Democracy Versus Theocracy
Holy Land. Two archaeologists are working on a site they believe is the true location of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Golgotha or Calvary just outside ancient
Your laughter is the difference between a democracy that guarantees freedom of expression and a theocracy that stifles discussion of religion, and every other subject it considers taboo.
Let us stay with Bultmann a little longer. Bultmann was a fiercely independent scholar of the New Testament; he was convinced that the Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus were not be taken literally, they were not meant as history but rather as theology in story form, religious homilies in the accessible language of myth, a view summarized in his 1941 lecture, New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message.
Bultmann and his rationalistic look at the fundamental texts of Christianity was
The 57 Islamic States with support from
The nations that created the United Nations, and promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 were committed to the concepts of equality, individual freedom and the rule of law. In the last fifteen years, the UN has been taken over by the Islamic States, whose record on human rights is abysmal, and who have a very shaky notion of what constitutes democracy, and whose allegiance is to a seventh-century worldview defined exclusively in terms of man’s duties towards God or Allah. The Islamic States have been supported by those nations with a hatred of the
The Human Rights Council [HRC] replaced the old Commission on Human Rights in June 2006 following criticism that the latter was too selective and too politicised. However, the HRC is equally selective and politicised as it has failed to condemn human rights abuse in the
As of June 16, 2008, discussion of religious questions is now banned at UN Human Rights Council. The UN Human Rights Council is not allowed to judge religions, according to president Doru Romulus Costea of Romania. Criticism of Sharia law or fatwas is now forbidden. This ruling follows attempts by the Egyptian and Pakistani delegates at the Council to silence criticism of human rights abuse in the Islamic world.
Greece gave us democracy,
3 Similarly, free elections in many Islamic countries could well usher in an Islamic theocracy; for instance in the elections in
The great British philosopher John Stuart Mill [1806-1873] wrote in On Liberty, ‘Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.’
The cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a mocking light raise the classic question of freedom of expression. Are we in the West going to cave in to pressure from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most cherished freedom, the right to speak freely?
A democracy cannot survive for long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is just this freedom which is sorely lacking in the Islamic world. Without it Islam will remain in its dogmatic, fanatical, mediaeval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth. A Liberal Democracy proceeds by tentative steps after deliberations, debate, and compromise, and is able to adapt to changing circumstances. This precisely how an Islamic theocracy does not proceed, and it is to such a theocracy we now turn.
There is a well-known café in
Saudi Arabia, following a tradition of Muhammed who said ‘Two religions cannot exist in the country of
Non-believers- atheists in Muslim countries do not have ‘the right to life’. They are to be killed. Muslim doctors of law generally divide sins into great sins and little sins. Of the seventeen great sins, unbelief is the greatest, more heinous than murder, theft, and adultery.
Slavery is recognised in the Koran. Muslims are allowed to cohabit with any of their female slaves (Sura, iv.3); they are allowed to take possession of married women if they are slaves (Sura, iv.28).
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Punishments for the transgressors of the Holy Law include amputations, crucifixion,
stoning to death, floggings.
Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
The whole notion of a person who can make choice, and can be held morally responsible is lacking in Islam; as is the entire notion of human rights.
Articles 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 deal with the rights of an accused person to a fair trial.
As Schacht has shown, under the Sharia, considerations of good faith, fairness, justice, truth, and so on play only a subordinate role. The idea of criminal guilt is lacking. Revenge for a killing is officially sanctioned, though a monetary recompense is also possible. The legal procedure, under Islam, can hardly be called impartial or fair, for in the matter of witnesses all sorts of injustices emerge. A non-Muslim may not testify against a Muslim. For example, a Muslim may rob a non-Muslim in his home with impunity if there are no witnesses except the non-Muslim himself. The evidence of Muslim women is admitted only very exceptionally and then only from twice the number required of men.
Article 16 deals with the rights of marriage of men and women.
Women under Islam do not have equal rights: they are not free to marry whom they wish, the rights of divorce are not equal.
Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or
in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Under Islam, one does not have the right to change one’s religion, if one is born into a Muslim family. Applying double standards, Muslims are quite happy to accept converts to their religion, but a Muslim may not convert to another religion, this would be apostasy which is punishable by death. Here is how the great commentator Baydawi (c.1291) sees the matter: “Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever you find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard’.
Article 23: Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Women are not free to choose their work under Islam, certain jobs are forbidden to them, even in so-called liberal Muslim countries. Orthodox Islam forbids women from working outside the home. Non-Muslims are not free to choose their work in Muslim countries, or rather certain posts are not permitted them.
Article 26 deals with the right of education.
Again, certain fields of learning are denied to women.
It is clear that Islamic militants are quite aware of the incompatibility of Islam and The 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. For these militants met in Paris in 1981 to draw up an Islamic Declaration of Human Rights which left out all freedoms that contradicted Islamic law. Even more worrying is the fact that under pressure from Muslim countries in November 1981, the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of religious discrimination was revised, and references to the right ‘to adopt'(Article 18, above) and, therefore to ‘change’ one’s religion were deleted, and only the right ‘to have’ a religion was retained.
One of the fundamental principles of Democracy is the separation of church and state (Amendment I of the American Bill of Rights: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ‘). We have seen, that in Islam there is no such separation, instead, we have, what Thomas Paine calls, the adulterous connection of church and state.
The political principle embodied in the apothegm “reason not revelation” is the separation of church and state, or the separation of religious and secular authority. It is customary to begin arguments in favor of a separation of church and state with Jesus’s own words: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).
Roger Scruton takes the debate further back to the Greeks, arguing that the tension
Creon is concerned for the safety of the polis, the city-state, and wishes to restore and maintain order. For him loyalty to the city takes precedence over any private loyalty to friend or family. It is man’s ingenuity and rationality that has conquered nature and established man-made laws in cities: And speech and thought, quick as the wind and the mood and mind for law that rules the city—all these he has taught himself.
As Scruton argues, a similar conflict informs Aeschylus’s Oresteia: “In the political order, we are led to understand, justice replaces vengeance, and negotiated solutions abolish absolute commands. The message of the Oresteiare sounds down the centuries of Western civilization: it is through politics, not religion, that peace is secured. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; but justice, says the city, is mine.”
The Christian approach to the separation of religious and secular authority was developed by
“Each of these [Gelasius] defined as independent and supreme in its own sphere, but subordinate to the other in that of the other. The emperor, as the sovereign ordained by God, was entitled to obedience from the clergy in the temporal realm. But he had no priestly functions, and was required to bow in submission to the priests, and especially to the bishop of
Many Christians developed what Austin Dacey calls the Argument from Futility to separate the church from the state and as a defense against persecution. For example, Marsilius of Padua argued in Defensor Pacis, Defender of the Peace (1324 C.E.) that, “it would be useless …to coerce anyone to observe [Christ’s commandments], since the person who observed them under coercion would be helped not at all toward eternal salvation”.4 Erasmus [died 1536 C.E.] voiced similar concerns, “That which is forced cannot be sincere, and that which is not voluntary cannot please Christ”5. While Leonard Busher, an English Baptist, wrote in 1612, “[A]s kings and bishops cannot command the wind so they cannot command faith….You may force men to church against their consciences, but they will believe as they did afore”.6
In the wake of the religious wars in
Spinoza developed a theological argument, Argument from Theology for secularism. Essentially, Spinoza believes that the state powers should limit themselves to promoting a simple faith that consists solely “in loving one’s neighbor (for he who loves his neighbor in obedience to God’s command has fulfilled the Law, as Paul says in Romans chapter 13 verse 8”.8 Thus the state that restricts itself to this modest role will not participate in divisive theological controversies over esoteric dogmas like Unitarianism, transubstantiation, or infant baptism. These disputes should be resolved by each individual citizen according to the dictates of his own free conscience. The universal religion should contain “only those dogmas which obedience to God absolutely demands, and without which such obedience is absolutely impossible. As for the other dogmas, every man should embrace those that he, being the best judge of himself, feels will do the most to strengthen him in love of justice. Acceptance of this principle would, I suggest leave no occasion for controversy in the Church”.9
Spinoza also uses the Argument from Futility to show that coercion of belief is self-defeating; it is the very nature of belief that it answers only to evidence and not command, “It would be vain to command a subject to hate one to whom he is indebted for some service, to love one who has done him harm, to refrain from taking offense at insults, from wanting to be free of fear, or from numerous similar things that necessarily follow from the laws of human nature.”11
Spinoza goes on to argue, “Honesty and sincerity of heart is not imposed on man by legal command or by state’s authority It is an absolute fact that nobody can be constrained to a state of blessedness by force or law; to this end one needs godly and brotherly exhortation, a good upbringing, and most of all, a judgment that is independent and free.
“Therefore, as the sovereign right to free opinion belongs to every man even in matters of religion, and it is inconceivable that any man can surrender his right, there also belongs to every man the sovereign right and supreme authority to judge freely with regard to religion, and consequently to explain it and interpret it for himself”.12
Attempts at state coercion will only result in citizens turning against their own government. “Men in general are so constituted that their resentment is more aroused when beliefs which they think to be true are treated as criminal, and when that which motivates their pious conduct to God and man is accounted as wickedness. In consequence, they are emboldened to denounce the laws and go to all lengths to oppose the magistrate, considering it not a disgrace but honourable to stir up sedition and to resort to any outrageous action in this cause”.13
In his A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke develops versions of Spinoza’s Arguments from Theology and Futility, but adds a third one:
“First, because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate [i.e. the state], anymore than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another, as to compel any one to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate [state] by the consent of the people; because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave it to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing.’
“In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force: but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force…. It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments…But it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties… The magistrate’s power extends not to the establishing of any articles of faith, or forms of worship, by the force of his laws.’
ISLAM AND SECULARISM
presidential address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947, Jinnah said:
“We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of
“Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
Habib Bourguiba, for example, barely five months after Tunisian independence, pushed through a radical legal reform (August 1956) that outlawed polygamy and made judgment for divorce a prerogative of the court, withdrawing the husband’s exclusive right to divorce his wife. Although fourteen Tunisian religious scholars issued a fatwa denouncing the new law, it was received with enthusiasm by the modernists and met with practically no resistance. Bourguiba had taken on the Muslim official religious class and won. Modernization and secularization of education followed, including the downgrading of the venerable
Since the 1920s there have been many individual intellectuals from Islamic countries who have advocated secularism and state-religion separation as a way out of their intellectual, economic and moral morass. Among the earliest advocates of secularism were Christian writers like Ya’qub Sarruf, Faris Nimr, Nicola Haddad, and Salama Musa. Many of them were Christian immigrants from
Many courageous individuals, and Human Rights organizations continue to fight for political rights in Islamic states, rights we take for granted in the West.
For example, recently, liberal Kuwaiti Sh’ite activist Dr. Ibtihal Abd Al-Aziz Al-Khatib, an academic and columnist declared that a secular state is the only way to protect religious rights in the Arab World. When asked by a television interviewer if she had a problem with religion, replied, “Of course not. My problem is with religious coercion, when you impose a particular school of religion on a certain country… Let’s take
The one redeeming feature of the entire grim farce at the UN recounted at the beginning of this talk was the passionate plea from twenty-one courageous NGOs from the Islamic States, along with nineteen other organisations such as the Cartoonists Rights Network of USA, to delegations to oppose the amendment. They wrote,
‘We, the Undersigned, are deeply concerned that the proposed amendment undermines the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, at a time when it most needs protection and strengthening.
The proposed amendment is particularly problematic for the following reasons:
1. It goes against the spirit of the mandate: The role of the Special Rapporteur is not to look at abusive expression, but to consider and monitor abusive limits on expression. There are several other United Nations bodies which have a specific role in relation to incitement to racial hatred, such as Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which has devoted a lot of attention to it.
consider and comment on appropriate limitations to the right to freedom of expression, as the current post-holder Ambeyi Limbago has done many times before (as well as his predecessor). Furthermore, by focusing specifically on one type of restriction, the proposed amendment puts undue emphasis on it.
These NGOs from Islamic States are perfectly aware of the implications of living under Islamic Law, and were clearly frustrated that they were not heeded by those delegates who take the freedoms they enjoy for granted.
Perhaps I should give the last word to Sayyid Iyad Jamaleddine, a reform-minded Iraqi Shiite cleric, who has called for an absolute separation of mosque and state in
“I am a Muslim. I am devoted to my religion. I want to get it back from the state and that is why I want a secular state….When young people come to religion, not because the state orders them to but because they feel it themselves in their hearts, it actually increases religious devotion….The Koran is a book to be interpreted [by] each age. Each epoch should not be tied to interpretations from 1000 years ago. We should be open to interpretations based on new and changing times”. 17
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