The impact of religion in the country’s politics and development occurs where there is no separation between the State and Religion. In the Western countries, as they went through a period of modernization, they grew a line of distinction between the State and Religion. However, it has been different in the developing countries. As time has continued, there has been a merger of the State and the country’s dominant religion in controlling the politics of a country. In this paper we shall analyze the impact that Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism has had on the politics of certain less developed countries.
Effect of Islam on political development
It has been observed that countries with predominant Islamic religion trail behind their Western counterparts when it comes to development. This has caused several scholars to argue that Islam does not support economic development or political democracy. It has been argued that the strict Islamic practices do not support intellectual or scientific enquiry and individual innovativeness.
The absence of free will concept in Muslim countries hampers development. There have also been claims that the Muslims are low achievers. Their belief in predestination makes them have a resigned attitude towards life causing retardation of economic development. These views however are hollow and shallow. There can be no economic development in periods of political unrest. The unrest causes the pace of development to be slower. Secondly, individuals who practice the core values of Islam will love justice, economic development and tolerance. Those that do not advance peace are practicing flawed Islamic values. There are therefore other factors that have influenced slower economic growth apart from religion. Islam actually supports economic development. Economic development and Islam are not incompatible rather there are macroeconomic and microeconomic variables that show a favourable relationship between the two variables. The practice of capitalism without any moral values will not achieve distributive equality in economic resources. True development does not just affect a few individuals as capitalism does. Everyone is concerned with self-interest and self-development alone. A case example of the role played by Islam in government is in the case of Iran.
In the years 1925-1941, the reigning shah called Reza Pahlavi was pro-western and worked to transform or modernize the state using the Western Approach. He instituted reforms that allowed the unveiling of women and mandatory western dressing. He also ensured that certain or strategic economic, educational and political resources were transferred from the Clergy to the State. His approach was pro-development and it encouraged and promoted the literacy levels in the country. The land ownership was also transferred from the Islamic institutions to the three million peasants. The women now had more rights. These changes took place in the 1960s and the 1970s. The GNP level of the country rose substantially and the country had the highest developing world GDP. As these positive changes were taking place, there were reversals in other areas that affected the development of the country. The gap between the poor and the rich widened. There was also widespread corruption in the government that made the population feel alienated. Those who opposed the government were arrested by the government police called the Savak. The people then chose to keep quiet out of fear. The Islam community felt that the Shah was a tool of the Western powers. They criticized the secularization of the State.
Their leader at that time, Ayatollah Ruyollah, spoke up however he was imprisoned briefly in the year 1994. The people broke out in riots in the major Iranian cities. The army was brutal in silencing the riots leading to a massacre of 1,000 demonstrators. Ayatollah was sent to exile for a period of 15 years. This only served to increase the people’s adoration of his life and he had a high influence on the people. The riots continued and finally the Shah fled the country and went to exile. When Ayatollah returned to the country he was welcomed like a hero. After this, the country underwent an Islamic revolution.
The Islamic religion and political power were merged. The ruler was now Ayatollah and he was declared as the government of God. Though there were people in the government who were non-cleric, the ultimate power of the county’s politics was in the hands of the president, Ayatollah who was greatly admired by all the people and in the hands of the Guardian Council which consisted mostly of clerics. There was also an observance of the traditional Muslim values. The women were ordered to begin dressing in black veils known as Chador which was shapeless. This was to conceal the women’s shapely forms. There were policemen dispersed all across the country to ensure that the people were following the government’s high Islamic Standards.
There were many people who were arrested or harassed as they had violated the Muslim laws. The president also encouraged martyrdom in holy war, in the fight against Iran in the 1980’s and many young volunteers lost their lives. The third aspect of the Iranian revolution was the negative and aggressive foreign policy that the government adopted against the Western World and their supporters especially the Unites States and Israel who they viewed as infidels or unclean. This aggressive stance was demonstrated in November, 1979, when a number of revolutionary students entered the American Embassy and seized the diplomats and workers holding them hostage for 444 days. The country also supported Middle Eastern Terrorist groups. Its involvement in nuclear power has also worsened the country’s relations with the West.
After the president died in 1989, his successor, Mohammed Khatami moderated the Islamic radical stance. Women were allowed not to wear the veil; people could violate some of the Muslim laws and even dance to Western Music. The tension in the country subsided although the Guardian Council blocked more developments. In 2005, the people voted for a militant conservative leader called Mahmoud who supported the country’s involvement with nuclear power. His government rolled back some of the freedoms that had been gained during Khatami’s reign. In the 2009 election demonstrators took to the streets to protest the results showing Ahmadinejad’s victory which though fraudulent had been supported by the Supreme ruler and the Guardian Council. The country shows the effect of religion in a country’s politics and economic development in the developing countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
Influence of Catholicism and Protestantism on the State
In recent scholarly articles, it has been argued that the Protestant religion favours capitalism and forms a good foundation for the pursuit and implementation of democracy. Since the religion favours direct communication with God and individual responsibility, the faith encourages individualistic attitudes that promote capitalism through the laissez faire system. Protestants are more innovative and entrepreneurial. The Catholic religion is perceived to support state centred economic regimes which may end up sacrificing democracy and capitalism. This view of Catholics is not entirely true. Latin countries like Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico provide examples where religion has played a key role in the affairs of the State and government.
Ever since the region had been colonized by the Spanish government, the church had supported the political and economic status quo. It had given the prevalent political leadership at that time great legitimacy. Most of the land in the region in the 19th century had been owned by the church. The church had taken sides with the conservative political parties since the European and Latin American liberals were issuing anti-clerical comments continuously.
However, the Pope started leading the Catholic Church towards a liberal point of view in the 1960’s. In the Vatican council, the Pope encouraged the faithful to participate more in pressing for democratic freedoms, human rights and social justice in the society. In 1968, a meeting was held for the Latin American Bishops in Colombia where they emphasized that the poor were waiting on the church to institute changes in society. The changes in the church were in tandem with the political changes taking place at that time. The Cuban revolution in 1959 had just occurred showing the people the extent of poverty and oppression in the country. There were priests and nuns who had left the church to join in the revolution. Others got involved with the peasants and slum dwellers to carry out political activities.
In the country of Nicaragua, there were also priests who got involved in the Marxist revolution of the country. When the revolution succeeded, priests were appointed in the positions of foreign minister, head of national planning, minister of culture and minister of education. However, in other Latin American countries, there arose a series of military dictatorships that suppressed the civilian freedom or democracy. They feared a radical revolution. This was in the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
Radical outspoken clergy men were harassed while others were murdered. This only led to more resentment against the political leadership which the church denounced out rightly. One of the most notable priests was Archbishop Oscar Romero in Al Salvador who personally wrote a letter to President Carter asking him to refrain from providing military aid to the country till the abuse of human rights was addressed. Most of the clergy supported reform and not revolution. They supported the Marxists in the ills of capitalism of the class struggle and oppression of the poor. However, they did not feel that Leninism or revolutionary violence were the answers to the problem.
The clergy instead encouraged the poor to meet in groups called the Christian Base Communities where they would and raise their political and economical awareness. The members would also stimulate each other into social and political action and also preach the gospel. These CBC groups spread out throughout Brazil, Chile and Peru. These groups were strategic in that they formed the foundation for political protests. They also armed the poor with valuable political skills. Since the 1980’s the progressive church political voice went a few pitches lower as the people could now exercise democratic rights and the activists could speak out. It is undeniable that the liberal, Catholic progressive members played a great role in fighting for social justice for the poor.
Religion in Third World Countries continues to have a significant influence on the political development of the countries. It can either lead to democracy or suppression of human rights. It all depends on the beliefs of the religion and to the extent the State is separate from the Church.
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