Academic journal article Policy Review

Mosque and State in Iraq

Academic journal article Policy Review

Mosque and State in Iraq

Article excerpt

THE UNITED STATES, in Iraq and elsewhere, should cease promoting a secular civil society as the only alternative to a Taliban-like Shia theocracy. We cannot quell the religious yearnings of millions of Iraqis (and many others elsewhere) merely by fostering strong political and economic institutions and the sound values they embody--to wit, democracy and capitalism. The most effective way to counter a theocracy is to include moderate, liberal religious elements in the civil society we are helping to erect.

The First Amendment's disestablishment clause is not a foreign policy tool, but a peculiarly American conception. Just because the American government is banned from promoting religion within the United States does not mean that the State Department and the Pentagon cannot promote religion overseas in societies that are undergoing profound societal changes. This last point is crucial: Overseas we are participating as a key architect and builder of new institutions; we are in what social scientists call "the design business." This is quite distinct from what we do at home: shoring up a solid social structure designed two centuries ago, careful not to rock the foundations or undermine the pillars on which it stands. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other Third World countries, we participate in the ground-breaking, foundation-laying stage, one in which elements we can take for granted at home--such as a thriving religious life within civil society--must be provided.

The current U.S. position reflects, whether deliberately or unwittingly, the "end of history" conception that all ideologies are on their last legs as the world embraces the American (or Western) ideals of democracy, human rights, and free markets. This notion, in turn, is but an extension of the Enlightenment conceit that modernity is based on rational thinking, which religion is not, and hence religion is "history" while secularism (reason, science) is the future. Accordingly, societies in which religion is "still" playing a key role are considered behind the times, underdeveloped. As we are learning, however, all over the world people have spiritual needs that cannot be addressed, let alone satisfied, by Enlightenment ideals.

We are witnessing an explosive growth of Christianity in East Asia (in 2000, China had 3.5 million Catholics, up from less than half a million in the mid-1980s); on the Korean peninsula, where nearly a quarter of the population is Christian, a 4,000 percent increase from the early part of the twentieth century; and in Africa (360 million Christians in 2000, compared to 10 million in 1900). We find an "outpouring of pent-up religious [fervor]," as sociologist Alan Aldridge put it, in Russia (which nearly doubled the number of adherents to the Russian Orthodox Church from 1970 to 2000) and other former communist nations in Eastern Europe. And there has been a rise in Islam not only in countries that were never modernized, but even in those that have had extensive secular, modern periods--such as, most tellingly, Turkey. In the United States, although there are continuous debates over the depth of American religious commitments and the possibility of a religious revival, no one doubts that religion is a major force in American life and that important elements of our civil society are faith-based. We should export to Iraq--and to other countries challenged by fundamentalism--our mixed secular and religious civil society.

The reason religion cannot be suppressed, why religion is reasserting itself where it was formerly stifled or thriving where it was never held back, is that it speaks to profound questions to which many millions of people seek answers. These are transcendental questions such as why we are cast into this world, why we are born to die, and what life's purpose might be. In addition, there are moral questions such as what we owe to our children, to our elderly parents, and to our friends, communities, and nations. …

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