In order to assess U.S. leadership in promoting global religious freedom, it is helpful to place that role in historical context, to take the long view. When the United States emerged as a world power in the twentieth century it became a leading force in enshrining religious freedom as a universal human right. On the eve of the Second World War, for example, President Franklin Roosevelt cast religious liberty as one of the “four freedoms” that conduce to world peace and development.
With the first half of my stay in Jordan completed, I have come to a number of realizations about the country that has become beloved to me in the past two months. The most important lesson of these is simple and revolves around one thing: toilet paper.
There are two religions in Jordan: Islam and Christianity. Of course, there are some people that might not meaningfully identify with either religion, some other religions which have small minorities, and various sects of each religion present. However, there are only two religions in any meaningful sense. Many people think of the Middle East as an exclusively and homogeneously Muslim region—and Jordan is 92 percent Muslim—but the Christians that live in Jordan have often been here for centuries or millennia. After all, Jordan is right next to the Holy Land. In many of my classes, we have discussed issues related to religious minorities like Christians living in Muslim states and societies. We have discussed how sharia should work when there are minorities, the historical usefulness of Christian banking practices in light of Muslim prohibitions against usury, and the seats in Jordan’s parliament reserved for Christians. In the two months that I’ve been here, however, my experiences of religion in Jordan have been far more personal.
Where are you from? ¿De dónde eres? In English or Spanish, this question seems to inevitably permeate any conversation in a new space I inhabit. In the United States, my brown skin gives me away as the “other” and people ask “Where are you from?” When I answer the name of my hometown, Queens, New York, I am given an unsatisfied look. The inquisitive tend to further question with “but, where are you really from?” The truth is, I am still from Queens, but my ethnic and cultural background is Ecuadorian, the homeland of my parents. Ecuador is the answer people seek when they ask me where I am from.
Over 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed the border into Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017. Thousands more are arriving every day by boat and over land. Rohingya refugees and international observers claim that the Myanmar government is pursuing a brutal and unwarranted crackdown against innocent civilians in Rakhine, using counterinsurgency as a false justification for its actions. Unfortunately, this situation is precedented—the Rohingya have long suffered persecution at the hands of the Myanmar state, which denies them citizenship on account of their religion and ethnicity. They have limited access to employment, education, healthcare, and basic human rights.
On October 22, 2017 Japanese voters headed to the polls to cast their ballots for members of the House of Representatives. As a Japanese and government double major, I immediately began to consider the ways in which this election could be compared to last year’s election in the United States. I quickly realized that the differences far outnumber the similarities. The American example is useful to think about insofar that it highlights the distinctive social norms of Japanese culture and how that has extended to political discourse and campaigning.
As my professors often quip, Jordanians are nosy people. At a time when fewer foreigners, especially Americans, are traveling to the Middle East, people are even more curious about who you are and why you’re visiting. I experienced this questioning early in October, when my program spent a week learning about life in the reef (الريف), or countryside, in Shobak.
I am among the countless women moved by the recent news deluge about flagrant predators to resurrect memories, sometimes long buried and sometimes fresh and unvarnished. For me the central question it provokes is how (not whether) we can, collectively, do better to bring about change.
It’s 5:00 p.m. and the cathedral bells toll to mark the hour. La Plaza de Mayo, the square directly in front of the president’s office, is full of impassioned women fighting for the right to abortion. Although the abortion debate is not new to residents of the United States, it spins a markedly different tale in this politically charged square of Argentina. Here, as with any Latin American country, Catholicism remains deeply ingrained in society. In fact, until 1994, Argentinians did not possess the freedom of religion that United States citizens have held since 1789. Even today, almost 20 years later, the culture of Argentina promotes the Catholic faith through its holidays, customs, and abundance of Catholic churches.
When we arrived at Mageragere TIG [Travaux d'Interet General] camp, 110 men and women donning matching blue outfits, effusively singing in Kinyarwanda, greeted us. The lyrics to their song is: “we love our government, support our police, and uphold our community.”