Religion and Human Rights: An Introduction

By John Witte Jr.; M. Christian Green | Go to book overview

21
Religion, Violence, and the
Right to Peace

R. SCOTT APPLEBY

Most religions espouse some form of The Golden Rule: “None of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself” (Islam). “What is hateful to you do not to your fellow man—that is the entire law, all the rest is commentary” (Judaism). “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself” (Baha’i). “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” (Christianity). Moreover, they claim invariably to possess, preserve, and profess the wisdom that leads to peace.

Is there a right to peace, and do religions uphold it? While “rights-talk” as such is relatively new to religious traditions, in recent decades most have produced articulate proponents of human rights—even if these individuals are in the minority within their faith communities. Yet, strikingly, these religiously motivated rights champions have claimed a longstanding witness to “human rights” in ancient scriptures and ethical traditions, appropriated elements of the new rights talk, or hastened to formulate their own parallel discourses in which rights talk was challenged or complemented by the delineation of responsibilities to religion and society. Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish leaders, for example, responded to the excesses of radical individualism in America by promoting a countervailing discourse of civic responsibility in service to the common good, and by reminding their fellow citizens of the longstanding contributions of religious communities to the cultivation of civic virtues and social accountability. Muslim scholars initiated a far-reaching debate over “Islamic democracy” and “Islamic human rights” in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.1

Nonetheless, modern religion retains its reputation as a major social and political obstacle to the full realization of human rights. Can this reputation be reversed? As one of the editors of this volume has argued, religion must be seen as a vital dimension of any legal regime of human rights. “Religions will not be easy allies to engage, but the struggle for human rights cannot be won without them.”2 Nowhere, perhaps, is this simultaneous caution and exhortation more relevant than in efforts to enlist religious actors and resources in support of a “right to peace.”

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