienna as its headquarters makes a certain amount of sense. Site of the 1683 Battle of Vienna, that put an end to the Muslim expansion in eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire, the battle also saw tensions between Catholic and Protestant leaders. But how much more effective — and what a great symbol of seriousness of purpose — this center would be were it headquartered in Riyadh!
Saudi-backed interfaith center in Vienna attracts mixed reaction
AL ARABIYA WITH AFP
Dialogue between religions is as necessary as ever in light of recent conflicts, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday to mark the opening in Vienna of a controversial new center aimed at promoting such dialogue.
Backed by Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), has been the subject of criticism ever since its formal creation last year.
But supporters were keen to highlight its relevance at a glitzy event at Vienna’s Hofburg palace.
“We need look no further than today’s headlines to understand why this mission is so vital,” Ban told the gathering, citing the recent conflicts and religious divisions in Syria, Israel and Mali.
“Too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate… Yet we know that blaming ‘the other’ is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world.”
… But critics have questioned the center’s ability to promote interreligious dialogue, since it was an initiative of the Saudi king and will be entirely funded by Saudi Arabia for the first three years.
They argue that Riyadh will use the center to divert attention from human rights violations and the lack of religious freedom at home.
A small group of protesters had gathered outside the Hofburg palace ahead of the inauguration, backed by the Liberal Muslims Initiative of Austria and the opposition Green party, which has rejected the creation of the KAICIID since the beginning.
The Washington Post runs a front-page article on protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. The protesters, from the Shi’a community that make up about 10% of the Saudi population, have legitimate complaints about the low levels of development assistance they have received, relative to Sunni parts of the country. The government, without acknowledging the disparity, points to interference by Iran. The Post‘s writer favors the protester’s view and barely acknowledges the government’s. In doing so, he neglects recent history.
I appreciate the difficulty he might have in verifying the government’s claim. I can’t think of many agents provocateurs who will pipe up and say, “Sure, I’m messing with the Shi’a to promote Iran’s intentions and destabilize the Saudi state.” But, as Carl Sagan put it, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!” Hezbollah Al-Hejaz does exist, even if village elders would prefer it not. Toby Jones, whom my office in Riyadh had the pleasure of hosting as part of a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship in 2003, has written about Iran’s reach into Shi’a communities throughout the region, including Saudi Arabia. In failing to acknowledge that the Saudi government has at least some legitimate concern, I believe the article fails to fully cover the issue.
I do not doubt for a moment that parts of the Saudi government and Saudi society have overstated the fears. There is too much political, social, and religious antipathy toward Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite populations, both in the Eastern Province and in Jizan and Najran in the southwest. These citizens have been on the short end of government benefits, whether in schools, roads, or other infrastructure. They have face official deprecation of their religious beliefs and direct insult in government schools. But the fact that they have legitimate complaints does not mean that they are not also susceptible to being used by Iran. I think The Post might have paid a bit more attention to that fact.
Shiite protests pose major challenge for Saudi Arabia
In AWAMIYA, Saudi Arabia — This much is beyond dispute: Khalid al-Labad is dead.
Labad, 26, and two teenage relatives were fatally shot by police Sept. 26 as they sat in plastic chairs on the narrow sidewalk in front of their house in this broken-down little town in the far east of Saudi Arabia.
To police, Labad was a violent “menace” wanted for shooting two police officers, killing another man and attacking a police station. To human rights advocates, he was a peaceful protester silenced by the government for demanding equal rights for the country’s oppressed Shiite Muslim minority.
The killing of Labad and the two teens marks an escalation in Saudi Arabia’s worst civil unrest in years. The sectarian uprising in the kingdom’s oil heartland has been an often-overlooked front in the wave of revolts remaking the Middle East. But it has become increasingly violent, and the implications for the region are vast at a time when Saudi Arabia and Iran are jockeying hard for supremacy.
Saudi officials assert that the protesters are nothing more than Iranian puppets bent on destabilizing the Saudi economy — a charge the demonstrators vehemently deny.
Shiites, who form a majority in Iran, have long been treated as second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni elite in Saudi Arabia. They account for about 10 percent of the country’s 28 million people and are concentrated here in the Eastern Province’s industrial center, sandwiched between the vast Arabian desert and the glistening Persian Gulf.
The death toll here — 14 civilians and two police officers since the beginning of last year — is small compared with recent rebellions in other Arab countries, especially the civil war in Syria. And, unlike elsewhere, protesters here are not demanding the overthrow of their government.
They want long-denied basic rights: equal access to jobs, religious freedom, the release of political prisoners. But in the richest country in the Middle East, where even peaceful protests have long been banned, the clashes between police and demonstrators have become a big concern for King Abdullah and his ruling family.
“The government realizes it has a major problem here,” said Jafar al-Shayeb, chairman of the municipal council in Qatif, a Shiite-majority town close to Awamiya, near the oil wells and office complexes that constitute the hub of an oil industry that brought in $300 billion last year.
But the government’s response has largely been to dismiss the protests as illegitimate.
Yet again, the effort to construct a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee is roiling the US court system. It’s come to the attention of Saudi journalist Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, writing in Arab News, who, I believe, gets things a little wrong.
Aluwaisheg sees the recent court decision that stayed a lower court’s decision to halt construction, as an obstacle to building the mosque. It is not. It is, instead, the grant of permission to start operating the mosque as soon as it is ready to do so. In granting this permission, the Federal court criticizes the state court for imposing greater requirements on the mosque construction than it would on the construction of any other religious edifice. The Federal government has stepped in as a party to support the mosque construction. That is not an impediment at all. In fact, it all but guarantees that the mosque will be completed and opened as quickly as possible.
Mr Aluwaisheg is correct in stating that minorities – including religious minorities – have often had to struggle to exercise their rights. That’s what happens in democracies where the role and rule of the majority has a strong say in law. But the voice of the majority does not overrule constitutional protection of minorities. People often forget that, or wish it were otherwise. This is, in fact, a principal reason why ‘pure democracy’ is a bad idea.
But in the US, the rights of minorities – including religious minorities – are protected, however unpopular they might be. This is what the Federal government and the Federal court have done here. They have not only fought for the mosque and its Muslim supporters, but they have firmly reminded the opponents of the mosque that their decisions, if they run afoul of the Constitution, are meritless.
Over the land of the free
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
I write this week from the United States, as Muslims around the world and in America celebrate the beginning of Ramadan.
However, it is important not to forget those Muslims who are being prevented from taking part in this celebration, because of ignorance and religious bigotry.
There are several places around the world where this is happening, but it is especially surprising to see it in the United States of America, a country founded on religious tolerance.
Americans pride themselves on the freedoms their constitution guarantees. Chief among them are freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of expression. The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of religion, and that was done in 1789, or 159 years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As such Americans were pioneers in setting the bar so high. The First Amendment may be America’s greatest contribution to the cause of human rights.
One main reason for America’s belief in religious freedom is that any early Americans were religious refugees escaping the religious persecution and sectarian wars of Europe. They were determined to avert such conflicts in their new country. While still under British rule, a number of states passed laws that specifically safeguarded freedom of religion. For example, as early as 1649, Maryland passed the path-making Toleration Act, which explicitly stated: “No person … shall be troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” There were setbacks before the War of Independence in 1776, as Protestants sought to restrict Catholics’ practice of their faith. Therefore, America’s Founding Fathers sought to prevent such sliding back on religious freedom. When drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were keen to enshrine in them the principle of religious freedom.
Reconciling faith and the Constitution took some efforts, and time, but it was generally agreed that freedom of religion should include freedom to worship according to one’s conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activities; and freedom to organize with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes.
That is the theory of religious freedom in the US, but practice deviated somewhat and religious minorities time and again have had to assert their constitutionally protected religious freedom. Congress, subject to political cycles and the need to placate majorities to secure election of its members, have not been always quick to move to safeguard religious freedom for minorities, leaving that task to courts, which are generally less affected by political cycles.
With this long history of religious freedom, and seemingly iron-clad constitutional guarantees of freedom to worship, it is surprising to see how Muslim Americans are being treated by their fellow Americans in several parts of the country. One recent case of blatant interference in Muslims’ freedom to worship is a case in Tennessee where Muslims have been prevented from completing the building of a new mosque. In the city of Murfreesboro in the southern state of Tennessee, opponents have succeeded over the past two years in stopping the construction of a new mosque for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. They have used violence, harassment and smear tactics to prevent the completion of this mosque.
The report looked at seven particular issues:
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
2. Respect for Civil Liberties
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their
4. Official Corruption and Government Transparency
5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
7. Worker Rights
As to be expected, Saudi Arabia did not fare well. About the only positive areas were freedom of reproductive rights, in which there was no government interference, and that the government was making noticeable efforts to fix certain problems, including those concerning foreign workers, official corruption, and, even in the absence of a specific law, was acting to stop child marriages.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Qur’an and the Traditions (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad serve as the country’s constitution. On September 29, the country held elections on a nonparty basis for half of the 1,632 seats on the 285 municipal councils around the country. Women were not permitted to be candidates or to vote. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The most important human rights problems reported included citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women and children, as well as for workers.
Other human rights problems reported included torture and other abuses, poor prison and detention center conditions, holding political prisoners and detainees, denial of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention, and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems.
The government prosecuted and punished a limited number of officials who committed abuses, particularly those engaged in or complicit with corruption. There were reports that some members of the security forces and other senior officials, including those linked to the royal family, committed abuses with impunity.
The report, in a new format, offers links to other reports, such as those on Trafficking in Humans and Religious Freedom.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is complaining about bias on the part of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an organization that was intended to counsel the US State Department on matter of international religious freedom. While I’m not entirely clear on all the elements of the ACLU’s complaints, I do support their view that the organization seems to have a strong bias against Islam, as I’ve noted over the years.
The USCIRF is capable of doing good work. And it’s not as if religious freedom isn’t an important issue. Rather, the issue is that the organization is working inconstantly, with unequal attention paid to and complaints made about different religions. Where the organization slams Islam or Islamic countries, it neglects to complain about similar activities conducted by other religious groupings. It finds objectionable practices within Islam that are unobjectionable in others.
The USCIRF nearly lost its congressional funding last year. As a creature of Congress, that would have put it out of business. Its funding was approved at the last minute.
A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Dena Sher, Washington Legislative Office at 12:31pm
In 1998, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw attention to violations of religious freedom in other countries. The commissioners vote annually to list countries that are of particular concern or place others on a watch list of countries that should be monitored closely for religious freedom violations.
But, since its inception, the commission’s been beset by controversy. People who watch the commission closely say it was created to satisfy special interests, which has led to bias in the commission’s work. Past commissioners and staff have reported that the commission is “rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism.” They’ve said that commissioners focus “on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background.” In particular, past commissioners and staff reported “an anti-Muslim bias runs through the Commission’s work.”
The commissioners’ personal biases have led to sharp divides both within the commission and with the State Department, which it is supposed to advise. One expert calls the commission’s relationship with the State Department “adversarial,” and “not conducive to effective dialogue, let alone cooperation.” And the divisiveness within the commission itself is obvious, ranging from how it dealt with when a policy analyst claimed her contract with the commission was cancelled because she was Muslim to its most recent report in which five commissioners voted to include Turkey on the list of countries of particular concern (alongside a few others like China and North Korea) over the strong objections of the four other commissioners.
Asharq Alawsat runs an abbreviated – abbreviated, it seems, for length – version of a speech Tony Blair delivered in Milan earlier this week. Blair, former British Prime Minister, is now head of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, talks about how freedom of religion is just as basic to democracy as freedom of speech. He notes that religious freedom does not diminish any religion. In fact, he says, it offers new opportunities for faith to thrive. As democracy promotes pluralism, it also demands pluralism. I think it’s a good speech.
There will be no peace in our world without an understanding of the place of religion within it. The past decade has seen many convenient myths which disguised the importance of religion, stripped away. Many thought: as society progressed, religion would decline. It hasn’t happened.
Then there are those that insisted that as the Arab Revolution knocked over long established regimes and created movements for democracy, so those societies’ religiosity would take second place to the new politics. It hasn’t happened. Religion is fundamental to those societies and if anything, in the foreseeable future, will become more so. And do we seriously think the issue of Jerusalem can be resolved without at least some discussion of its religious significance to all three Abrahamic faiths?
The virus of terror based on a perversion of the proper faith of Islam, shows no signs of abating. But it is not only the acts of terror that should alarm us. It is the extremism that promotes persecution of religious minorities too. The challenge is that much greater where human dignity is not respected and freedom of religion denied. This results in a general oppression of people of faith. It means we must support Muslims in Gujarat, India; non-Orthodox Christians in Moldova; Bahai’s in Iran; Ahmadis in Pakistan; all Christians in North Africa; Hindus in Sri Lanka; Shi’a in several Sunni majority countries, and other places.
You can find the full text, as prepared for delivery, at this link.
It’s being reported that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has decided not to push for a vote on an anti-blasphemy resolution, apparently understanding that it does not have the votes to put it into effect. Nina Shea—not my favorite commentator—writes for National Review magazine:
An Anti-Blasphemy Measure Laid to Rest
A long-term campaign by the U.N.’s large Muslim bloc to impose worldwide blasphemy strictures — like those in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran — was given a quiet burial last week in the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s main human-rights body. At the session that ended in Geneva on March 25, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), sensing defeat, decided not to introduce a resolution calling for criminal penalties for the “defamation of religions” — a resolution that had passed every year for more than a decade. This is a small but essential victory for freedom.
The lessons in how this campaign rose and fell will be important in protecting the international human rights of freedom of expression and religion against other threats, particularly as the U.S. engages with the new order in Egypt and other Arab states.
A better discussion, I think, can be found at this piece at Volokh Conspiracy law blog. Follow the links in the piece to various discussions of how the OIC movement does great violence to the meaning of ‘Freedom of Speech/Expression’ and the freedom to practice religion as one sees fit.
Religious freedom scholar Nina Shea reports that the United Nations Human Rights Council recently ended consideration of a resolution requiring states to ban “defamation of religion.” The Organization of the Islamic Conference decided not to push for a vote on the resolution, which had passed in each of the several years, when it became clear they didn’t have the votes to win this year.
This is a notable (and sadly rare) victory for freedom of speech and religion at the UN. In previous posts, Senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh and I have pointed out the threat that this resolution poses to individual freedom (see here, here, and here). The resolution is also a prime example of how repressive authoritarian regimes use international human rights law to try impose their despotic norms on the international community. For reasons John McGinnis and I explained in this article, the problem goes far beyond this particular resolution.
The OIC says it is not ‘backing down’, though, just waiting for a more opportune time to re-introduce the measures.
The US Department of State has issued its 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom. As is to be expected, Saudi Arabia did not fare well. It did, however, show some marked changes for the better. On the other hand, discrimination continued against Shi’a and non-Muslims, both officially and unofficially.
Below, I’ll highlight some of the points made in the report, including those changes. You can read the entire Saudi section here.
Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. The country is an Islamic state governed by a monarchy; the king is head of both state and government. Sunni Islam is the official religion. The country’s basic law declares the Holy Qur’an is the constitution, and the legal system is based on the government’s application of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.
The status of respect for religious freedom by the government was unchanged during the reporting period. The government claims to provide for and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious services. This right was not always respected in practice and is not defined in law. Moreover, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) and security forces of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to raid private non-Muslim religious gatherings. Although the government also confirmed its stated policy to protect the right to possess and use personal religious materials, it did not provide for this right in law, and the CPVPV sometimes confiscated the personal religious materials of non-Muslims. Religious leaders and activists continued to face obstacles in expressing their views against the religious establishment.
Although overall government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were incremental improvements in specific areas during the reporting period, including increased scrutiny of and training for the CPVPV; somewhat greater authority and capacity for official human rights entities to operate; legal reform to broaden the officially sanctioned interpretations of Shari’a (Islamic law) to include other schools of Sunni jurisprudence; selective measures to combat extremist ideology; and encouragement of leading clerics to preach tolerance in their sermons. The king’s Interfaith Dialogue Initiative (IDI) launched a large-scale media campaign to promote tolerance and moderation.
The French government has taken the final step in banning the wearing of niqab in public places. The Constitutional Council, which decides whether a law follows the rules and principles of the French constitution, has said that the ban is in conformity. Therefore, starting next spring, women will not be permitted to wear veils in public in France. The ban does not restrict the wearing of hijab, nor wearing veils in private nor inside religiously-oriented buildings.
France, then becomes the first European country to ban the veil. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has approved a ban; popular majorities in Germany, the UK, and Spain are also seeking a similar ban. Other countries, as the US, ban the veil in particular circumstances, as in photographs used for official identification or in appearances in court as a witness, but not generally.
Paris, France (AHN) – The Conseil Constitutionnel in France has approved a ban on wearing a full-length covering and facial veil ban in public places, after an exception was made to allow such coverings in public places of worship. The ban will come into effect next spring.
Parliament has already approved the measure. However, a legal challenge sent the issue to the guardian of the French constitution.
The court said that law was a “reasonable balance” between the requirement to uphold other constitutional principles like public order and women’s rights, while maintaining personal liberty and religious freedom.
Under the law, persons will have to face a $208 fine or a citizenship course if found wearing garments such as the niqab or burka in public places. However, those who force women to wear the full-face veil will face much a heftier fine of $41,727, along with time in prison.
The ban has strong public support, but some critics argue that it was not necessary because only a few French Muslims wear the full veil. An estimated 2,000 women wear a full veil in France.
In looking at the issue of Cordoba Center at 51 Park Place in New York, people astutely note that freedom of religion is clashing with freedom of speech. While the group seeking to build the center is assured its religious freedom to do so, critics are equally assured their freedom to criticize their decision to do so. That’s exactly right.
There’s no foul, no oppression, no violation of any freedom when citizens criticize an act, rightly or wrongly. Freedom of Speech practically requires that someone else will be offended. After all, if everyone believed the same things, then such a freedom would not be needed. Offenses to the concept of free speech come only when government acts or is enlisted to act against speech and those who make it.
Freedom of Religion is similar. The right itself and the laws to protect it would not be needed if everyone prayed in the same way to the same god or gods. Again, the right is offended only when government acts or is enlisted to act against or prejudicially in favor of a religion.
No government has acted in any way to violate the rights of the sponsors of Cordoba Center. Instead, government has acted in a way to show no preference of a religion nor animus toward a religion. Nor has government sought to suppress speech against Cordoba Center. There has been no censorship, there has been no favoritism. President Obama correctly and legally supported the rights of the center’s sponsors to build on land for which they held the property rights to build.
President Obama also criticized—obliquely—their decision to build an Islamic center at that particular location. That’s fine. It’s not censorship, it’s not offensive to their religious beliefs. No one is shielded against criticism, only against governmental coercion.
Many Americans believe it was a bad decision to seek to build the Cordoba Center in that particular location, close to 70% of Americans, in fact. Most of the objections seem to me to be wrong-headed, but not malicious. Many seem to believe they have some sort of ownership right to the idea of tragedy of 9/11. Some families of those killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers claim and are granted some sort of moral ownership of the site of their loved ones’ deaths. Some of them are offended by the thought of building an Islamic center near that site. They find it ‘insensitive’ at best. This argument is undercut by the support by some other 9/11 families to have the center built. With both groups holding equal claim to the moral high ground from which to speak, I fail to find any persuasive argument in either direction. Neither side has the higher moral ground.
One side, however, does have a stronger claim to legitimacy, legitimacy based on the logical strength of their argument. The other side’s argument rests on logical fallacy as well as a great deal of incoherent feelings, not based on fact but instead on innuendo and often conspiratorial thinking.
As I said earlier, criticizing the group wanting to build the Cordoba Center at that site is constitutionally protected. What is not protected, what offends the Constitution, is the effort of find some way to force government to stop the center’s construction.
The logical flaws in the arguments against the center are several: Ad Hominem, Appeal to Belief, Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Fear, Appeal to Spite, Compostion, the Genetic Fallacy, Poisoning the Well, Personal Attack, the Slippery Slope, and perhaps most pernicious, the Two Wrongs Make a Right argument. Most of the arguments against the center do not confine themselves to just one logical error, they combine many of them. I’ve get to come across a situation where compounded errors result in a correct response.
As I’ve said, I don’t think most people making fallacious arguments are doing it out of spite or in bad faith. I believe they are just not thinking clearly and are letting their emotions rule. There’s certainly a role for emotions in life, but the formulation of public policy is not one of them.