McDougall, “The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy”

In November, Yale University Press will release The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows:

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy.jpgA fierce critique of civil religion as the taproot of America’s bid for global hegemony

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Walter A. McDougall argues powerfully that a pervasive but radically changing faith that “God is on our side” has inspired U.S. foreign policy ever since 1776. The first comprehensive study of the role played by civil religion in U.S. foreign relations over the entire course of the country’s history, McDougall’s book explores the deeply infused religious rhetoric that has sustained and driven an otherwise secular republic through peace, war, and global interventions for more than two hundred years. From the Founding Fathers and the crusade for independence to the Monroe Doctrine, through World Wars I and II and the decades-long Cold War campaign against “godless Communism,” this coruscating polemic reveals the unacknowledged but freely exercised dogmas of civil religion that bind together a “God blessed” America, sustaining the nation in its pursuit of an ever elusive global destiny.

Mahler, “Politics and Government in Israel”


This month, Rowman & Littlefield releases “Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State,” by Gregory S. Mahler (Earlham College).  The publisher’s description follows:

This balanced and comprehensive text explores Israeli government and politics from both institutional and behavioral perspectives. After briefly discussing 1442265353Israel’s history and the early development of the state, Gregory Mahler then examines the social, religious, economic, cultural, and military contexts within which Israeli politics takes place. He makes special note of Israel’s geopolitical situation of sharing borders with, and being proximate to, several hostile Arab nations. The book explains the operation of political institutions and behavior in Israeli domestic politics, including the constitutional system and ideology, parliamentary government, the prime minister and the Knesset, political parties and interest groups, the electoral process and voting behavior, and the machinery of government. Mahler also considers Israel’s foreign policy setting and apparatus, the Palestinians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the particularly sensitive questions of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement movement, and the Middle East peace process overall. This clear and concise text provides an invaluable starting point for all readers needing a cogent introduction to Israel today.

Barnett, “The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews”

This month, Princeton University Press releases “The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews” by Michael N. Barnett (George Washington University). The publisher’s description follows:

How do American Jews envision their role in the world? Are they tribal—a people whose obligations extend solely to their own? Or are they prophetic—a light unto nations, working to repair the world? The Star and the Stripes is an original, provocative interpretation of the effects of these worldviews on the foreign policy beliefs of American Jews since the nineteenth century. Michael Barnett argues that it all begins with the political identity of American Jews. As Jews, they are committed to their people’s survival. As Americans, they identify with, and believe their survival depends on, the American principles of liberalism, religious freedom, and pluralism. This identity and search for inclusion form a political theology of prophetic Judaism that emphasizes the historic mission of Jews to help create a world of peace and justice.

The political theology of prophetic Judaism accounts for two enduring features of the foreign policy beliefs of American Jews. They exhibit a cosmopolitan sensibility, advocating on behalf of human rights, humanitarianism, and international law and organizations. They also are suspicious of nationalism—including their own. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that American Jews are natural-born Jewish nationalists, Barnett charts a long history of ambivalence; this ambivalence connects their early rejection of Zionism with the current debate regarding their attachment to Israel. And, Barnett contends, this growing ambivalence also explains the rising popularity of humanitarian and social justice movements among American Jews.

Rooted in the understanding of how history shapes a political community’s sense of the world, The Star and the Stripes is a bold reading of the past, present, and possible future foreign policies of American Jews.

Kornberg, “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War”

In May, the University of Toronto Press released “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War” by Jacques Kornberg (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Pius XII presided over the Catholic Church during one of the most challenging moments in its history. Elected in early 1939, Pius XII spoke out against war and destruction, but his refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies for mass atrocities and genocide remains controversial almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War.

Scholars have blamed Pius’s inaction on anti-communism, antisemitism, a special emotional bond with Germany, or a preference for fascist authoritarianism. Delving deep into Catholic theology and ecclesiology, Jacques Kornberg argues instead that what drove Pius XII was the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the Church and the access to salvation that it provided.

In The Pope’s Dilemma, Kornberg uses the examples of Pius XII’s immediate predecessors Benedict XV and the Armenian genocide and Pius XI and Fascist Italy, as well as case studies of Pius XII’s wartime policies towards five Catholic countries (Croatia, France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), to demonstrate the consistency with which Pius XII and the Vatican avoided confronting the perpetrators of atrocities and strove to keep Catholics within the Church. By this measure, Pius XII did not betray, but fulfilled his papal role.

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the Catholic Church’s wartime legacy.

Ganor, “Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World”

In May, Columbia University Press will release “Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World” by Boaz Ganor (Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya). The publisher’s description follows:

Global Alert describes the motivations that lead to modern Islamist terrorism and the different stages in the execution of a terrorist attack. Challenging the certainty that liberal democratic values offer an antidote to radicalism, the book exposes the exploitation of democratic institutions by terrorists to further their goals and confronts the difficulty democracies face in fighting terrorism, especially when international humanitarian law does not account for nonstate actors in armed conflict.  Global Alert especially focuses on the “hybrid terrorist organization” model, which calls for a new international doctrine to neutralize its threat.

Discussion on “The Gathering Storm: Religious Persecution and Legislative Responses” (Georgetown University, April 15)

On April 15, the Religious Freedom Project, in cooperation with Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, will host a discussion “The Gathering Storm: Religious Persecution and Legislative Responses:”

Two of the most prominent advocates for advancing religious freedom in foreign policy, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge and former Congressman Frank Wolf, will discuss how Western democracies can advance international religious freedom. They will also explore how internal disarray over the meaning and reach of religious liberty affects the ability of nations to advance religious freedom in their foreign policies. The Berkley Center’s Tom Farr will moderate.

Find more information and RSVP here.

Event at Fordham Law School: “Beyond Extremism” (Jan. 27)

On January 27th, Fordham Law School’s Center on Religion and Culture is hosting a forum entitled “Beyond Extremism: Reclaiming Religion’s Peacebuilding Capacity in an Unstable World.”  The panelists include R. Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame), Shaun Casey (U.S. State Department), Robin Wright (Journalist), and Eliza Griswold (Author):

In the post-9/11 world, where boundaries between faith and global politics are fluid, religion is often criticized for stoking extremism and underwriting violence. But can the enmeshed relationship between faith and politics also be the starting point for a new era in peacebuilding and conflict resolution?

How can religious leaders and foreign policy makers work together to lay the foundations for peace in hotspots around the globe? Join us for a forum on the intersection where secular politics and the world’s faith traditions meet.

Details can be found here.

Religion in the National Intelligence Council Report

One often hears that America’s foreign policy elites don’t understand religion. Mostly secular themselves, they dismiss religion as a factor in world events; at most, they believe, religion operates as a pretext for other, deeper motivations, like politics and economics. This attitude can blind policymakers to reality. Even after 9/11, some foreign policy experts continue to minimize the religious roots of Islamism.

Some of this attitude is on display in the most recent National Intelligence Council Report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, released earlier this month. The report, prepared every four years for the incoming administration, is meant to highlight medium and long-term trends in world affairs. Global Trends 2030 has received a lot of attention, primarily for its prediction of a decline in American power and a shift to a multipolar world. The report is also noteworthy, though, for the way it downplays religion’s role in shaping events.

It’s not that Global Trends 2030 completely ignores religion. The report discusses political Islam — we’re now paying attention to that phenomenon, at least — though some of the analysis might strike readers as optimistic, for example, the assertion that the protesters of the Arab Spring “acted in the name of democratic values, not in the name of religion.” (Apparently the report was prepared before recent events in Egypt). The problem is that the report minimizes religion. In 140 pages, Continue reading

Hate Speech and Foreign Relations

At Opinio Juris, my friend and former colleague Peter Spiro has an interesting post on recent events in Egypt and Libya. Peter argues that there is a foreign relations rationale for banning hate speech. In a world where obscure YouTube videos like “The Innocence of Muslims” can result in the murder of one of our ambassadors, he says, the US should consider banning such material. He notes that European countries have stricter limits on religious hate speech than we and still manage to have functioning democracies.

As I say, it’s an interesting post. Actually, though, this doesn’t seem a workable solution for the US, legally or politically. First, I don’t think Peter means “hate speech,” which typically connotes speech likely to incite violence against minorities. A ban on “hate speech” wouldn’t have applied to “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was not likely to incite violence against anyone, except perhaps the film’s producers.  I think the category Peter is looking for is “offensive” speech, specifically, speech that would offend listeners’ religious sensibilities. It’s true that European countries are more comfortable than the US with Continue reading

Ax Murderers, Values, and International Law

At a NATO conference in Hungary in 2004, an Azeri officer, Ramil Safarov, murdered one of the other participants, an Armenian officer named Gurgen Margaryan. Actually, that doesn’t quite capture it. Safarov broke into Margaryan’s room, stabbed him while he was sleeping, then severed his neck with an ax. Safarov confessed to the crime; Hungary convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Two weeks ago, Hungary extradited Safarov to Azerbaijan, which promptly pardoned him, promoted him, restored his back pay for his years in the Hungarian prison, and generally gave him a hero’s welcome.

The extradition and pardon have caused a storm of protest — from Armenia, of course, but also from the UN, NATO, the US, Russia, and several church bodies within and outside Hungary. Hungary’s  Lutheran and Reformed Churches wrote to condemn “the unacceptable amnesty” given Safarov. The Hungarian Catholic Bishops Conference was more circumspect, writing only to express solidarity with Armenians and condemn ethnic violence, but the point was clear. The World Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches in the US, also condemned the actions of Hungary and Azerbaijan. On Friday, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, through a spokesman, strongly criticized the pardon, stating that “ethnically motivated hate crimes of this gravity should be deplored and properly punished.”

How can one begin to make sense of this incredible episode? It’s important to focus on three things. First, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for twenty years in one of the Caucasus’s “frozen conflicts,” a dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabagh. Indeed, Azerbaijan alleges that Safarov was incited by Margaryan’s insults to the Azeri flag — at his trial, Safarov did not mention any such insults, and of course they could not have justified this brutal murder even if they had occurred — and by injuries Safarov’s family suffered in Continue reading

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