By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Through world history, religions have provided the concepts and the language by which human beings have pursued their immediate interests and defined their ultimate values. The religious outlook is a continuous dialogue that addresses the human concern and the changing circumstances of its followers.
In Europe and in the Americas, as in Muslim countries, questions of justice and civil rights, public obligations, class privileges, and even revolutions and civil wars have been inseparable from religious issues. It is misleading to suggest that the rise of secular culture today banished Christian considerations.
Islam today is an ideology that has evolved through centuries of shared cultural tradition. Its followers are competing with seculars on authority and politics. Western writers frequently portray the renewed commitment to Islam as a return to some irrelevant and regressive past, while Christian and Jewish renewal in the West tends to receive more tactful treatment within explanatory context. In the West, secularization has not fundamentally changed societies’ religious traditions. On the contrary, secular politics has widened receptivity to religious beliefs. Communism was about ‘God is a farce and must be removed as a force.’ The communists closed the churches, killed and imprisoned priests and nuns and wherever communism went there were attempts to suppress belief. The communist revolution that lasted 75 years and whose atheism was a core part of its ideology, failed to rid East Europeans of their faith. The Polish Pope John Paul II’s has been depicted as a priest-hero with a big role in the fall of Communism. Today, East European Ex-Communist countries are among the most religious in the world.
The US today is a secular-democratic state with research, science, and education institutions, where science has now evolved to a stage where scientists replaced prophets. But forty percent of Americans go to church on Sundays and millions provide financial support to its benevolent institutions. The American scientist Stephen Meyer established the Center for Science and Culture, that has many accomplished scientist members, to promote the Old Testament ‘Devine Design’ story as the origin of life; and he questions the Darwinian ‘biological evolution by natural selection’ theorem for failing to explain scientifically how to build the proteins and protein machines that is needed to create the first living cell and keep it alive from pure physical objects. In his controversial book ‘Darwin’s Doubt’, Meyer uses the latest findings of the chemical structure and information bearing properties of DNA to support the ‘Devine Design’ view. He argues that because building a living organism requires digital information which in even the simplest living cells, a prior activity of a designing intelligence must be at work in the origin of the first life. And no undirected physical or chemical process has demonstrated the capacity to produce specified information starting from purely physical or chemical precursors. For that reason and many others that are beyond the scope of this article, he concludes that chemical evolutionary theories based on Darwin’s theorem have failed to solve the mystery of the origin of first life.
In religion and politics, Christian Zionists in the US believe Israel is the future site of ‘the second coming of Christ’ (Rapture). Countless evangelical Christian leaders have adopted Christian Zionism as a central article of faith, linking their ministries to the cause of Israel while sending millions of dollars to the Jewish settlements in occupied West Bank and various Israeli charities, all in expectation of a glorious Rapture. The Christian Zionists even volunteered to pick grapes for wine companies based in the West Bank. Tim LaHaye, a member of the American Christian Zionism led a “Where Jesus Walked Tour” tour in Israel where he and his followers measured ‘the river of blood that will flow from the two billion non-Christians who are due to be ritually slaughtered during the Rapture.’ Members of the conservative Evangelical Southern Baptist Church use many platforms to promote their political views on issues in the US and overseas. The late Jerry Falwell, Sr, the founder of Liberty Christian Academy, his son Jerry Falwell, Jr the Chanselor and President of Liberty University, and Pat Robertson, the host of Christian news “The 700 Club”, have been advocating Zionism and defending Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians based on the Scripture among their multimillion-member TV flocks.
The recent fervor in the Arab world for creating Islamic states had always existed, but until recently, the Western media has been largely ignoring such a tendency. The failure of Western institutions of secular parliamentary democracy to take roots in Muslim communities led their people to try revitalizing their own political traditions and recast their political systems in the mould of their own historical past. The idea of the Islamic state has stimulated diverse political fundamental ideologies in many countries since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early decades of the last century. Different models of Islamic states and Islamic movements were fashioned by a host of local, political, historical and economic factors. This has been demonstrated by the establishment of the Wahhabi-Islamic state in Arabia under the Saudi dynasty since 1921, the rise of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt since 1928, the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1947, the 1978-9 Iranian uprising that ended the monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Salvation Front triumph in the 1992 Algerian elections. Turkey’s 1995 parliamentary elections brought the Islamic AKP party to power after seventy-three years of Mustafa Ataturk secular nationalist revolution that stripped the Ottoman Empire from its Islamic history; and in 1994, Taliban Islamic fundamentalist movement took-over the government in Afghanistan after failed experiment with communism. The Islamists won the 2006 elections in Palestine, and in Tunis, Libya and Egypt after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The immigrants from Turkey, India and Pakistan have expanded the reach of Islamic culture in many European countries.
Failure of the authoritarian secular regimes to solve the social and economic problems of the masses and the reliance on the security and intelligence services as main instruments to deal with the opposition gave birth to Islamic radicalism which swept through the Muslim world over the past few decades and led to Islamic extremism and violence within the region and elsewhere. The vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by the extremists’ interpretation of Islam that assumes Islam should dominate all countries politics. It is fundamentally incompatible with the modern world and it became a strain within Islam.
Most of the Middle East countries have constructed their modern institutions on a base of traditional social arrangements, values, philosophical assumptions, and every-day practices that are deeply rooted in their Islamic cultural heritage. Of all the factors that unify Middle Eastern culture, none is fundamental as religion. Islam has a personal and social significance that most contemporary Middle Eastern regimes must take seriously when they set policies. Even those who wish to minimize the role of religion in politics must pursue their programs with acute consciousness of the Islamic environment. The social thought of Islam has had a decisive influence on state politics throughout the region since the death of the Prophet Muhammad and any attempt by over-zealous regimes and their supporters to ignore it will run the risk of wasting time and resources in unwinnable unnecessary fight.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.