Report of the Georgetown Symposium on Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring
September 1, 2012
On March 16, 2012, the Religious Freedom Project turned to the events of what has been labeled
the "Arab Spring" and brought some of the nation’s premier scholars and policymakers to
Georgetown in order to debate a critical question: What role, if any, ought religious freedom play
in the struggle for self-governance among the countries of the Arab Spring? This report provides a transcript of the discussions that ensued as high-level officials from the Bush and Obama
administrations - Dennis Ross, Stephen Hadley, and Elliott Abrams - and other panelists debated a range of related issues: Can religious liberty play a role in helping democracy to root? What is the relationship between
religious freedom and religious extremism, defined as political engagement by religious actors
that is hostile to constitutional democracy and open to the use of violence? Can religious freedom
limit religious extremism? How should U.S. foreign policy seek to promote democratic
institutions and regimes of religious liberty that can best counter religious extremism in practice?
The answers to these and similar questions are not only important for the Arab Spring countries,
their citizens, and their neighbors in the region. The answers are also important for the national
security interests of the United States and the American people.