An Honest Conversation about Benghazi and Beyond

“[T]he events of the last two weeks…speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab World…” Those words were spoken by President Obama in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2012. Indeed, all the events swirling around a crude video insulting the Prophet Muhammad demand an honest conversation about the tensions between the West and the predominantly Muslim cultures of the Arab World — not to mention Muslim cultures beyond the Arab World. A logical forum for such a conversation is Contending Modernities. And the ideal host for such a conversation is Dr. Paola Bernardini, the new Associate Director for Research for Contending Modernities.

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Contending Conceptions of Democracy

The recent wave of violent reactions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to the online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad may be taken as the most recent example of a clash between “contending modernities.” The US-based moviemaker is sometimes taken to represent the values of “Western democracy” and “free speech,” while the protesters in places such as Libya and Pakistan are taken to represent “extremism” and “illiberalism.” Arguably, though, they represent not a clash of “democracy” vs. “extremism” but a clash between rival conceptions of democracy.

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Cooperating Modernities in Tunisia?

In April, Columbia political scientist Alfred Stepan came out with an article in the Journal of Democracy on “Tunisia’s Transition and the Twin Tolerations.” If the article is right, Tunisia’s secularists and Islamists are participating in an encouraging pattern of political cooperation that bodes well for the country’s democratic development. There is good reason to be hopeful about the relevance of an emerging “Tunisian model” of secular-Islamist negotiation, not only for Tunisia’s future but for all those countries affected by the Arab Spring. Yet there is also reason for caution.

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Catholic Peacebuilding: A Personal View from Colombia (Part 3)

In Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis (Maryknoll, 2010) as well as in his forthcoming book, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation (Oxford University Press, 2012), Daniel Philpott addresses the issues of transitional justice from a political perspective on reconciliation. He, like others, emphasizes the objective of restoring relationships that were harmed by injustice. This restoration includes all members of the community and not only victims and perpetrators.

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Catholic Peacebuilding: A Personal View from Colombia (Part 2)

I am further drawn to reflect on the insights of Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis when I think of another conflict zone in the Magdalena Medio region, the southern part of the department of Bolivar. This zone is characterized by vast gold resources that have attracted several armed actors: traditionally the ELN guerrilla and, from the 1990s, the paramilitary forces.

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Catholic Peacebuilding: a Personal View from Colombia (Part 1)

In an environment that can be described as “hot” in every sense, it is refreshing to find a volume that combines the relevance and scholarly sophistication of Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis (Maryknoll, 2010), edited by Robert Schreiter, Scott Appleby, and Gerard Powers. In a series of three posts, I reflect on this significant set of essays in light of my own peacebuilding work in Colombia under the auspices of the Development and Peace Program.

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The Qur’an, the Bible, and the urge to violence

Philip Jenkins’ September 2011 piece in this blog, “9/11: Did the Qur’an really make them do it?,” was an eye-opener. For me it was also a reminder of some anti-Semitic propaganda I found in an Istanbul bookstore years ago. One book was full of photos showing Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinians, with huge captions that included verses from the Old Testament. If the photograph showed Israelis breaking the bones of a Palestinian youngster, then the caption featured the biblical verse, “He shall break their bones” (Numbers 24: 8b). But I soon learned that militants who practice violence in the name of Judaism turn violent not because they read their religious texts. Rather, they focus on the harsher parts of those texts because they are already violent.

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Pakistan: Between Betrayed Dream and Desire to Rebuild

Pakistan’s polity today does not reflect the ideals set by her founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, outlining a pluralistic democracy and religious freedom. But the undying spirit of the Pakistani people and their enduring commitment to true democracy—which braved executions, imprisonments, flogging and torture to oppose and defeat four despotic military regimes in 60 years—demonstrate that a new Pakistan can be built.

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Contending Modernities in France: Muslim Expression vs. Secular Integrity

Last month, on April 11, 2011, France became the second country in Europe, following Belgium, to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil or burqa. Under the new law, women who wear face-covering Muslim veils in “public places” in France face a fine of about $200, compulsory “special classes” on citizenship, or both. This direct clash between the religious practice of some Muslims and a law that many French leaders and citizens believe is a logical extension of France’s secularism could not be of more direct interest to Contending Modernities. We therefore asked two of our regular commentators—M. Christian Green and Mahan Mirza—to offer their reflections on France’s burqa ban.

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