14 September 2014

The Crisis in Secular Studies

The Crisis in Secular Studies (Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 September 2014)

Largely secular" is not the descriptor that leaps to mind when thinking about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. But that’s what James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, called the group while testifying to Congress in 2011. Outrage ensued, and within hours his office, to use the Washington adage, "walked it back." The news release read as follows: "To clarify Director Clapper’s point, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization."

Now it was—why not?—the Mubarak regime’s turn to be acclaimed as "largely secular." If by "secularism" we mean not protecting religious minorities and not respecting freedom of speech, then I guess the DNI was on to something. Though perhaps we should cut Clapper some slack. He wouldn’t be the first or last public figure to utter preposterous and contradictory things about secularism.