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At the Center for a Just Society, Nathan Hitchen has a superb essay in which he argues that religion must be the centerpiece of a successful U.S. public diplomacy efforts:

The success of U.S. democracy promotion in the Middle East hangs on the credibility of American policymakers to empathetically engage Islamic culture. Empathy, in this case, means taking the worldview of the religious Arab public seriously. Consequently, one foreign policy reform should be to integrate religious expertise into the analytical framework of our foreign policy establishment by elevating the Office of International Religious Liberty in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the State Department. Lasting political settlement in religious environments requires American diplomacy to prescind the materialist preoccupations of modern political science (at least, politics according to Harold Lasswell: “deciding who gets what, when, and how”), and base decisions on higher-order values. In short, religious liberty should be the moral center of our diplomacy in the Middle East. The strategic objective of our Middle East policy should accordingly shift away from democracy promotion and toward the promotion of religious liberty. By insisting on religious liberty rather than a wholesale transformation toward democratic government the U.S. can lower the stakes for regimes it seeks to change. Democracy is supposed to secure liberties such as freedom of religion—they are the substantive ends which democracy is a means to protect.

In the post-9/11, pre-Iraq War era, I subscribed to the neocon project of democracy promotion precisely because I believed it would lead to an expansion of religious liberty in the Middle East—and hence lead to the outcomes that Hitchens argues would flow from religious openness and pluralism. In hindsight I realize that was a foolish assumption. Democracy alone is insufficient for securing security or diplomatic progress, as we learned in 2006 when the Palestinian National Authority elected Hamas.

Of course, religious liberty promotion is no more a political science panacea than was democracy promotion. But as Hitchen claims, “Religious liberty would help society grow so complex that no totalizing ideology, no philosophical monism, could feasibly dominate the public square, because no single ideology would accurately reflect social reality.” That’s a modest goal, no doubt, but one worthy of being embraced by conservatives.

(Via: Humane Pursuits )

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