New Law and Religion Blog at Emory

Some students at Emory have started an interesting-looking new blog, Where Law and Religion Meet. The blog, which is associated with Emory’s fantastic Center for the Study of Law and Religion, has posts on law and religion news and scholarship, including book reviews. Check it out.

Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day

Today is the 97th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide,  an ethnic cleansing campaign in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Genocide had many causes — political, economic, social — law and religion were major factors.

As Christians, Armenians had a precarious position in Ottoman society. They could exist, even thrive, but only if they accepted the second-class status that classical Islamic law allowed them. In the 19th Century, under pressure from European governments, the Empire had adopted a reform program, known as the Tanzimat, that granted legal equality for the first time to Armenians and other Christians. Conservative Muslim opinion could not accept this, and the Tanzimat led to a violent backlash against Christians in the 1890s, particularly in the Anatolian provinces, in which hundreds of thousands of Christians, mostly Armenians, died. A pattern of resistance and oppression ensued, until finally, under the cover of World War I, the Ottoman government decided to remove the Armenian population of Anatolia. Historians estimate that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians, as well as tens of thousands of Syriac Christians, died during the death marches into the Syrian desert.

The story of the Genocide, and how it led to the first international human rights campaign in American history, is told well by Colgate Professor Peter Balakian in his book, The Burning Tigris. For my own reflections on how the failure of Ottoman legal reform contributed to the Genocide, please see here.

Religion and Punishment as Sources of Social Control

The Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law has just published an issue on punishment theory and culpability, with special editor Mitch Berman at the helm for this issue.  There are some exceptional contributions from the likes of Larry Alexander, Kim Ferzan (twice!), Doug Husak, Ken Simons, Peter Westen, and Gideon Yaffe.  And there’s something by me, too.

The law and religion connection of my piece relates to Sir James Fitzjames Stephen’s special interest in religion as a source of social control — much more powerful, he believed, than law.  I’ve got a little bit on this issue in my piece, though it deserves a full length treatment.  At any event, I hope readers interested in these issues will enjoy the various articles.

The NYT on Divisions Among Egyptian Islamists

An interesting piece on the Egyptian elections in the Times. Now that an electoral commission has disqualified the Muslim Brotherhood’s preferred presidential candidate , Khairat al-Shater, as well as the leading Salafi candidate, the two principle Islamist contenders are the MB’s Mohamed Morsi and a rival, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Morsi, the more conservative of the two, embraces a kind of back-to-basics program that, among other things, calls for limiting the presidency to Muslims and establishing a council of Muslim scholars to advise Parliament on Islamic law — the MB’s “old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he declares. (The Times explains for its readers that the MB is known for “its moderate Islamist politics;” I guess Mori did not get the memo). Aboul Fotouh, whom the MB expelled two years ago for advocating political pluralism, offers a competing, more liberal Islamist vision. For example, he rejects  restrictions on political office for non-Muslims and the idea of the scholars’ council.

In opinion surveys, majorities of Egyptians consistently say that Sharia should be the only source of law in their country. Which version of Sharia prevails  will depend largely on the result of this conflict within the Islamist movement. Mori’s strategy is to appeal to more conservative elements, including the very conservative Salafis, while Aboul Fotouh seems to be staking his political future on more progressive Muslims, as well as the relatively small number of Egyptian secular liberals and Christians. MB and Salafi candidates received a combined two-thirds of the vote in a recent election for a new national assembly in Egypt, and one has to assume that Mori’s electoral strategy is the correct one. Time will tell.