The role that religion Plays In politics
 Of the Middle East

Amir Kazmi
Preternatural Mt. St. Mary's Student &
Assistant Web Master

The role that religion plays in politics is embedded in the structure of the Middle East. The important role of religion in politics arises partly from the history of the region. Historically, both religion and tradition went hand in hand to form the government systems of the region. Modernity in terms of "secularism, individualism, democracy, [and] economic rationalism" have had little latitude over the Middle East as a whole (Gerner 319). Hence, many governments use religion to justify their authoritative political systems within the Middle East. In this paper I will discuss how religion in politics is the most critical issue facing the Middle Eastern countries today in regards to the region regaining its leadership role in the issue of world affairs.

The religion and politics of the Middle East have special significance in view of the history and politics of the Middle East. After all, the three great monotheistic religions find their roots in the Middle East. Judaism was founded about four thousand years ago and it is the first religion to believe in one God. Jews believe that they are the 'chosen people' by God's will and it is through this religious sentiment that their "communal identity" comes from Judaism itself (321). Hence, the Jews have placed their religion at the center of their life, community and the political arena. 

Therefore, one must understand the faith to understand the region's politics, as there can be no severance between Jewish religious beliefs and Israeli politics and society. History tells us that Jews, like Christians and Muslims "have used religion to justify and legitimate expansion and warfare" (321). According to the Hebrew Bible, God (Yahweh) was on the Jewish side when they fought enemies of Zion. Like Judaism the other two Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, have also used religious revelation to rationalize holy war. The Papacy took a political step under Pope Urban II, when crusades were launched as holy war to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. The massacres of Muslims took place for political gain, which was a deed of the crusaders and were justified through Christianity.

Furthermore, religion in politics plays a crucial role in the current Middle East conflict. Islamic sharia is taken into serious consideration by Islamic countries, when making political steps or creating new laws. Similarly, Jewish law known as halakah is an important facet that encompasses most laws passed by Israel. Israel is seen as the place "that would guarantee the survival and future of the Jewish people" (331). Now, if the national interest of the country is the protection of the Jewish people then obviously its political decisions will be obscured by religion. 

Also, it is important to note that many Jews see "terrestrial gains made in 1967" as part of their promised biblical land, which makes it hard to find a neutral solution for the Middle East crisis (332). A problem with religion in politics is that it allows for terrorist organizations such as Gush Emunim or Hamas to distort religion for political purposes. But in the end all these extreme groups are fighting over a small portion of land resulting from the Middle East conflict, which is the reason for their existence. Furthermore, it is interesting to see that the one thing that the League of Arab Nations comes to consensus on is their position towards the Middle East conflict. The reason the Arab nations come together over the issue of Middle East and the future of Jerusalem is because they share a common religion. Thus, it is fair to say, "Jerusalem symbolizes the significance of religion in the politics of the Middle East" (330). But the leaders of the Middle East have significantly different policies concerning world affairs.

Those wishing to regain leadership roles in world affairs have to understand that religion in politics has proven to have a significant place in the Middle East. Unlike the West where religion is greatly marginalized as a result of the Enlightenment period and the experiences of the Renaissance, the Middle East has had a resurgence of religion. Religious fever is partially due to the rejection of Western secularism. The leaders of most Middle East nations understand that implementation of Western technology is eminent for success in the world community. After all it is very much possible to adapt the technology and reject the social structure. Many societies in the Middle East feel that it is the social structure of the West that is at war with their traditional or religious structure, which entails the resurgence of strong religious sentiment. But many of the leaders of the Middle East have abused this sentiment of the public to their advantage.

If leaders of Middle East nations truly wish to see their countries play a key role in globalism and secure a place in the world community, then they need to stop using religion for their personal gain. It is evident that leaders of the Middle East nations have used and still use religion to rally support in order to stay in power. One of the main reasons politicized Islam has taken such a strong role in the Middle East, is due to corrupt authoritarian leaders of the Middle East who use religion to ensure their positions. For example, Saddam added religious scripture to the national flag upon hearing of U.S. attacks because he knew the Iraqi masses would support a religious cause.

In conclusion, I see religion in politics as a very important issue in the Middle East because it determines the current and future role of the region in the world community. Apart from the Arab nations, "Israel's very existence and identity remains tied to Judaism" (339). Furthermore, I believe religion has allowed many of the authoritarian regimes to stay in power even in postcolonial times. For example, in the national news of Saudi Arabia the monarch, King Fahad bin Abdul Aziz, is always referred to as 'the custodial of the two holy mosques'. 

Over time, I believe many nations will see the fall of authoritative rule and a move towards democracy. But we will not see the usual Western democratic setup, but rather, democracy that has some religious basis such as structure of Iran. In my view, religion will continue to play an important role in the future for the Middle East as they decide the fate of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, determine the role of the Persian nation of Iran, and form the position of the region as a leader in world affairs.

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