National Commentary

From Cairo to Washington: Keep Religion Out Of Politics

How do you know if you are an anti-democratic religious tyrant?

Here is the answer: You have just finished praying in your mosque, synagogue, or church. Then you think to yourself, that your religion is the world’s only truth and that it is so awesome that your fellow countrymen should be forced to share your beliefs — whether they like it or not.

You think to yourself, “How can I impose these beliefs on the masses?” And finally, you organize like-minded totalitarian zealots to enact a strategy of participating in democracy for the sole purpose of undermining it, so a theocracy can be installed.

You enact subversive tactics to infiltrate and control government, the courts, the educational system, the legislative apparatus, and the business community. You conclude that your religion is so special that it justifies the rejection of religious pluralism and rationalizes persecution of anyone who believes in modernity, science, medicine, and philosophy.

This backward view is what the Muslim Brotherhood represented in Egypt. They exploited the system in order to destroy it and force political Islam on the people against their will. If you believe in freedom and human rights, it is obvious that Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi had to go. He and his collaborators were up to no good and did not share in the values that make for a successful democracy.

This disease of political religion is harmful everywhere. The reason the American Congress is saddled with paralyzing gridlock is because we have elected intransigent fundamentalists, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and so much of the modern Republican Party. Such zealots believe they are taking commands directly from God, which makes it impossible to compromise.

In Turkey, we also see the infection of fundamentalism taking hold. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to dismantle secular society one brick at a time. This tyrant has gone so far as to limit alcohol sales and consumption — jamming his beliefs down the throats of free Turks. Erdoğan’s reaction to the power transfer in Egypt was telling:

“Coups are evil, coups target people, the future, democracy,” Erdoğan said today in Istanbul. “I want this to be expressed by everyone with courage. I am surprised with the West. They couldn’t say ‘coup.’ But I congratulate the African Union which suspended the membership of Cairo.”

Yes — the wonderful African Union – the home of stable, secure governments and the guardian of human rights. I’m glad to see who Erdoğan’s role models truly are.

Erdoğan should watch is step, given the recent protests in his country against his creeping political Islam. Turkey is a sophisticated nation and it is understandable that many of its more educated citizens — particularly in a cosmopolitan city like Istanbul — don’t want to descend back into the dark ages. A non-secular Turkey would be a particular nightmare for women, religious minorities, and LGBT people.

We know this to be true, because there is not one fundamentalist government in the world where citizens are treated with dignity and respect. For example, look at the downward spiral of Russia since it has embraced religious fundamentalism. It has become a third-rate hellhole ruled by the iron fist of Vladimir Putin, who can best be described as a KGB operative masquerading as a Christian. This failed entity called Russia, has become a terror zone for LGBT people and the entire citizenry has lost its basic freedom, with political opponents routinely arrested and persecuted. Not only should Putin be opposed — but this illegitimate dictator should be deposed. (It is almost a sick joke that the Winter Olympics will be held in this police state, giving Putin a rare opportunity to whitewash the disturbing reality of modern Russia).

The reason fundamentalism (regardless of which particular religion) is anathema to democracy is because it is corrosive and coercive by nature. Religion was always meant to be a private affair — where one examines his own conscience. The moment the state enters the fray, it is essentially turning this private matter into one which is public. By necessity, this involves state officials dictating to private citizens what they should believe. This sows irreconcilable conflict — which can only be suppressed through force. When a nation enforces religious homogeneity with guns, it leads to intellectual stagnation and brain drain, because the best and the brightest seek countries where free thought is embraced and celebrated. (It also leads to wars).

The world can be divided into two sets of people: The Rationals v. The Irrationals. In my view, the Obama administration should take every opportunity to support The Rationals. While the events in Egypt are messy and no model for democracy — at least The Rationals have a slim chance of emerging from this chaos as a factor in politics. This would be a huge victory for global human rights, LGBT concerns, women’s issues, liberty, and, in the end, stable democracy.


Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”