An Anniversary Call to Arms

In a context in which religious legitimacy trumps all (as it does for those committing terrorism in its name), the best antidote for religious ignorance is religious understanding. It is encouraging to note that the State Department is at long last waking to this need through its incorporation of new training programs on religion at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute where it trains its senior and junior diplomats. While a positive development, this training is voluntary and therefore unlikely to have a deep-seated impact on how Foreign Service Officers think about and deal with religion's influence. The Department is also putting an increased emphasis on promoting and enforcing international religious freedom. While a highly important end in its own right, religious freedom is generally perceived by others as an American agenda (despite UN endorsement) and in any event represents a very narrow slice of a much larger pie.

So here we sit, ten years after our wake-up call, with a response that can only be described as too little, too late. With religious identity clearly on the ascendance, continuing to downplay its influence will only subject us further to the law of unintended consequences. The stakes are incredibly high (as the specter of religious extremism married to weapons of mass destruction continues to loom large), and the task of acquiring a sophisticated capability for dealing with religious factors more than merits whatever urgency we can give it.

Read more about Religion, Terror and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement at the Patheos Book Club.

9/6/2011 4:00:00 AM