New Report: Foreign Policymakers Must Factor In Religion, Should Welcome Islamist Movements to Democratic Space

New Report: Foreign Policymakers Must Factor In Religion, Should Welcome Islamist Movements to Democratic Space

WASHINGTON (April 28, 2015) – Religion has reemerged as a major factor on both sides of the Atlantic. Religiously motivated terrorist attacks in Europe have renewed debate on the relationship between Islam and the West. The growing authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey has raised a debate about whether Islam is compatible with democracy or if his actions simply constitute a power grab. In the United States, the influence of Christian groups on both domestic and international policies remains a hotly debated issue. These and other aspects of the role of religion in the transatlantic community are the focus of a new report by a group of scholars from Europe, the United States, and Canada, entitled Faith, Freedom, and Foreign Policy: Challenges for the Transatlantic Community. These scholars contend:

  • The West has a blind spot when it comes to religion. Its secularly oriented politicians, policymakers, and academics need to understand religion’s impact in world affairs and factor this into their decision-making in order to better collaborate with religious groups on fostering development and managing conflicts.
  • The democratic space must be opened to Islamist parties, but it should be done with eyes wide open, understanding that these parties may be illiberal and that religion and liberal orders are not always compatible. Tunisia and Turkey offer test cases for the development of moderate democracies in the Muslim world and should receive the attention of the transatlantic community.
  • The containment of the self-proclaimed Islamic State must be pursued, but recapturing territory must be left to fighters from the region. The West has an important stake in the outcome of what may be a religious war in the Middle East, but it cannot on its own determine that outcome.
  • Europe and North America face a soft power challenge from President Vladimir Putin’s use of the Russian Orthodox Church and his attempt to frame Russia’s confrontation with the West in civilizational terms.

Individually authored chapters in the collaborative study include considerations of religion and the liberal international order, Islam and liberal order, Islam in Turkey, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, religious activists and foreign policy in the West, how EU and U.S. foreign policy deal with threats to religious minorities, religious freedom in the EU and its southern neighborhood, Eastern Christianity and the liberal international order, and religion’s role in Russian foreign policy.

Faith, Freedom, and Foreign Policy: Challenges for the Transatlantic Community is the seventh annual report from the Transatlantic Academy, a Washington-based partnership of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, which focuses on a different theme of importance to the transatlantic relationship every year.

The report was authored by the six Academy fellows: Michael Barnett of George Washington University, Clifford Bob of Duquesne University, Nora Fisher Onar of the University of Oxford, Volkswagen Stiftung Fellow Anne Jenichen of the University of Bremen, Michael Leigh of GMF, and Lucian N. Leustean of Aston University, with additional chapters contributed by Bosch Public Policy Fellows Mustafa Akyol, an independant journalist and author, and Janice Gross Stein of the University of Toronto, as well as Alicja Curanović of the University of Warsaw.

The report also contains shorter contributions from other scholars and from European diplomats on topics such as religious engagement in diplomacy, Tunisia’s developing democracy, and women’s rights and religion.

“Policymakers in the transatlantic community must factor the influence of religion into their decision making on numerous issues,” the Academy’s executive director, Stephen F. Szabo, writes in the introduction. “This report suggests ways of doing so and of thinking about the interplay of faith, freedom, and foreign policy.”