Religious freedom as antidote to terrorism

It’s an idea that hasn’t been tried and found wanting, to say the least.

Robert P. George, new Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, published this proposal on CNN’s news site on September 11.

A dozen years ago today, the 9/11 attacks brutally awakened the American people to the global reality of terrorism – of lethal groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, which manipulate religion in violent pursuit of totalitarian aims.
In the ensuing years, the nation rightly focused on these groups, and especially on the regions of South Asia – including Afghanistan and Pakistan – and the Middle East.

Yet in many ways, an overlooked story of the past few years has been the disturbing rise of like-minded organizations elsewhere, particularly in Africa. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has documented, the forces of violent religious extremism have gained footholds on the continent, terrorizing populations, violating fundamental rights including religious freedom, and posing a serious security threat to the region and potentially beyond.

Prof. George goes on to detail some accounts of such violence in Nigeria, Somalia and Mali, and the whole piece should be read and deeply appreciated in its entirety. He continues:

The question for the United States and its allies remains how best to counter such forces no matter where they appear. For years, the answer has been to employ a wide array of tools, from intelligence gathering to police work to military action. But if the fight is to succeed, it also must include efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief. This is a battle of ideas as much as brawn, and environments that promote freedom of thought and belief empower moderate ideas and voices to denounce extremist hatred and violence.

(emphasis added)

Central to this effort is understanding two things. First, extremist groups seek to capitalize on the fact that religion plays a critical role in the lives of billions. Nearly 84 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation. In many areas of the world, including the African continent, religion matters greatly.

Second, people across Africa (and elsewhere), Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are rejecting the hijacking of religion by these extremists. For some, this rejection has come from bitter personal experience.

Pay attention to this.

Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.

As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror.

(emphasis added)

Countries plagued by violent religious extremist forces have options which, while difficult, can be taken…

In other words, in a world where religion matters, a key answer to violent religious extremism in the post-9/11 era is for governments to act in such ways to affirm and protect freedom of religion. It is not only a moral imperative – it is a practical necessity, empowering people everywhere to choose a better way.

Ideas and ideologies have consequences. The time to apply this idea has arrived.

Deny conscience and redefine ethics

And still call it health care?

Yes, in many places. Start with Sweden.

The Swedish parliament has overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortions.

Read that again. The Swedish parliament overwhelmingly voted to deny doctors their fundamental conscience rights to practice moral medicine.

The Riksdag passed a resolution, by a vote of 271 to 20, to condemn an October 2010 PACE document supporting conscience rights for doctors.

This is surreal. But it’s really happening.

John Smeaton, head of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, commented: “Sweden’s vote today shows the lengths to which the supporters of abortion are prepared to go to promote the killing of unborn children. There are no international conventions which recognise a right to abortion, whereas conscientious objection is a basic principle of international human rights law.”

This is a new world, and it’s not so brave. It’s seeming more like Wonderland all the time.

In Britain, there’s this:

A survey conducted recently of disabled people in Britain, commissioned by the disability group Scope, found that 70 percent are “concerned about pressure being placed on other disabled people to end their lives prematurely” “if there were a change in the law on assisted suicide.” More than a third were worried they would personally experience such pressure…

“Disabled people are already worried about people assuming their life isn’t worth living or seeing them as a burden, and are genuinely concerned that a change in the law could increase pressure on them to end their life.”

‘Life unworthy of life’ – or lebensunwerten Lebens – as Princeton Professor Robert George often speaks of, whether talking about abortion, euthanasia, Terri Schiavo and the cognitively impaired, or any group marginalized by a more powerful group.

And somehow, powerful groups are increasingly better-positioned to marginalize other human beings they consider unworthy of health care resources by a new calculus and tortured logic. Such as…ethics committees. Or some ethics committees in some places.

Piecing together the clinical picture of a complex patient is difficult enough. Add to the mix the patient’s value system, that of the family and those of various healthcare providers, and a case that might involve difficult decisions becomes even more daunting. That’s where an in-house ethics committee can step in.

That actually sets up a chilling premise.

Let’s jump to the section sub-headed ‘Common Conflicts.’

Patients and their healthcare providers frequently weigh the value of additional cancer-focused treatment versus comfort care only, as well as provision of other care such as dialysis, and artificial nutrition and hydration.

Stop right there. That’s a manufactured term, a misnomer. It was only in recent years that giving a patient basic food and water got labeled ‘artificial’ or ‘extraordinary’ care. For the very tendentious purpose of disqualifying it as basic and routine care.

Advance directives and appropriateness of a DNR order also fall under the goals-of-care umbrella, McCabe says.

As bioethics nurse Nancy Valko said on my radio show, advance directives were originally devised as a tool to facilitate the cause of euthanasia. Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death allegedly because she didn’t want any extraordinary measures to be applied to her care if ever she were to be in an impaired state. Which is far down the dark rabbit hole…but that’s another story for another time.

This is supposed to be about respecting choices, and advance directives are supposed to say what a patient doesn’t want done if they wind up impaired or in need of ‘extraordinary care’, and by redefining extraordinary care, pulling treatment can be ‘justified’ as patient choice.

However, choice falls apart when it doesn’t fit the scheme of withholding treatment or protecting life. Look at the end of this article:

Nurses also should understand their own value systems and set them aside when needed, because other considerations in an ethics case may trump personal beliefs.

Valko replies:

Conscience rights are not an optional ‘personal value system’ that can just be ‘set aside when needed.’ Conscience rights are a crucial protection against the ‘whatever is legal (or can be legalized) is ethical’ mentality that is overwhelming medical ethics.

Dr. George reminds anyone who will listen:

Since the life of every human being has inherent worth and dignity, there is no valid category of lebensunwerten Lebens. Any society that supposes that there is such a category has deeply morally compromised itself. As Leon Kass recently reminded us in a powerful address at the Holocaust Museum, it was supposedly enlightened and progressive German academics and medical people who put their nation on the road to shame more than a decade before the Nazis rose to power by promoting a doctrine of eugenics based precisely on the proposition that the lives of some human beings…are unworthy of life.

The new medical ethics are the old eugenics. And they’re not ethical, no matter what some committee decides.