William Inboden on Religious Liberty, Foreign Policy, & the Arab Spring
Date: December 3rd, 2012
With political events rapidly unfolding in Egypt, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, we visit with Prof. William Inboden, distinguished scholar at the Strauss Center for International Security at the University of Texas and an associate scholar with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Prof. Inboden not only brings his extensive scholarship to bear on the issue of religious freedom and the Arab Spring, but his many years serving as a policy advisor in the US State Department and National Security Council provides him with another unique perspective on how the issue of religious liberty can and should shape US foreign policy. We begin with a discussion of what the Arab Spring is, how it started, and where it might be headed. Prof. Inboden notes that scholars are starting to rename the Arab “Spring,” the Arab “Awakening” as there is some growing concern that what appeared to initially be popular uprisings in support of liberal democratic forms of government may now be moving in a more autocratic direction. We discuss why this might be. Our attention then turns to the topic of religious liberty, which Will considers to be an important bellwether for liberal democracy in general. Prof. Inboden explains how religious freedom can help neutralize extremism and notes that religious liberty is not just important for religious minorities such as the Christian Copts, but is a vital civil liberty for Muslims as well. Far from being a monolithic religious bloc, Islam actually has many different “flavors” and Muslims who hold more moderate views on a number of topics would also benefit immensely from greater religious freedom and toleration in their societies. We also discuss the state of non-Muslim religious minorities now in such countries as Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. Much of this discussion is informed by Will’s participation in a Berkley Center symposium “Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring” (see link below), involving past and current policymakers such as Elliott Abrams, Stephen Hadley, and Dennis Ross. Our conversation shifts towards foreign policy and Will makes an argument that the promotion of religious freedom needs to be a key component of US relations with the Middle East. Using examples from Afghanistan, he points out how religious freedom is necessarily an issue of national security and not just some lofty goal that is desired unto itself. Tony pushes back with counter-arguments that promoting religious liberty can be seen as cultural imperialism, to which Will notes that while national leaders in autocratic regimes often make this argument, average citizens around the world have been shown to embrace the rights of conscience and worship when it is offered to them. Recorded: November 28, 2012.
Prof. William Inboden’s biography at the Strauss Center for International Security at the University of Texas.
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
“Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring,” proceedings from the Berkley Center’s symposium mentioned in the interview.
“Religious Freedom and National Security: Why the US Should Make the Connection,” by William Inboden in Policy Review.
Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-60: The Soul of Containment, by William Inboden.
Thomas Farr on Religion, Religious Liberty, and US Diplomacy.
Timothy Shah on the Case for Religious Liberty.
Daniel Philpott on Religious Resurgence and Democratization.
Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.
Jonathan Fox on Religion & State around the World.
Nathan Brown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Allen Hertzke on Religious Liberty.
Sean Everton on Dark Networks.
Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism.
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