The President’s Speech

In an address to the nation last night, President Barack Obama committed the US to doing something about ISIS — aka the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or just the Islamic State — the Salafist group that has taken over about a third of both those countries.  The goal, the president said, is to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the group, through airstrikes and support for Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, as well as elements of the Syrian opposition. The US will also send an additional 475 military advisers to the region. But no combat troops — the president was clear about that.

There was good and bad in the president’s speech. First, the good. It’s good that the US has committed to address the threat ISIS poses to the Middle East and, ultimately, the US itself. ISIS does not see itself as merely a regional player. It has pretensions to reestablish the caliphate, the global Islamic polity, with itself at the head. It has money, numbers, and growing prestige. By ruling a large territory in the heart of the Middle East, ISIS serves as an inspiration for jidahists everywhere. Sooner or later, ISIS or others it inspires will attack targets in the West. Better to address the threat now than wait for something terrible to happen.

It’s also good that President Obama talked about humanitarian assistance to ISIS’s victims, including Christians, whom he mentioned by name. True, to my mind, at least, the president continues to downplay Christian suffering in an unfortunate way. Last night, for example, he alluded to the genocide of Yazidis, but said nothing about the genocide of Christians. Still, he did mention Christians, and he deserves credit for that.

Now, the bad. By publicly and categorically ruling out the use of American combat troops, President Obama undercut his stated goal. Many experts think it will be necessary for the US to send ground troops back to Iraq if ISIS is really to be defeated. Maybe it won’t be. But to rule out American troops from the start gives Iraqi forces an excuse for holding back (“If they won’t fight, why should we?”), and ISIS an incentive to buy time until it can wear down the Iraqi army — or infiltrate and corrupt it. It would have been wiser for the president to say publicly only that US combat troops are not an option at present. Keep ISIS guessing.

Second, the President stated flatly that ISIS is “not ‘Islamic.'” ISIS does not represent the whole of Islam, or even the majority stream within Islam today. As the president said, ISIS victimizes Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and many Muslims are appalled by the group’s conduct. But ISIS has definite roots in parts of the Islamic tradition. For example, its treatment of Christians has antecedents in Islamic history. ISIS did not invent the dhimma on its own.

It’s understandable why President Obama would wish to deny the Islamic roots of ISIS. Defeating the group will require the cooperation of other Muslims, including Salafists like the Saudis, and there is no point antagonizing them. And no one wants to see a backlash against the millions of our Muslim fellow citizens in the United States, who deserve to live in peace. But saying that ISIS is “not ‘Islamic'” is likely to suggest to people who know better — including the audience for the president’s speech in the Mideast – that the president doesn’t understand the situation. It would have been better to avoid comparative religion entirely, and say only that we invite Muslims and all people of goodwill to join the coalition against ISIS.

Finally, parts of the speech had an unfortunate, self-absorbed quality. Take this excerpt:

Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

Rather a lot of personal references here. “A core principle of my presidency?” Surely, defending America is a core principle of every president’s presidency. Brave men lived before Agamemnon.

“Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law” (available for pre-order)

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal LawI am pleased to announce that Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, edited by Markus D. Dubber, is now available for pre-order. I’ve listed the description of the volume below. As Markus explains in his introduction, the aim of the volume is to provide a set of comments (and in some cases, an introduction) to criminal texts that are canonical for the modern liberal state, but also that grew out of the modern liberal state. The collection begins with Hobbes and ends with the contemporary German theorist, Günther Jakobs. I was delighted to contribute the chapter on J.F. Stephen. The primary texts themselves can be accessed here.

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law presents essays in which scholars from various countries and legal systems engage critically with formative texts in criminal legal thought since Hobbes. It examines the emergence of a transnational canon of criminal law by documenting its intellectual and disciplinary history and provides a snapshot of contemporary work on criminal law within that historical and comparative context.

Criminal law discourse has become, and will continue to become, more international and comparative, and in this sense global: the long-standing parochialism of criminal law scholarship and doctrine is giving way to a broad exploration of the foundations of modern criminal law. The present book advances this promising scholarly and doctrinal project by making available key texts, including several not previously available in English translation, from the common law and civil law traditions, accompanied by contributions from leading representatives of both systems.

Laliberté, “The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan, 1989-2003”

This month, Routledge Press releases “The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan, 1989-2003: Safeguard the Faith, Build a Pure Land, Help the Poor” by André Laliberté (University of Quebec at Montreal).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Politics of Buddhist OrganizationsLaliberté looks at a relatively unexplored aspect of modern Taiwan: the influence of religion on politics. This book offers a detailed survey of three of the most important Buddhist organizations in Taiwan: the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (BAROC), the Buddha Light Mountain (or Foguanshan) monastic order, and the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association (or Ciji). It examines their contrasting approaches to three issues: state supervision of religion, the first presidential election of 1996, and the establishment of the National Health Insurance.

This study analyzes the factors that explain the diverse paths the three organizations have taken in the politics of Taiwan. Based on an in-depth examination of Buddhist leaders’ behaviour, The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan compels us to question conventional views about the allegedly passive aspect of religious tradition, deference to authority in societies influenced by Confucian culture and the adverse legacy of authoritarian regimes.

Offutt, “New Centers of Global Evangelicalism in Latin America and Africa”

In November, Cambridge University Press will release “New Centers of Global Evangelicalism in Latin America and Africa” by Stephen Offutt (Asbury Theological Seminary).  The publisher’s description follows:

New Centers of Global EvangelicalismThis book shows that new centers of Christianity have taken root in the global south. Although these communities were previously poor and marginalized, Stephen Offutt illustrates that they are now socioeconomically diverse, internationally well connected, and socially engaged. Offutt argues that local and global religious social forces, as opposed to other social, economic, or political forces, are primarily responsible for these changes.