Whatever happened to freedom of conscience?

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Professor Toby Kelly is Head of Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and Deputy Director of the Global Justice Academy.

Northern Ireland MLA, Paul Givan has proposed a Freedom of Conscience Bill. Invoking a three hundred year tradition of freedom of conscience and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Givan calls for greater toleration of different beliefs.  Yet, Amnesty International has said the bill was ‘not welcome and is not needed at all’. Indeed, it went so far as to say ‘what is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause’. At first glance this appears a little surprising, given that Amnesty first came to public prominence as an organization that campaigned explicitly for freedom of conscience, and Prisoners of Conscience still play a significant part in Amnesty’s activities.

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How should religion be addressed in attempts to prevent atrocities?

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This guest post is by Dr George Wilkes, founding Director of the Religion and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace Project, and Research Fellow at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

In June 2014, the Global Justice Academy supported the launch of a new programme bringing scholars and civilian protection practitioners together to identify the state of the art of atrocity prevention, and the state of the academic literature addressing the impact of religion on civilian protection work.

‘Preventing Atrocity: Reasons to Engage with the Religion and Ethics of the Other’ brought specialists from across the College of Humanities and Social Science together with experts from the ICRC, DfID, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, the European Centre for the Prevention of Mass Atrocities, Human Rights Watch, Islamic Relief, the Bosnian Islamic Community and Finn Church Aid.

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The Islamic State and Al Qaeda: the Return of Jihad to the Middle East

Ewan SteinThis guest post is by Dr Ewan Stein, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. A longer version of this post will appear as an article in the journal Afkar/Ideas, published by the Institut Europeu de la Mediterrània, Barcelona.

By the time of the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings Al Qaeda was a peripheral actor in regional politics. It now finds itself in competition with a new, perhaps more powerful, jihadist actor in the Islamic State (IS). But IS and Al Qaeda pursue complimentary, rather than divergent, strategies and the IS phenomenon represents a logical evolution for global jihad.

Following 9/11 and the destruction of its Afghan stronghold Al Qaeda had become a decentralised network of affiliates. The uprisings initially pushed global jihad as a strategy to improve the plight of Muslims in the Middle East even further to the margins, and the death of Osama bin Laden in June 2011 registered as a footnote to the much larger political convulsions of the time.

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