Politics ruin religion and religion ruins politics

By Ahmad Mustapha Hassan
June 07, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JUNE 7 — The turmoil in the Middle East started off with the uprising in Tunisia to get rid of their corrupt leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The man, his family and cronies enriched themselves at the expense of the Tunisian people. They built palaces for themselves and cornered businesses to themselves. In the meantime the emerging youths found that with their professional degrees that they possessed, they were left unemployed.

They had to peddle wares, hawking them from makeshift sheds. Even this was forbidden and their trade was smashed by the authorities. One disappointed, dejected and helpless youth committed suicide by torching himself. The ember of revolt was thus lighted.

Tunisia has been a secular state since it achieved its independence and became a republic in 1957. The revolution that took place was not religious in character. It was secular and supported by all citizens irrespective of their religious denominations.

But as usual, Islamists who rode on the bandwagon of this revolt tried to highjack the cause and wanted to impose their beliefs in the new Tunisia. This had caused sane minded Tunisians who were the protagonists of the revolt to come out for another protest to cut off the impending disaster this religious elements would cause.

One of the banners displayed at this protest was “Politics ruin religion and religion ruins politics’. Another said, “Separation of mosque and the state!”

Tunisians value secularism and will not tolerate the imposition of religion in the affairs of government.

This was and had been the agenda of those who want to see that religion will not spoil the governance of a country. When religion is placed as the controlling factor in the governing of a state, chaos will emerge. Pakistan, Bangladesh and others which promoted Islam as being the core of their governments have seen no progress.

The bulk of government work was directed at controlling the lives of their citizens. The focus on good governance and ensuring fair and equitable progress for all never takes root. Religion had been manipulated for the benefit of the few.

The common men were cowed into following these moral regulations. But the actions of the rulers had never been made the focus of moral policing. These rulers may look and act saintly in the country but it is a different scenario when they are overseas. This hypocrisy in using religion for the benefit of the rulers will not however last. This happened because; the focus on uplifting the standard of living of the general population was set aside. In the meantime the rulers enjoyed the benefits of both worlds.

The Arabs in the Middle East had suffered far too long. The revolt is to seek justice and fairness. It was therefore not a religious revolt.

All these countries in the Middle East have never seen democracy being practiced. All came under the clutches of dictators, autocrats and religious fanatics. They are afraid of democracy as this will definitely destroy their hold on government. They had created two classes of people in their own countries – the rulers and the ruled. The people were given zero choice in the governing of their countries.

They had some semblance of democracy by having elections but rigged them to ensure they stayed on as rulers. Thus Egypt’s Hoesni Mubarak kept on winning election after election. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi totally destroyed all institutions of government. Through that he was able to stay in power for over 40 years. His sons controlled all the instruments of government.

They never believed in the aspirations of the people and thus they did not create any channels whereby they could monitor the feelings of the people. They only believed in controlling the people through force by using the police and the armed forces. To them might would thrive and they could remain in power.

Thus the whole of the Middle East has become a very combustible cauldron of an area, needing only a slight spark. That spark, of all places, burst in Tunisia, a secular state. Corruption and cronyism became the stones that rubbed one another to create the revolution..

It all boils down to economics. These dictators never ever thought of themselves as benevolent rulers but put themselves as ancient emperors who treated their subjects as slaves.

For that they would meet their fate one by one in a fiery environment which they had never thought would ever happen.

The Middle East needs true democrats to come to power if it envisages of becoming a power house and determine the course of world events in the future.

* Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is the author of “The Unmaking of Malaysia” and a former general manager of state news agency Bernama. He was also the press secretary to Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the then-Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

  1. #1 by ablastine on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 10:41 am

    For a moment I thought the author was describing Malaysia. I suppose in Malaysia we have the Chinese and Indians bogeymen so the dictatorial and corrupted UMNO government here may be able to deceive the rural populace a bit longer. Judgment day will still come when they discover that the devalued ringgit they have is not enough to buy them food or clothing anymore.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 11:49 am

    ///Middle East needs true democrats///-Ahmad Mustapha Hassan.

    True. That is why more countries there need to be secular. A secular govt does not abjure Religion. It merely keeps it within private realm; it is neutral and does not use public funds to support any one particular religion over the other. In keeping religion out of government it does not imply keeping religious persons out of government positions. Far from it. Its objective is to keep government from the grasp of religious fanatics. There is no need to extend governmental protection to any particular religion (just like an opinion) over the rest because a religion, like an opinion, that has truth on its side needs no special governmental protection since its truth is sufficient protection of itself.

    The fact that there are/were bad secular governments –eg Tunisia, Shah’s Iran, Egypt, Idi Amin’s Uganda, Saddam’s Iraq or Gulag Soviet Union – does not mean all secular governments are bad (for eg look at progress of secular Turkey), or that every overthrow of a corrupt secular government will have its ills, abuse of power and malaise of corruption rectified and cured by a next theocratic one!

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 11:51 am

    The conception of a secular state emanates from liberal democratic tradition of respecting a persons freedom to choose his religion or no religion, beliefs and life styles.

    It may be argued (against secularism) that “equal respect to all religions” is bunkum becvause its trite that if one believes in truth and respect for one religion, one cannot believe in the truth and respect the other relgion.

    That is true but equally true is upholding the belief in principle of tolerance, a corbnerstione of liberal democracy. One may not believe and respect others’ religions but one can respect in a secular state the right of the other believe, and that is important whether one views what the others believe is right or wrong!

    It is dictators who try to use religion to control behaviour and thought of those they govern by telling them what is right or wrong and only government’s version is the right one!

  4. #4 by cseng on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 11:55 am

    Religious and Race are tools for politicians to abuse, in order to win and saty in power.

    In M’sia we often have this ‘race and religion unity’, it just confirmed we indeed seprated into races and religions, and we were controlled along this line.

  5. #5 by wizzerd on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 12:02 pm

    In addition. , in 1M’sia , to deceive the people, the ruling elite also used public funds to make themselves look popular through some foreign PR company.That’s unprecedented.

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 12:57 pm

    Someone did say once, ‘Put the fear of God in him’ to cut down corruption but the Speaker did exactly the reverse when he held the nation by its throat for over 2 decades! Hence, religion has been abused by both the religious and political leaders depending on how convenience the ocassion is. To many of those leaders, even say Osama, did any of his numerous children did what he expected other children to do? Suicide missions? So long that the majority of the population remains indifferent to the surrounding, then the nation is doomed; the world is full of demgogues who will take the opportunity to lead mobs for personal agenda owing to ignorant populace. So information flow and education will remain the pillars of strength of all societies.

  7. #7 by for my country1 on Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - 2:11 pm

    I do not hope to see my country in the like of Tunisia etc. for I love my country dearly and also all my fellow malaysians (yes, brothers and sisters). What I hope is that our leaders be good guides for all the rakyat to follow. Leaders must show good examples and behaviour. Leaders must strive to enlighten the rakyat so that our country can move forward.

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