Tuesday, August 10, 2004
The Politics of Islam
The mixing religion and politics has never been a basis for substantive political argument.
In any given society, religion and politics may run on parallel tracks, but in the end, in order for religion to play a significant role in a society and culture, there has always been- and must be- a distinction. The best examples of that are Israel and Singapore. Religion plays a distinctive role in those fully functioning societies, of course. Religion does not however, reflect the defining role in those societies. Those roles came about as as the result of a constitution that protects the individual irrespective of his or her beliefs. That is clearly seen in countries such as Ireland, Poland and much of Eastern Europe, for example, that are distinctly Catholic or Malaysia and Singapore, that have distinct Islamic identities.
When religion unleashed uses terror as a legitimate form of political expression (and is allowed/ignored/encouraged/excused by the political establishment), disaster is the only conclusion. Any political grievance or disagreement will sooner or later be confronted by violence. Saudi Arabia and to some extent, Indonesia are now having to deal with the results of unleashing genies that cannot be rebottled. Religions that flourish and help shape culture in free socities share many ideas, not the least of which is the notion of free will. To force adherence to specific religious dogma is to foster diminshed political influence and will result in religious decline. This is a lesson many in Islam have heretofore refused to deal with.
Does anyone, for example, really believe that the religious establishment in the Arab world are really 'religious' leaders? I would submit they hold office because their views adequately reflect those of the current political leadership. For example, the crisis in Darfur has resulted in various facets of Western communities-- including religious communities-- to galvanize and embark on relief efforts and publicly decry the unfolding disaster. There has yet to be a concerted religious voice from Islam to take the mantle and do the same- or for that matter, even acknowledge the crisis.
Arab regimes and the Arab League have gone to great lengths to stall and block any and all relief efforts in Darfur. The civil war in Darfur has already cost over a million and half lives to date, mostly Christians and Animists. For years, the Muslim world, political and religious, has swept the problem under the rug.
What do you suppose the fate of a religious leader who publicly derided a government whose policies defend the regime in Khartoum, would be?It is true some Arab/Islamic countries are sending aid to Darfur, but it is curious that there is no religious component. A few planeloads of rice, while admirable, does not change the Arab League's position of 'hand's off' Darfur.
That position is reinforced with 'official' religious community denial. Religion has too long been used as a tool of repressive regimes. To somehow think that engaging 'religious leaders' from those countries will contribute to a resolution of political issues and lead to 'greater understanding' is a ridiculous notion. The political establishment only uses those 'leaders' as a another front to propogate their agenda. The sooner we in the West understand that, the better.
There must always be a distinction between religious and political entities.