God and Man at Stanford

Feb. 27 2018

Stanford University, like any other major institution of higher learning in America, prides itself on the diversity of its students. Yet on its campus the devout of any faith are hard to come by, receive few accommodations from administrators, and face the bewilderment of their peers. Ben Simon, drawing on his own experiences as an observant Jew, and conversations with religious students of various faiths, reports:

Though the undergraduate student body comprises just over 7,000 students, one can count on one or two hands the number of religious Jewish undergraduates. . . . The story is similar when it comes to religious Muslim students. . . .

Stanford places a great deal of emphasis on building robust ethnic communities. How many other universities have dorms dedicated to fostering Black or Latino or Asian culture and community? But when it comes to strong traditionally religious communities, save for a slightly larger Christian contingent, Stanford is conspicuously lacking, especially when compared to other top-tier universities. . . . It may be unreasonable to expect a secular institution like Stanford to accommodate fully each student’s religious needs. With that said, Stanford goes far beyond the letter of the law when it comes to ethnic or racial diversity but does little to go out of its way to help religious students. . . .

When it comes to day-to-day interactions between secular and religious students, questions of religious practice and belief are oftentimes avoided. “People are too afraid to ask me about my practices,” says “Fatima,” [a Muslim student] who wears a hijab and prays five times a day. . . . “Rachel,” [an Orthodox Jew], also wishes religious topics weren’t taboo. “It’s obvious that everyone I interact with on a daily basis knows I’m religious, but no one ever really asks about it, except for my closest friends. People always say that diversity is important, but I wish we actually talked about what makes us different.”

Politics can also be a sensitive subject for religious students. Fanny, an evangelical student, recounts a conversation she had with her Catholic roommate about religion and its application to politics. “As soon as we began the subject, both of us glanced at the door, which was open. In a moment of unspoken agreement, I went over and closed the door.” Fanny thinks this incident sums up the challenging parts of being religious on campus. “For a university that champions free and open discourse, it is ironic that there are some opinions that just never make their way out of closed doors.”

Read more at Stanford Review

More about: American Muslims, American Religion, Evangelical Christianity, Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, University

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy