Middle East Conference 2013: “Your Rights & My Responsibilities” – Day 3 – Audience Reflections

10) Religious Rights & Freedoms within the Baptist Tradition: Principles & Practice [10:00 – 11:30am]

Our third day of the MEC began with an excellent session from Paul Fiddes illuminating the rich Baptist tradition of advocating for religious rights and freedoms.  Starting with Thomas Helwys, who wrote in the early 17th century, Dr. Fiddes explained that this support for religious freedom was rooted in an understanding of the Rule of God; that there is a spiritual realm, of which Christ is the only Lord and King.

Early Baptists also viewed religious freedom as a natural right, given by God in creation. The third point Dr. Fiddes made was that a respect for Conscience was a necessary bridge between appeal to the rule of God and to natural rights, and supports both these foundations. The session was an excellent reminder that we as Christians, and especially Baptists, have a theological basis for the promotion of human rights, specifically the right to religious freedom – and that this basis has a long a rich history, which can be a great source of inspiration.
-GM

11) The Development of the Human Rights Paradigm: Where We Have Reached [10:00 – 11:30am]

Lebanon enjoys a proud tradition of involvement in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  When the UN committee was appointed to draft the document in the years after World War 2, Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik was appointed to the committee.  He later became the committee chairman, and is responsible for much of the language as well as for pushing the draft through committee hearings.  The window of opportunity for passing such a measure was closing rapidly in 1949, and Malik worked diligently to bring the declaration to vote while there was still a consensus for the measure.

Having surveyed world leaders in social movements about the legitimacy of a universal set of rights, the committee set about determining which rights would be applicable to all people in all areas and in all time periods.  Such a broad application required much attention to cultural concerns.  A determination was made that consensus on the issue itself was sufficient, and there was not a requirement that nations all agreed for the same reasons.

There were notable difficulties in getting the measure through committee, mostly resistance from the Soviet Union.  There was a very combative and procrastinating treatment of the issue by the Soviet delegates, and Malik was forced to limit debate to 3 minutes on each item on the agenda.  Once the measure was sent for a vote, Saudi Arabia in particular threatened to vote against it.  The Saudis were eventually convinced to abstain on the vote along with 7 Soviet-bloc countries.

UDHR has been used by civil rights movements around the world as a standard to point out abuses by oppressive governments from South Africa to the Soviet Union.  At the same time it has been challenged and attacked by repressive regimes, postmodernist thought, and religious radicalism. Despite these challenges the UDHR has survived as a standard for human rights around the world for over 50 years. C.T.

12) Interfaith Small Group Discussion [3:00 – 5:00pm]

On Wednesday afternoon two sheikhs and twelve other representatives from a local Islamic school came to ABTS.  The occasion was an interfaith dialogue, with the participants at the conference, on the concept of human rights as it is reflected in the faith traditions and holy books of Christianity and Islam.  For an hour, in small groups, we met and discussed.

Each group came back and reported the content of our discussions, and any conclusions.  One group, in giving their report,  pointed out that at the beginning they did not know each other and sat separately. Now after discussions they chose to sit together, Muslim and Christians. Another group, with only one female member, chose her to give the report from their group, emphasizing the rights of women.  There was a desire from all for more dialogue, more time.

As I have reflected on that time there are several themes that emerge.  First, significant and very difficult issues relating to human rights must be dealt with.  Also, there is a great variety of thought among Muslims concerning human rights, including some that seem palatable to those of us in the Christian faith.  Finally, dialogue personalizes the issue beyond principles.  It is certainly helpful for humans to talk to humans about human rights.  J.F.

14) Implications for Human Rights & Interfaith Relations within Societies Emerging from Arab Uprisings: Case Studies from a Changing Region [8:00 – 9:30pm]

Ehab el-Kharrat began this evening’s discussion by sharing about the recent uprisings in Egypt. He recounted how the protests in Tahreer Square began as a utopia in which Egyptians from all religious backgrounds came together to fight for justice and to fight one common enemy.

Although tensions between Muslims and Christians ensued, el-Kharrat stated that this revolution served as a catalyst for Christianity in Egypt in that it sparked religious discourse in the public sphere in an unprecedented way and it caused Egyptian Christians to take on a more direct role in the politics of their nation.

El-Kharrat also claimed that this revolution caused victories for Egyptian human rights in that it motivated freedom of expression, freedom of political organization, and freedom of peaceful demonstrations.

Ziya Meral then discussed the various phases that have shaped the contemporary MENA context. He described how MENA went from being a region with newly-formed nation-states right after WWI, to one in which Islamism entered center stage and began to clash with Christianity, and finally, to one that saw the emergence of militant Islam and that placed Christians in a very vulnerable position. In response to these phases, Meral presented three possible options for the MENA church: fleeing, retreat, or reactive / proactive engagement. N.C.

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