The Attractiveness of Religious Liberty to Those Who Hate it

In David Tombs (ed.), Rights and Righteousness, Perspectives on religious pluralism and human rights. Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College (2010)
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Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between religious liberty and religious extremism. The expression, ‘religious extremism’, does not only or even mainly refer to terrorism, jihad or sectarianism. Those are only the more flagrant instances of religiously inspired human rights violations. All religiously inspired human rights violations are covered here by the concept of religious extremism. Two other remarks may help to avoid misunderstandings. First, this paper by no means focuses exclusively on Islam. Although most news stories about religious extremism nowadays tend to highlight rights abuses in Islamic countries, history shows that such abuses are not the monopoly of any religion. Second, the existence of religiously inspired human rights violations does not prove that religion, as such, is necessarily incompatible with human rights. This paper does not make this claim. We should be well aware that rights abuses can be inspired by many different ideologies, religious and secular. Moreover, there is ample evidence that the historic evolution of human rights was and still is underpinned by religious motivation. The incompatibility of religion and human rights is the exception. It is limited to some interpretations of some practices of religions. Religion is above all a matter of conviction and belief, and only then a matter of practice. And conviction and belief can never harm human rights, which is why they benefit from absolute protection by human rights.

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