Rethinking US religious freedom policy in the Middle East & North Africa : responding to assertive secularisms and the rise of Islamism




Crawford, Adam Scott

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This project examines international religious freedom (IRF) as a tenet of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The project also reviews the discourses surrounding the issue of religious freedom both in the United States and Western Europe and argues that the frame of secularism--that is, the separation of the religious and political realms--is a hegemonic frame in both the U.S. and Western Europe. The discursive analysis relies on a typology of secularism developed by the political scientist José Casanova. It classifies the secularist discourse of Western Europe as an ideological secularism--which sees religion as antithetical to notions of modern human existence. It also classifies the secularist discourse of the United States as mainly statecraft secularist--in that it seeks only to sustain differentiated religious and political spheres. The project examines the religious freedom approach of the United States in the MENA region and argues that it has failed in identifying and criticizing forms of religious persecution of Islamist actors in various assertive secularist regimes in the modern MENA region. Islamism will remain salient throughout the region, particularly given the weakness of other forms of identity signification, such as secular-nationalist identities, throughout the region. The United States should rethink its approach to IRF, particularly its unwillingness to classify Islamist socio-political actors as religious actors deserving of U.S. IRF advocacy. While Islamist actors may not adhere fully to the tenets of Western liberalism--U.S. advocacy for their religious freedom may prevent the more radical strains of the ideology from fomenting domestic and transnational violence.


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