Rationality, a Prerequisite for Lasting Peace
(Contribution in a Panel discussion titled “The role of secular governance in world peace”)
A discussion about the role of secular governance in world peace necessarily leads to the proposition that meddling of religion in state affairs is at the least one of the sources of conflicts. This theory cannot be denied in light of the history of innumerable civil unrests and wars waged in the name of religion. However, the same history shows us that even secular states made wars, and many times over. Is it because secularism did not succeed to take religion out of governance? Is there a means to cleanse politics from religion?
Secular governance is not true separation, hence no peace
The term secularism is used generally to represent the principle of “separation of Church and state”. Secularism is no doubt the child of 16 and 17 centuries Enlightenment. But, the Church put up a fierce fight to deny the sovereignty of people, and to retain its power for another three hundred years. This tug of war gradually ended in a tie called “secularism”; sort of a balance, or a “separate but equal” dualism. It is a compromise in the absence of victory by either side. A couple of weeks ago I heard yet another description of secularism from a French professor, that “it is a relation between religion and politics”. I thought this may be another way of referring to what I call compromise.
Secularism has two major shortcomings. First, secularism is the child of “half-pregnancy”; because, secularism, as practiced, keeps the state out of religion, but does not keep religion out of the state. In our US example, the wording of the last provision of the Constitution, which led to the adoption of the first provision of the Bill of Rights, set the scene for this malpractice. For examples of the meddling of religion in political decision-making in the US, just recall what G. Bush II said at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention 2005, “I welcome faith to help solve the nation’s deepest problems”. No wander then, when asked whether he consulted the former President, his father, G. Bush I before going to war in Iraq, he answered he consulted his higher father; and the same year in an address to Palestinian leaders he said, “I am driven with a mission from God”. J. Carter stated in his book “Our Endangered Values” (2005), “religious beliefs have been inextricably entwined with the political principles I have adopted”. Similar examples can be found for many presidents, and in our daily political life, or sadly even in Supreme Court decisions. Chief Justice W. Rhenquist, in a minority opinion, referred to the separation of church and state as, “a metaphor which has proven useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned”. If governance is tainted with religion where politicians struggle for power, religion becomes the power. Yet, we still try to spread secularism worldwide along with freedom and democracy. I would say, secular governance is not true separation of Church and state; hence, No true separation, No lasting peace.
Secularism, not being universal, does not promise peace
The other problem with secularism is that it is the product of only the Christian culture. Its reference point was the biblical concept of separating Caesar and God. Accordingly, men’s rights and freedom were also given recognition while still clinging on to the spiritual power. Consequently, it was agreed that men could govern their worldly affairs. This worldview, however, is absent, in particular, in the Muslim world. There was no such reference point as Caesar and God at the inception of Islam; there is only God, and the guardian of his message is the state. God’s power cannot be shared or relinquished in Islam. While there is no organization in Islam, every real Muslim is a soldier, a defender, and thus a loose cannon of Islam. This is what makes peace difficult to reach in today’s world. You will have to go to war, if you are attacked, whether or not you are secular. Secularism, not being universal, it does not promise peace.
Laic governance promises true separation, hence peace
The immediate remedy found for the shortcomings of secularism was a stricter separation of Church and State. Although, the separation concept was put on paper with the American Bill of Rights of 1791, and the French Constitution of 1795, religion continued to influence conservative representatives in both parliaments. This interference made it necessary to introduce a stricter separation. The concept of “laicism” was born in a 1905 law in France, and remarkably in the education system first.
The laic concept, in my own words, is “humans, being social animals, they get organized; THEY form the state, not God; therefore, the state may only be laic”.
Of course, we have to put laicism to the same test of whether it helps peace, as we do secularism. I will take the two best known and maybe the only examples of the relation between laic policies and peaceful international relations, the policies of T. Jefferson and Ataturk. I need not quote here documents, like Jefferson letters or Ataturk speeches, with which you all are familiar. I will refer to only some of their deeds to demonstrate my point. Of course, Jefferson preceded the emergence of laicism by about 100 years, but I believe he was the precursor of laicism, because of his famous and striking description of the “separation” concept as a “wall”. During his presidency, he did not go to war. He refused to go against France during the Napoleonic wars, despite all the domestic and foreign pressures, nor against Britain, which engaged in a trade war with the US. He achieved the largest territorial expansion in the US history, peacefully, through the famous Louisiana Purchase. Then, he opened the possibility of marching further West, by launching the Lewis and Clark expedition, instead of embarking on a military expedition. Ataturk did not go to war either during his presidency. He reversed, through skillful diplomacy, the Lausanne Treaty provisions that limited Turkey’s sovereignty over the Istanbul waterways. He achieved the accession of Hatay province to Turkey through diplomacy. During the inter-war period, he formed regional alliances, which included countries that fought against Turkey during WWI and even those that invaded it after the war, in both of which he had actively served as the victorious commander. Although one hundred years and thousands of miles apart, one common point between these two men was that they were both believers in reason, thus they both approached international affairs peacefully. Their examples of laic governance, therefore, may promise us peace.
Laic governance alone does not ensure sustainability of peace
However, although these two examples suggest that there may be a correlation between laic leadership and peace; their peaceful policies did not last long either, after their demise. Soon after the term of office of Jefferson expired, the U.S. went to war with Britain. Ataturk’s laicism fell victim to the vagaries of democracy. The religious majority delivered totalitarianism in Turkey. The current Islamist dictator of Turkey dragged a good part of the international community into the neighboring Syrian quagmire; the quagmire that was the extension of the one created in Iraq by the American leader, who took advice from his higher father. Medieval, barbaric, savage actions ongoing in the Middle East in the name of religion, are enough proof that secularism or even laicism in governance is not enough for achieving global peace. Laicity of governance alone does not ensure sustainability of peace.
Laic education is the prerequisite for sustainable peace
Jefferson and Ataturk examples show that peace achieved by laic governance is fragile if citizens, or at least a good majority of them, do not subscribe to laicism. The two leaders mentioned foreshadowed also a solution for this. The only war Jefferson declared during his presidency was against “tyranny over the mind of man” (UVA, LoC). Ataturk’s only war in peace-time was for modern education, science and progress. Ataturk’s laicism, having also included laic education, was the perfect prescription especially for the Muslim world. A good majority of the population must believe in the absolute separation of religion and state for democracy and peace to succeed. Global peace will remain a distant ideal, without a true separation of Church and state being generally accepted through the education of masses for reasoning, instead for believing.
Before I conclude, let me share with you an experience of the Atatürk Society of America’s first president O. Tarhan, because I find it demonstrates so well the argument for laic education. He once asked a French Franciscan priest how he reconciled his priesthood with the Laic politics of his country. The answer was simple but striking, “I am a French citizen”. The priest’s answer shows that in a truly laic system even a cleric can be laic, as he must be, when it concerns politics. Laic education of people, as much as laic governance, is the prerequisite of a sustainable peace.
April 2016, sociopoliticalviews.blogspot.com (with permission)