Some discussion on a list serve of which I recently became a part has concerned freedom of speech and of the press.
The focal point was a complaint which has been laid with several Canadian human rights commissions, against Maclean’s magazine, for a Mark Steyn excerpt they ran from his recent book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. The excerpt included a quote from some fairly radical Muslim leaders to the effect they were breeding like “mosquitos” and would, by virtue of that procreation, soon destroy a less prolific western society.
I would encourage readers to keep an eye on this issue, as it heats up. Many Christian journalists and other writers believe that their right to express themselves or quote their opponents, especially regarding their religious beliefs, is being threatened by an overt domestic effort by Muslims. Among these Muslims, they maintain, are many recent immigrants who are displacing western Christian-based residents, especially in our larger cities.
In the process of following the issue, I came across a report entitled Governing Diversity: Democratic Solutions in Multicultural Societies, authored by Razmik Panossian, Bruce Berman and Anne Linscott. The report was published by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, in connection with a project called Ethicity and Democratic Governance.
Parts of the report resonated with because of having paid fairly close attention in recent weeks to such places as Sudan, Burma, Kenya and Pakistan.
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Let’s single out Burma for attention. That nation, about 70 per cent Buddhist and six per cent Christian (mostly Baptist), has been ruled for a couple of decades by a restrictive military dictatorship. Buddhists and Christians alike have suffered under this repression.
The leaders of the dictatorship have maintained that there about 180 ethnic minorities throughout the nation, and that if there was no military control, these groups would destroy each other.
Having done some periodic work for the Baptist World Alliance, I have been able to read and learn a fair amount about some small slices of Burma. Its Baptist presence goes back over 200 years, when Adoniram Judson set sail from New England to introduce Christianity in southeast Asia.
To fast forward, one of Burma’s rural ethnic groups, known as the Karen experienced continuous spiritual renewal, as a result of Judson’s efforts and those of his successors. Today, close to one million people are associated with Baptist congregations in that nation.
But, when an uprising occurred against the military repression last year, it was the much more predominant Buddhist population, led by its monks, who pressed the charge. Ultimately, they were pushed back.
But the point that has emerged in so many places, including Burma, Pakistan and Kenya, is the perception that ethnic and tribal tensions are resolved by dictatorship, not democracy.
Into my thinking about these things comes this little report. And I want to wrap up this meander, today, by quoting from the executive summary of a chapter entitled ‘How should secular states deal with deep religious diversity? The Indian model,’ authored by Rajeev Bhargava.
Here it is:
Secular states everywhere are in crisis. Movements challenging secular states involve Muslim societies, but also protestant movements in the United States, Kenya, Guatemala and the Philippines. Migration from former colonies and an intensified globalization have thrown together, on western public spaces, pre-secularism within western societies. Yet, religion-centred alternatives to secular states are unlikely to grant freedom or equality. How do people who value freedom and equality get out of this bind?
We must understand that our choice is not limited to supporting or opposing western models of secularism. Several societies, in their specific cultural and historical conditions, have worked out their own version of a secular state that is also sensitive to freedom and equality and yet different, perhaps in some sense, even better than western secular states. On such model provided by India — neither wholly Christian nor western — meets both the secularist objection to non-secular states, and religious objections to some forms of secularism.
I won’t comment on that summary at this point, but would be interested in some reader feedback. If you are getting this on the list of Christian leaders to which OttawaWatch is sent, please e-mail your response directly. Or if you see this on CanadianChristianity.com, you can enter your response at the bottom of the article. I am told that this site is partially moderated, to ensure that entries are edited for brevity, clarity, legality and taste.