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The Break-Up: Politics and Religion
Muslim leader calls for the withdrawal of religion from politics - is it time for them to go their separate ways?
Wednesday, 25 November, 2009 | 09:00

When speaking at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week, HRH Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan highlighted the importance of multilateral cooperation and the necessity to separate religion from politics, or rather “elevate religion to where it rightly belongs”. The Prince advocated the removal of religious doctrine from politics for world leaders to be able to solve mounting global challenges in an efficient way.

Multilateral discussions that aim to solve the challenges facing our global community—poverty, climate-change, war and nuclear weapons—might be more successful in terms of brokering agreements if nations argue from similar unconflicted points of view. When political groups harness support and legitimacy through religious standings, they create loyal groupings and claim supporters on the basis of trust and personal choice. This can, however, be alientating for those outside the religious sphere. It is therefore difficult for foreign politicians and international interest groups to know which strategy to use when entering into negotiations.

In Western Europe, religion has largely disappeared from politics during the last century, and has become a more private pursuit. Western governments mostly look to perform their duties without seeking political legitimacy through religion, or attempting to apply religious values to their policies.

The opposite case is the Islamic Republic of Iran, where religion plays an all too important part in governmental procedures. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously publicly announced how the Hidden Imam, so important to Shi’ia Muslims, controls the country's political machine. According to Shi’ias, the Hidden Imam is incapable of wrong judgment. Thus, incorporating religious ideas into his politics enables Mr Ahmedinejad to avoid any blame and puts him in a position where political legitimacy is in fact religious legitimacy.

This discrepency in outlook between the West and East makes for difficult political negotiations. There is an urgent need for the gap to be bridged, and for leaders to find communally beneficial solutions to challenges through a cooperative effort. This is impossible if leaders are confronting each other not only with differing political perspectives, but with different religious perspectives coming into play as well.

A secular state will have problems negotiating with a nation that puts too much emphasis on religion, and misuses it with the effect of diverging from the common values of liberal democracy held by international agreements such as the Geneva Convention. Prince El Hassan was right when saying that religion needs to be elevated to where it belongs: outside the realm of politics. 

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