Saturday, February 13, 2016

We Are Known by the Friends We Keep

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            We are known by the friends we keep, and that saying applies to us not only as individuals but also as a nation.  We claim Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan as our friends but do not criticize their use of apostasy and blasphemy laws to deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech, even as we claim to promote those fundamental freedoms worldwide. 

            Our hypocrisy is palpable, and it is a matter of both faith and politics.  In matters of faith, few sermons are preached on human rights today.  That’s because our scriptures say nothing about human rights, only about human obligations.  Slavery illustrates how religion can distort moral concepts of what is right, or legitimate.  Because ancient scriptures speak of slavery as an accepted institution, churches in both the North and South of the Antebellum U.S. were reluctant to condemn slavery.

            In America, our faith has always shaped our politics, and vice-versa.  Our concepts of legitimacy were transformed by the libertarian political ideals of the Enlightenment, but those ideals originated in secular natural law, not religion.  Even so, the concept of love over law is at the heart of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, so that if we value human rights for ourselves, then we should make those rights available to our neighbors. 

            Libertarian human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech, were affirmed as national priorities in the First Amendment to our Constitution.  But today those freedoms have mutated into almost unrecognizable forms.  The Supreme Court has supported religious conservatives who have used the freedom of religion to deny serving homosexuals, and liberals in colleges and universities have carried political correctness to the extreme by prohibiting any speech that is offensive to students.

            We are just as hypocritical as a nation.  The U.S. has provided substantial security assistance to Egypt and Pakistan that have apostasy and blasphemy laws, and President Obama has waffled on human rights as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.  The leading GOP candidate for President, Donald Trump, has advocated outlandish and xenophobic policies that pander to public fears and frustrations, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., an evangelical Christian who is President of Liberty University, has endorsed Donald Trump as an exemplar of the greatest commandment.

            If we are known by the friends we keep, then we are known to be hypocrites when we advocate human rights.  

            Part of the problem is in how different cultures understand human rights.  The civil and political human rights that protect fundamental freedoms (libertarian human rights) are quite different from the economic and social human rights that provide welfare benefits.  Both are recognized in international treaties, the former in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the latter in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  The U.S. is a party to the ICCPR, but not to the ICESCR.

            Every nation has a moral obligation to provide the basic economic and social needs of its people as well as protecting their fundamental freedoms; but there are no universal standards for social welfare benefits since they depend on a nation’s resources, while there are universal standards for fundamental freedoms.  International law can prevent a government from violating fundamental freedoms, but it cannot force a government to provide specific economic benefits.

            As alluded to above, ancient Jewish Mosaic Law and Islamic Shari’a mandated caring for the poor and needy, but did not mention political freedom.  To their credit, Jews have not allowed Mosaic Law to stifle libertarian democracy in Israel; but in neighboring Islamic nations the apostasy and blasphemy laws of Shari’a have prohibited the freedoms of religion and speech and denied women and non-Muslims equal justice under law.

            We are known by the friends we keep.  In the Middle East we consider Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Israel as our friends.  Israel provides the freedoms of religion and speech while the Arab nations of that region do not.  They are hostile to Israel and their religious laws deny fundamental freedoms; and the Islamist terrorism spawned by the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia utilizes rigid and barbaric versions of Shari’a to further its nefarious purposes.
            It is time for the U.S. to oppose authoritarian and oppressive regimes in the Middle East and Africa by conditioning U.S. foreign aid on adopting libertarian human rights and the secular rule of law.  Libertarian values can undermine the legitimacy of Islamist terrorism and enhance the prospects of peace in the region.  They promote U.S. national security objectives and are the right thing to do.  To do otherwise is pure hypocrisy and only strengthens our enemies.      

Notes and References to Resources:          

Previous blogs on related topics are: Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today?, January 25, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty, March 29, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, June 21, 2015; Politics and Religious Polarization, September 20, 2015; The Muslim Stranger: A Good Neighbor or a Threat?, October 25, 2015; The Four Freedoms, Faith and Human Rights, January 9, 2016; The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves, January 30, 2016; and Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics, February 7, 2016.

In a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry “reiterated [U.S.] support for ally Saudi Arabia” and said that “the two nations have as strong a relationship as ever.”  See

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