Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Civil State and the Crisis of Religous Thought

The Arabic original can be found here in today's an-Nahar. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

The Civil State and the Crisis of Religious Thought

Among those who long for a civil state in the full meaning meaning of the term, many are skeptical about the future of current developments in the Arab countries that are witnessing the seeds of immanent change, sooner or later, in their system of government. The eventual outcome of things is not clear. It is covered with a blurry fog. Those skeptics, Muslims and non-Muslims, do not support the current authoritarian states and are among those who hope for their passing, in word and in deed, for the betterment of a state of the citizen, a human state.
The source of this doubt is fear of a second autumn setting in after the autumn of authoritarianism. Its name is the religious government or the government that appeals to religion to impose itself and its religious law upon people and worshipers. The preachers of the religious state that we read about in papers and see on satellite tv leave no room for doubt about the legitimacy of this skepticism about the alternative plans that will take us backward a few centuries that we believed had passed never to return.

The participation of those who call for a civil state in movements against the authoritarian state does not at all mean that they are pleased to see a religious state that is no less authoritarian. They see themselves as the first who will pay the price of the establishment of this religious state that will subjugate them and persecute them just like the lack of rights and freedom that they are suffering today. What is the Iranian example if not testimony to the fears of those who work for a civil state? After the victory of the Iranian Revolution, all the secular and leftist parties and movements that had taken part in working for the Revolution were excluded for the establishment of regime of "Vilayat-e Faqih", which takes its legitimacy, according to what it says, from divine authority and not from any other basis.

The basic problem for those who call for a religious state resides in their lack of respect for political, social, and religious diversity and for their lack of respect for the uniqueness of the groups that form the national fabric that includes all citizens. The religious state is absolutely not neutral because according to its constitution and its law it separates people into classes and makes those who do not belong to the single religion or single sect into mere nationals [i.e., as opposed to citizens]. The religious state promises us the imposition of a theocratic state (divine governance or governance in God's name) or a nomocratic state (rule of religious law) in place of the autocratic state (the state that derives its authority from itself) or the dictatorial state.

All these forms of government are unacceptable for those who promote a civil state that treats all individuals equally. There cannot be respect for human dignity without the establishment of a just civil state that does not include a religious authority that imposes itself and its ideas on all the people. If the civil state respects the different religious and sectarian affiliations of all her sons, then why would one of the religions or sects seek to impose itself and its religious law on the other religions and sects? Is this not what is called the dictatorship of the majority that does not respect minorities, those minorities whose love and ardor for their country no one can deny.

The crisis is not in secular thought that calls for respect for diversity. The crisis is in certain Islamic thinking that has not yet managed to take into account civil people, including all Muslims and non-Muslims, who do not desire religious government. The time has come for civil dialogue including all elements of society-- we do not say Muslim-Christian dialogue or dialogue between the religions-- so that we can hope for the establishment of a regime of equal rights and human dignity and so that we can hope for the burial of all authoritarian regimes, whether they clothe themselves in religion or in secularism.

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