A Discussion with Maryann Cusimano Love, Associate Professor of Politics at the Catholic University
Background: As part of the Future of Track-Two Diplomacy Undergraduate Fellows Seminar, in fall 2010 Valerie Oliphant interviewed Maryann Cusimano Love, Associate Professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America, about the intersections of US foreign policy, religion, and Track II diplomacy.
Interview Conducted on May 22, 2011
As you know, I am in a class studying the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and religious factors abroad. In reading your previous interview with the Berkley Center, you had just started working with FSI on this same topic. Can you tell me a little more about your findings since then?
I have recently written a book chapter that I will email you- it looks at how the U.S. government has routinely gotten religion wrong in international affairs. Examples include the Shah- Iran- 1979; Jasmine Revolution; Insurgency in Iraq. These are smart people working in the government who should know better. What are some of the reasons we have not integrated religion- dominant paradigm of realism and real politik; Stalin- “how many divisions does the Pope have?” Ironically, the U.S. spent decades of the Cold War fighting “godless Communism.” At the time, we were very godless ourselves. This is not just the fault of policy, but also academia. Resurgence of religion.
Other reason- that religion is only a source of conflict, particularly Islam.; also the separation of church and state inhibits us from understanding and engaging religion. See the chapter for more details. Establishment clause doesn’t say anything aside from that we can’t set up a formal state religion. In contrast, the law requires that the USG engage with religious actors abroad and has requirements on reporting on religious freedom and human rights around the world. Other groups in the USG also engage religious actors and factors- for example PEPFAR. Engaging religious actors is routine and is routinely done by parts of the USG but the problem is that it is not appreciated, is not recognized that US law mandates it. There is a continued lack of training, preparation- we are continually caught unaware by religious factors. I was working with FSI to develop case studies and training materials, as well as ways to amplify the current materials they use.
Great appreciation of the need to engage religion in the military, particularly in the Army- they see it more directly- felt they would be more effective if they were more prepared on religious and cultural aspects of the countries and communities they engage in. They are now looking for practical training to implement for troops being deployed. However, this is kind of like playing a pickup game- trying to get there after they really should have been doing it 10 years ago. There is a very modest amount of training that happens right now in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). When I began my fellowship at the beginning of this year, there were two courses offered at FSI on religion & both on Islam & amongst the 450 courses offered every year. And there are about 50,000 people going through FSI from the State Department and other bureaus who engage in foreign diplomacy. Most of their courses are language training, but there are other policy courses offered, and there has not been a focus on religion. The two courses that do focus on Islam- Islam and Iraq and Islam and the former USSR- focused on “here are the main holidays, cultural aspects you need to know,” etc. Only other place it comes up at FSI is the Global Issues Course, where there is one segment on the International Religious Freedom Act- but it focuses more on how to fill out the report and logistics. Ambassador Tracy Jacobson has been really keen on fixing this. They are now setting up a new course on religious engagement, and looking to reorganize Global Issues course to include more on religious freedom, as well as human rights.
The problem for FSI and State, is that there is little opportunity for training and professional development. In contrast, in the US military there are many military institutions, as well as the ability to go back to school at non-military schools. Continuing education is a necessary step in gaining promotion and there are more resources and time for military personnel to improve their knowledge and training. This is not the case for State, where they are shorthanded in personnel- neither group (the embassy you are leaving or the embassy you are entering) wants to give you up for training. There is no structure in place that fosters greater time and resources that allows people to develop that way beyond the language training. In USAID they have a training module on religion and conflict that is excellent, but they are also limited in time and resources. What is there is quite good, but the ability to take advantage of it is limited. In order to help with this, I have developed Pew Case Studies for Georgetown. Likewise, there has been increased publishing in this area of late. However, many branches of the USG do not have time to read these publications, so there is a need for things that are more concise and brief.
The other area I have been helping with is working with the military chaplains. Your professor, Eric Patterson, has done a lot of work on this. Basically, we are trying to expand the function of military chaplains to say that if called upon by their commander, they may do religious leader engagement. However, they again are very resource constrained. Thee are great demands for personal interactions and work- PTSD, family therapy. They feel they are already spread too thin, and cannot effectively expand their capacity to also include religious leader engagement. The other issue is that because DoD was the lead agency in Iraq and Afghanistan, military chaplains were able to take on this new function, but in other countries don’t have the authority. Need the State Department to also decide that they need them. For now, mostly focus on military to military interaction, but the problem is that a lot of other countries don’t have military chaplains to facilitate this kind of interaction.
White House Office of Religious Engagement- Obama’s Cairo speech. The problem is how to get people to actually implement this. A major hindrance has been misunderstanding the establishment cause- some USG agencies interpret this clause very differently- some are very cautious which leads them to just do nothing in regards to religion. Voices of Moderate Islam- US and Jordanian Armies brought them to Jordan for a series of workshops, interactions and sessions with Jordanian religious actors and they were exposed to a more moderate form of Islam. Then took them on the pilgrimage to Mecca. When they returned to their homes, they had many positive messages for their communities, such as the different ways that their faith is interpreted that is not the same as the Taliban.
I was talking with a Senior State Officer, who told me that we didn’t need to train prople on religious engagement because people “pick up religion as they go along in the field.” No one would ever say this about economics or military tactics. It’s very disingenuous to say we can perform well in these aspects without training.
On top of all this, I work continuously on CPN, Catholic Bishops, and Jesuit Refugees-where we are trying to increase the grassroots capacity of peacebuilding and religious engagement through peacebuilding education, advocacy with Congress and UN- telling them what they are seeing in the field (ex- Sudan- to make sure that renewed conflict doesn’t break out). In the DRC- CRS is working with victims of GBV (gender based violence) to help them and to stop the violence- by working with the Catholic Churches there. Another major gain for us was getting the Mineral Transparencies Act successfully passed. This Act makes sure that companies are transparent about their supply chain and where their minerals come from. There are no sanctions or fines, but it will give consumers the ability to make their own, informed decisions- similar to Blood Diamonds.
A final example is PEPFAR in Africa, where there is very little state capacity in many of these regions. The churches have hospitals and schools, have the institutional capacity, and this has increased the willingness to partner with these organizations. Similar partnerships, are seen in USAID with Islamic groups regarding public health in Pakistan.
You have done a lot of work on engaging and including women’s religious groups, can you talk more about which areas people should look to for good examples on how to do this as well as lessons learned?
I think a lot of this work calls for a change of language- need to change it to “engaging religious actors and factors” and not just saying “key religious actors.” Otherwise, we will focus just on engaging older men. We are increasingly seeing how important youth and women have been in the recent example of the Jasmine Revolutions. In my work with USG, I would like to expand to think more broadly and include women and youth groups.
For examples, look at the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which presented how effective religiously based women’s groups were in Liberia. There is one particularly dramatic scene where the women physically blocked the leaders from leaving until a peace agreement was signed. Those types of groups are where we have to be looking- can be seen all over the world- for example in the Philippines.
These ways of working in a society can be much more sustainable- women are integral in the education process for their children. Women are primarily the churchgoers- higher religiosity. If we don’t even see these groups, we are really missing out. It was recently the 10 year anniversary of UN SC resolution 1325, but very little progress has been made, especially in UN peace processes and accords- only 2% had women signatories. That is really problematic and has real consequences- if you are excluding a majority of the population how can real progress be made? It is not surprising that these accords don’t hold. Only 2% of post-conflict transformation funds were allocated to women’s programs. GBV not often included in these accords, and it sets up a perverse incentive structure- men are given the money in the DDR process but their women victims are excluded.
Do you think that religious groups are better equipped to handle the mental health of their workers? What kinds of structures are in place for this?
Religious groups and women’s groups are better posed to handle trauma healing, reconciliation, and the human person. When the USG and UN talk about reconciliation they really mean DDR and SSR (Security Sector Reform). While this is important, it is not the same. Religious groups focus on really healing the person and a deeper form of reconciliation- healing at a personal and community level. In the long run, this helps mitigate conflict triggers and can keep the conflict from breaking out again. This also means that faith-based organizations can be better equipped with handling the mental health of their own personnel because it is on their radar and they already have the skills to handle it in their toolbox.