The rise of religion in politics
Pope Francis delivered a speech in the European Parliament on Nov. 25, touching on Europe’s acute political and economic problems.
During his brief four-hour visit, the Pope likened the old continent to a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant” and said it risked “slowly losing its own soul.” His messages on the migration problem, creating new jobs, and better working conditions were all good, addressed by a religious leader under the secular roof of the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, two days before on Nov. 23, the Israeli cabinet endorsed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s version of two earlier drafts handed to Parliament, the Knesset, which redefines Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Israel is already called a “Jewish and democratic state” but the bill, if it is approved by the Knesset, could see Judaism take precedence over democracy, according to its opponents in Israel.
Perhaps it sounds irrelevant to mention the Pope’s visit to the European Parliament and the Jewish State bill in Israel at a time when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been shocking the world with its violence in the name of religion. As part of that, people have been beheaded, enslaved, raped and displaced by ISIL militants, motivated by an endless hatred against not only non-Muslims but also against everyone other than believers of their radical version of Sunni Islam.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their four-hour meeting in Istanbul on Nov. 22 that he did not consider the ISIL terrorists to be true Muslims.
However, under Erdoğan’s rule over the last 12 years in Turkey, the religious references in politics, education, foreign policy and general daily life has gradually been coming to dominate.
In India, the rise to power of Narendra Modi cannot be considered independent of rise of Hindu nationalism; Modi himself had been denied a visa to the U.S. until recently because of his alleged previous involvement in anti-Muslim violence.
In American politics, meanwhile, the role of the church has been on rise since the mid-1980s and has not slowed down under Barack Obama, a secular Christian.
In fact, one turning point could be identified as the rise of religion in Israeli politics in the 1977 elections, when Labor lost to Likud for the first time ever.
While perhaps not in a cause-and-effect link, there was a coup in Pakistan the same year that brought the Islamist general Zia ul-Haq to power, an Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which paved the way to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as the U.S.-led Western coalitions armed and trained so-called moderate Muslim groups against Moscow.
The 1980 military coup in Turkey by Kemalist soldiers in fact went on to make religious classes compulsory across the country. Indeed, coup leader General Kenan Evren even carried out his constitutional campaign while brandishing a copy of the Quran, which nobody has done since, including Erdoğan.
Can the Jewish State bill in the Israeli Parliament be considered a second, symbolic threshold for religious principles taking over democratic ones, especially at a time when religion-based wars are taking over the political scene in the greater Middle East? This is a question worth asking.