[ by Charles Cameron — March Madness for those whose sport is what William Blake called “Mental Fight” ]
If you’re unsure what TwitterFightClub is, it’s “an annual March Madness style tournament for national security and foreign policy tweeters”, overseen by the remarkable Caitlin Fitz Gerald, creator of Clausewitz for Kids. Hayes Brown has a fuller explanation.
Okay, let’s get real. As Kelsey Atherton noted:
That caught my attention, so I went to hannah draper‘s twitter feed and got a rapid education on religious freedom in Turkey, in staccato 140-character bursts:
When it comes to the Orthodox communities of Turkey (as there are a few), religious freedom is the right to train and their own clergy. It’s the right to provide religious education as they see fit for their communities, and it’s the right to equal protections before the law. For the Greek Orthodox community, one of the biggest concerns is Halki Seminary, a theological school in Ist that’s been closed for decades. For the Syriac Orthodox community, it’s finding enough space in Istanbul for their community of tens of thousands to worship. For the Armenian Apostolic community, it’s property restitution to address expropriated properties in decades past. For the Jewish community in Turkey, it’s protecting the safety and history of their centuries-long presence in Anatolia and Istanbul.
For the Baha’i community, it’s legal recognition of their faith and protection of their holy sites, especially in Edirne. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s the right to conscientious objection and to perform civil instead of compulsory military service. For Alevis, it’s the right for their houses of worship, cem evleri, to be recognized as such. For Protestants, it’s the right to open and operate houses of worship. And lest you think we only care about minorities, religious freedom for Sunnis in Turkey – by far the largest religious group – matters too. For Sunnis, it’s the right to wear the headscarf or not, as each individual sees fit. It’s the right to worship as they deem appropriate. For atheists, it’s the right NOT to worship and not to face discrimination for that choice.
You can read more about what works and what needs more work in Turkey in the International Religious Freedom report. I wrote two or three of those during my time in Turkey. Writing annual reports like this are the basics of a political officer’s work.
If that wasn’t enough, these two tweets alone would have won my vote:
Ms Draper went on to tweet extensively about Ambassador Chris Stevens and Benghazi — keen insight with the personal touch:
Ambassador Stevens was a legend. Everyone knew him and his big, goofy smile. Everyone called him Chris, or “Krees,” depending on the accent. And damn, was it fun working for him. We may not have had regular cell service or food that passed the bar of tolerable, but he made it fun. The man was a brilliant diplomat – not formal or stodgy, not forceful, but warm, engaging, funny, and knowledgeable. Everyone felt they could be honest with him and that he would be honest in return.
We went to meetings with anyone and everyone. Mahmoud Jibril. Abdulhakim Belhaj. Mohammad Sawan. Ali Tarhouni. Ali Zeidan. Some random religiously conservative guy who sat up until 3 AM with us one night, drinking coffee and talking about E. German philosophy. …in Arabic. With me and the Ambassador translating for our visitors from Washington. Believe me, I was not prepared to discuss Eastern Bloc philosophy in Arabic with a former LIFG member. But hey, that’s how Chris rolled.
— which drew this appreciative comment:
But hey, TwitterFightClub is also fun — because not only does it educate you and suggest a bunch of twitter-feeds you should probably follow year-round, it also brings a concentrated and brilliant dose of those irrelevant images which become a glut when unleashed 24/7/365 across all channels of communication.
I get mine for the year here, and allow myself to forego “fun pix” the rest of the time:
And those were just from one of Rebecca Johnson‘s fans…
Back to serious. Today’s find and follow for me is Ivan Plis, who also tweets up a storm:
We had a good number of #TFC15 tweets about religion & policy yesterday and today. Allow me to expand on that… USG has several offices on religion. State has a religious freedom office with Ambassador-at-Large, plus “religion & global affairs.” And outside State, there’s a commission — @USCIRF — with its own global religious freedom mandate, management style and tone.
@draperha explained yesterday why religious freedom is a US interest abroad. The fun part’s seeing the different elements interact. I’ve met a lot of foreign affairs folks in DC, and outside the religion silos they tend to be less religious than the general public. When I worked these issues on the Hill, we saw secular Jews, New Religious Movements, every Muslim & Christian flavor, and much more.
I learned 2 key points: 1) religious freedom benefits everyone, and 2) those who ignore religion in their field do so at their peril. As someone whose church is politically nervy (Orthodoxy in Russia) I’ve realized seeking state privilege hurts long-run legitimacy. In other words, big groups (e.g. Orthodox) look bad when they act threatened by smaller ones (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc).
One last thing: the “persecution-industrial complex” is real, and insidious. It feeds cynicism and spoils good will. People can have disagreements about US policy on religious minorities abroad, but don’t manipulate vulnerable groups to your benefit. And there are ways to talk about religion, and religious actors, without violating the 1st Amendment or being played for a fool. Back to my earlier point: NatSec and foreign policy analysts must then do more to hear religious voices. Most agree that religion plays an undervalued role in security and geopolitics. Weighing it has to be part of the solution too.
Or in secular, #TFC terms: that gets my vote.
You can follow along at #TFC2015 on Twitter, and vote on today’s round — quick — here.