RELIGION, the 800 pound gorilla in Iraq
by Credoabsurdum, Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:45:46 AM EST
NOTE: This is taken from a talk on the history of church and state relationships that I gave on January 22nd at Ventura's E P Foster Library. Feel free to repost it on your favorite blogsite.
I'd like to take a moment to talk about the current situation in Iraq because I think it has some bearing on the subject at hand. You can argue about it but this is my interpretation and it's one I haven't heard from any of the talking heads on network news. One of the Bush Administration's major, if at first unstated, goals of the invasion was an ambitious attempt to remake the political equation in the Middle East by imposing democracy, by force, on Iraq. It can be argued that this has been achieved. The turnout for the Iraqi elections was very high and the presence of foreign observers ensured the results by and large accurately reflected the will of the voters.
So Bush got his wish, and that's too bad, because the law of unintended consequences came into effect. There was something the president and his advisers had failed to take into consideration in their plans because they didn't understand the importance of it in their own country. And that is just how crucial it is to keep religion separate from politics. Oh, it's always been there in American politics to a certain extent. After all, no politician who wants to get elected is going to say that he thinks faith in God is unimportant but, until recently, no party ever promoted the idea that theirs was the more God-fearing party and that their platform reflected God's will and the other party's did not.
This, however, is old news in Iraq and the people voted largely along religious and tribal lines. The few secular parties came in a distant third. The Al Maliki government formed, after months of wrangling, as a coalition of Shia religious parties and Kurds and the Sunnis knew they would be largely marginalized if not disenfranchised. And why? Because these were not Iraqi political parties, they were Shia parties, Kurdish parties and Sunni parties with Shia, Kurdish and Sunni agendas rather than Iraqi ones. No Shia crossed the line to vote for a Sunni or vice versa the way Republicans and Democrats sometimes vote across party lines here. That would have been like voting to cut your own throat.
I do not believe that any democracy can long survive if it promotes the will of any group, even the majority, over the rights of the individual. So of course, Iraq is fracturing along religious and tribal lines. As we saw demonstrated during the execution of Sadaam Hussein, the Shia militias are part of the Maliki government. They haven't infiltrated only execution parties either. They are in the army, the police forces and probably other ministries as well. Even before the invasion in 2003 this kind of fracturing of Iraq wasn't hard to predict. All it took was the ability to look at the historical evidence through something other than glasses tinted with the rose color of bias. Unfortunately, it never occurred to the president and the neo-con think tanks that came up with this policy, to question whether or not they were wearing such glasses. Their cause was right because they had faith it was right.
I'm not suggesting that there is a strong parallel between the Iraqi situation and what is happening in the "culture wars" here. I think, or at least I hope, that in this country, our democratic traditions are at least as ingrained as our religious ones. But there is a parallel. By making religious agendas into political ones, we risk polarizing people along religious lines. There is a danger in that of creating a gap where people can't cross political lines without also crossing religious ones and yes, nations do fracture over things like that.