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Is Compromise in the Culture Wars Possible?

Considering current debates over gay marriage, abortion, and other issues where religion and politics intersect, Peter Berger looks for ways to avoid or defuse confrontation between religiously traditional and secular Americans in the public sphere. He writes:

I think that the only practical as well as morally acceptable formula is some degree of separation between the state and religion. There are different forms of this: British, American, French, German, Dutch. In all of these, the state (de-facto if not de-jure) is religiously neutral and presides benevolently over the pluralistic cacophony. This presupposes a secular space in which people of different faiths can peacefully interact. Important point: acceptance of the secular space (and a secular discourse to go with it, such as religiously neutral law) is not the same as secularism, which is the project of banning religion from public life. Put differently: the U.S. Constitution is not a Jacobin manifesto.

Even under the aforementioned separation formula, there must be some shared values among all of the communities or the society will either lapse into conflict or fall apart before outside aggression. In the current German debate over the integration of immigrants, the concept of Leitkultur (“lead culture”) refers to such a shared value system. This has a clear implication: there must be the shared secular discourse, supported by all communities, albeit for different reasons. Thus the first lapidary sentence of the 1949 German (then West German) constitution—“the dignity of man is inviolate”—was and is understood by Christians in terms of man in the image of God. But it can be and is being understood by people of another or no faith in terms of other conceptions of human dignity.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Abortion, Gay marriage, Religion, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Secularism

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen