When religious political parties are democratically elected to power, it’s ok.. isn’t it?
What exactly is wrong with religious and/or fundamentalist governments if they are democratically elected?
Many in the west think of it as an automatically bad thing to have an islamic (or any non-secular) government in a country – especially it seems when it’s a Muslim country and in the Middle East or North Africa.
I too never liked the idea of it. Separation of church and state seems to me to be of primary importance, but the developments in places like Egypt and Tunisia where religious (and some say fundamentalist) muslim political parties have been elected – has made me want to examine my beliefs on this.
If the people democratically elect a government (even a religious one) who says they shouldn’t be permitted to do so? Who says it’s wrong? Their vote – no matter how ill informed or wrong other may believe it to be – is still the ultimate say isn’t it? Shouldn’t the pro-democracy West be happy they got and made a choice – even if it was to vote in religious hardliners who might one day want to curb civil liberties, individual freedoms and introduce sharia law? It’s kinda tricky isn’t it?
I still don’t like it, but why? Aren’t the voters always right? Isn’t the alternative a slippery slope of fascism or some other kind of totalitarian, colonial or feudal setup where the ruling elite or outsiders says they know better than the populace?
So I was left wondering on what grounds it still made me uncomfortable. Was it simply because I am not muslim and so it was some cultural fear of the other? Years of western anti-islamic propaganda perhaps eating away at me – unknown to rational mind and covertly making me a bigot? I doubt it. I have visited several muslim countries and I love many things about the history, art, and culture of muslim countries so I don’t think I’m a closet racist or anything like that. I had to keep thinking, what was off about it really?
I came when I realised that the proposition of a religious government – especially a monotheistic fundamentalist one – was an inherent contradiction. It was contradictory because it (explicitly or otherwise) wants to forbid the very freedoms that it itself benefitted from. It demands that people be free to follow that religion and hold it’s beliefs, and practice it without persecution. One day however, when it seizes power (and it has control of the state) it wants to forbid that same freedom to others who do not share it’s beliefs. This basic unfairness is what I can’t stomach.
Just to be clear – this is (of course) not to say that there is anything wrong with an individual holding religious beliefs and practicing this religion in a way that does no harm to others and I only choose islam as an example because it’s topical and a lot of fuss is made about it – the same could be said of Christianity or any other religion. Most people and groups are not fundamental in nature but then again most of them are not trying to seize power over others, so it’s the ones that are that this discussion is really focusing on.
So, as well as being unfair it also seems wholly unnecessary. Governments should be largely (or some might fairly argue – purely) administrative in nature. They are the people we elect and pay to keep the state and all it’s apparatus ticking along nicely for our benefit. It doesn’t need to have any particular opinion or moral authority to do what it should be doing – so religion is entirely unnecessary. Now I’m not saying that’s what it always IS, but when you break it down that’s kinda the point is it not? A strong reason to keep religion out of it.
Interestingly, when you think about it, the same could be said for governments now in so far as they are fundamentalist capitalists. Are you free to be say, an anarchist? I mean really.. If you want to live in a way that does not recognise the authority of the state and the government are you free to do so? Can you live as a communist outside of the capitalist world? No, not really – not outside of probably a few token personal choices.
So when the Arab spring has sprung and more governments have gone down the religious path – can we really consider it a step forward? While it is truly a great thing that they have fought to escape the tyranny of dictatorship, are they not exchanging one sort for another – even if right now it appears like a choice? If the new regimes meant that more people had access to secular education as a result (and thus be better equipped to be better politically engaged future) then great, but I find it hard to believe that the ruling powers would see that as being in their interests. Chances are that religious education is what future generations will receive, narrowing their minds further and walking only further down a path to insularity and division from their brothers and sisters around the world.
Maybe the worst thing is that they will be arguably less able to revolt, to show dissent and to question than they were before – because it will no longer be just political. When you take on a religious government you are taking on the religion that goes with it and the entire moral authority that this exerts. Those that realise what freedoms they have lost in the transition from corrupt dictatorship to theocratic totalitarianism will feel they have moved from an Arab spring to an Arab winter.
Sadly for them, those in power will once again think that the letter of the laws written in some centuries old book is more important than the spirit of the truths it tries to teach.