A minority view of religious majorities
Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Arkansas governor, this weekend said that he is concerned about Islam's role in Egypt's future. As On Faith panelist Reza Aslan this week noted, Huckabee has also called for Americans to "take this nation back for Christ" and, while running for president in 2008, declared that "what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards."
In America and in Egypt, should a majority religion inspire political life? How will Islam play a role in the struggles for democracy happening now in Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world?
First off, as tempting as it may be to some, interfering with the will of a country's people, especially on the cusp of what appears to be a massive peaceful democratic revolution against an entrenched dictator, is realpolitik at its most vile. A democratic government in Egypt will no doubt be a Muslim-dominated government, but that doesn't have to mean a government unfriendly to the West. However, should the United States try to impose some sort of transition government from the outside, or be seen as artificially prolonging the reign of Mubarak, a potential ally could instantly mistrust us. Or worse, see us a hypocrites, calling for democracy in the world, but propping up dictators in the name of stability. The fundamental truth about democracies is that they hold the possibilities of future change. Their political axis can swing from left to right, and its attitudes can shift towards enemies and allies alike. The future of Egypt has yet to be written, and our hands should be light in the shaping of its destiny.
Having said my piece about the current situation in Egypt, let's talk a bit about religious majorities. How do they inspire political life? For better or for worse they often set the tone regarding debates over moral and cultural issues, and tend to perpetuate politicians and governments that favor their causes, even when those politicians and governments become oppressive or debauched. Religious majorities, particularly in this era of dominant monotheisms, often disdain pluralism, see challenging narratives as threats, and regularly create demons from pantheons of competing faiths. In secular governments, this tendency towards untrammeled influence is, in theory, checked by separating religious power from political power, and the creation of laws that protect all citizens no matter how marginalized their belief systems. Governments that don't have these protections, quickly become theocratic in nature, slowly eroding the rights of citizens who don't conform to the standards of the religious majority. What commonalities religious majorities in secular governments share with any number of theocracies is a yearning to solidify their power, to re-create a golden age of their belief systems, and disenfranchise any who would threaten their continued dominance. Mike Huckabee is concerned about Egypt's religious future because his own faith, Christianity, is in direct competition with Islam for religious control of the world. He is concerned, but has no qualms about his own desire to "take this nation back for Christ".
Mike Huckabee, who many see as a front-runner for the Republican presidential ticket in 2012, has been courting and celebrating the kind of Christians who, if ever presented with theocratic opportunities, would be the first to oppress and marginalize religious minorities. Huckabee calls himself a "fan" and "friend" of David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, who believes that "paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses," and is currently one of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's favored teachers for the freshman class of recently elected Republicans. Huckabee regularly allies himself with Lou Engle, whose rhetoric can "venture into bloodlust" according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Huckabee, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and several other politicians, have sought to ingratiate themselves with a new kind of Christian right, one that, in the words of Bruce Wilson, has seen a "rapid reconfiguration [...] around the rising, highly militant but poorly understood charismatic wing." This movement celebrates spiritual warfare, and is preparing itself for a renewal of Christian political and cultural dominance. So any "concern" from Huckabee about religion, or Islam, must be seen through this lens.
The plight of religious minorities is a real one. Whether that minority is Christians in Egypt, Yezidis in Iraq, Sufis in any number of Muslim nations, or Pagans in the United States. We should always work to see that all faiths are treated equally, and are provided the same opportunities within a society. However, let's not fall into the trap of mistaking Huckabee's concern, and the concerns of those like him, as a yearning for equal treatment for all faith traditions. The theocrat only cares about oppression and minorities when they inhabit that role. Whenever I hear a country's name branded with a faith, whether in aspiration or fact, I wonder about the safety, rights, and security of all those who don't fit under that label. I hope that Egypt's future steers away from theocratic excesses, just as I hope our secular government endures those who would erode it.
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