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. New York Times columnist David Brooks put it succinctly:
"Once elected, the Brotherhood subverted judicial review, cracked down on civil society, arrested opposition activists, perverted the constitution-writing process, concentrated power and made democratic deliberations impossible.
It's no use lamenting Morsi's bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam. We've seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.
The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It's necessary to investigate the core of a party's beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process."
Political religious parties are a worldwide cancer. They create violence, suppression of minorities, the undermining of liberty, and subversion of free and open societies wherever they rear their ugly head. Only secular governments can create a level playing field that allows all members of society -- including those who are religious -- to participate in civil government. The more entwined religion is with state -- no matter what the faith -- the worse the outcome will be, because fundamentalists of all stripes are uniquely incapable of governing. Their arrogance is unsurpassed and their addiction to death and martyrdom destabilizes healthy societies.
This disease of political religion is harmful everywhere. The reason the American Congress is saddled with paralyzing gridlock is because we have elected intransigent politicians, 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. After all, if God is on your side and then you strike a deal, aren't you betraying the Lord? Such attitudes have made governing at home nearly impossible.
In Turkey, we also see the infection of fundamentalism taking hold. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to dismantle secular society in this proud nation 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 thug 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.)
In a sort-of positive development, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad assailed political Islam.
"Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world."
Let's forget for a moment that Assad is a brutal dictator and mass murderer who probably used gas on his own people. Let's ignore that he is theocratic Iran's crucial ally. Let's turn a blind eye to the hypocritical and opportunistic reality that he has cynically used Hezbollah (Party of God) fighters from Lebanon to stay in power. The bigger picture is that there are finally Arab leaders -- from Egypt to Syria -- speaking out against the tyranny of political Islam. It is critical that the current crises is used to grow, support, and empower secular forces in the region. Only by extracting the cancer of fundamentalism, will the Middle East have a fighting chance of joining modern society and ending the cycle of religious wars that have decimated the region.
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 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.