Thursday, February 3, 2011

Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships: Why Religion Matters

There has been quite a bit of speculation about what kind of government that is going to replace the outgoing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Some journalists and commentators in the media have made the claim that the public demonstrations in the streets of Egypt are indicative of better things to come. After being oppressed by Mubarak’s dictatorship for thirty years, it is said that the restive public is pushing for a democratic government. However, looming in background is the Muslim Brotherhood organization ready to exploit the political instability when the time is right. If Muslim Brotherhood succeeds President Mubarak, then there is reason to believe that the citizens of Egypt will be subject to yet another dictatorship or a heavy-handed theocracy.

Prior to September 11, 2001, America, along with Western Civilization at large, had become secularized and therefore indifferent to religion. But after the terrorist attacks on that sunny September Tuesday morning, at least some Americans were forced to reacquaint themselves with the religion of Islam, its impact on international politics and how it differs from Christianity. There is a long historical tension between these two religions. And this tension can be best understood in a religious context. After all, Islam and Christianity are the only two universal religions that aspire to convert the world to their cause. Indeed, they are applying for the same job. This evangelical mandate, incumbent on Muslims and Christians, explains why there will always be a tension between the Middle East and Western Civilization.

Yet, there is another reason why Muslim nations are contentious with Western democratic nations. And that reason is that the theology of Islam lends itself to dictatorships and theocracies. For that reason, democracies are hard to come by under Islam and to be sure, there are theological reasons for this. However, to entertain this possibility one has to be willing to brave the accusations of being intolerant from politically correct sectors of society; most notably, the media and academia. Bill O'Reilly learned this the hard way on The View. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that institutions which are inspired by secular principles are in no position to see the crisis in the Middle East for what it really is; and this because religion is dismissed as inconsequential.

Putting any secular bias aside, it is an historical fact that religion has been the foundation of all great civilizations throughout history. Whenever religion was uniform and strong among the people, cultures solidified and grew prosperous. On the other hand, with the decline of religious belief and practice came cultural disintegration. By accepting the premise that religion is a decisive factor in cultural growth, we can then begin to understand just how influential Islamic theology is on the political state of affairs in Muslim countries.

Consider the following: At the end of World War I the Ottoman Empire (Islamic Empire 1299-1922) came to end and its demise left the Islamic civilization politically impotent; but only temporarily. Between the two World Wars, Europeans and Americans had forgotten all about Islam. Indeed, they had forgotten that for centuries it was poised to wipe out Christian civilization. Yet even in the decades that followed World War II, Islam was a footnote in history books and on the back page of newspapers. Nevertheless, for those who understood the history of Islam and Christianity, and just how important religion is in shaping international politics, the return of Islam was foreseeable. One such man who anticipated its return was Hilaire Belloc, a Catholic historian. With an uncanny premonition, he wrote the following in 1938.

"[Islam] very nearly destroyed us. It kept up the battle against Christendom actively for a thousand years, and the story is by no means over; the power of Islam may at any moment re-arise...The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable."

Belloc understood that although the political dominance of Islam faded, the religious intensity among Muslims did not. And with that religious intensity, the political reemergence of Islam was inevitable. This religious principle was something that totally escaped the secular world view in the West. And I fear it is underestimated today.

More on the next blog-