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A lesson from Pakistan on letting religion dominate politics

This news story was published on March 1, 2012.
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MCT FORUM, By Faheem Younus –

Watching Rick Santorum rise in the polls by positioning himself as the real Christian presidential candidate is like watching the sequel of a horror movie — one I literally lived through in the 1980s while growing up in Pakistan. There, another religious zealot, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, played the lead role of the real Muslim.

The plot went like this: The clerics called for candidates with “true” Muslim values, the masses demanded a “Muslim candidate for a Muslim state,” the leaders proved their “Muslimness” by quoting scripture and calling others lesser Muslims, and the candidate who was able to appease the clergy privately and please the masses publicly held on to power. The never-ending horror in the name of religion is what followed in Pakistan.

A somewhat similar fusion of church and candidate is apparent in this Republican primary season, where nearly every Republican candidate — except Ron Paul, who would not and Mitt Romney, who could not — has been a rabble-rouser, playing the religion card to rally the conservative Christian base.

Since I have seen a secular country morphing into a theocracy at the hands of a religious fanatic, trust me when I tell you: The aggressive display of theology in our political discourse by the Republican Party in general and Rick Santorum in particular is chipping away at the Jeffersonian wall of separation between church and state.

Realize, though, that I do want to hear what my candidates believe in — what shapes them, what riles them, what motivates them. But that is different than saying, “At the end of the day, I’d rather have a president who worships the same God as I do.” (A voter in South Carolina actually said that to a New York Times reporter.)

While Article Six of the U.S. Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any U.S. Office or public Trust,” such voter preferences become a de facto religious test for the candidate — a test that he or she must pass.

Rick Santorum has no plans to fail that test. Back in 2002, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, he blamed President John F. Kennedy for making a distinction between private religious convictions and publicly held positions. More recently, he is winning over voters in the Rust Belt by claiming that President Barack Obama’s agenda is “not a theology based on the Bible,” but “a different theology.”

As Santorum’s rise to the top of the GOP field demonstrates, this “I-am-the-real-religious-candidate” strategy works. It worked for Zia-ul-Haq when he won the 1984 referendum by asking Pakistanis, “Do you wish Pakistan to be an Islamic state?” And it seems to be working for Mr. Santorum as he is essentially asking GOP primary voters, “Do you wish America to be a Christian state?”

To argue that candidates like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain lost despite their public displays of Christianity, and therefore we need not worry about Mr. Santorum, would be a fatal error of judgment. It’s not only about winning; it’s also about changing the norms of political discourse between voters and candidates. Over the past 50 years, Pakistan’s religious parties have never won more than 12 percent of the vote. But playing the religion card publicly has conditioned the politicians to declare their “Muslimness” and conditioned the masses to the point that a political rally now sounds like a mosque sermon.

So let’s demand a separation between church and candidate. Mr. Santorum, don’t talk about who belongs to which “stripe of Christianity”; embrace all the stripes, colors and stars. Don’t hint about who is the real Christian candidate; instead, be the real American candidate.

For those who see nothing wrong with this public amalgamation of church and candidate, please consider viewing the horrors of the pseudo-Islamization of Pakistan — the once secular and currently sixth-most-populous country in the world. Chances are, you would say no to a sequel.

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5 Responses to A lesson from Pakistan on letting religion dominate politics

  1. WHAT Reply Report comment

    March 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    There is a pecking order in society and one group will also try to remain in charge. This is in every organization out there. (Business, government, Religion, worldwide) The group in charge always wants another group to do the work, and pay the bills. I believe there are so many religious groups out there because thru history one class of people got sick of the so call right group that was taking advantage of them, that they formed their own group and started the same process over. We now have a group that want to control the masses and make the masses live by their rules and they are calling it Christianity. Some of the issues would be birth control, gay marriage, and the list goes on and on. I don’t have a problem with Christ it is the so called Christians that I have trouble with. Not all just the one that try to impose their believes and value on others when behind closed doors they are some of the most evil people around and live the furthest from what should be considered right and moral. Many in the Republican Party fall in to that group in my view, not all, but a good number of them. It seems that they use Christianity as a club and not to help others. Instead of judging others they should let their god do that and worry less about others and take care of themselves. We do not want these types of people running OUR country.

  2. Katie Reply Report comment

    March 1, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I once was undercharged for a cabinet at Menard’s. I went back to pay the difference when I realized the mistake. The man who helped me said, “You are such a good Christian.”. I told him I wasn’t a Christian. His mouth dropped open and he didn’t know what to say.

    Christians need to realize that there are all kinds of religions out there with good sets of ethics. I’m beginning to feel as if we are becoming the same kind of nation as the Islamic nations, Israel, etc. Our main religion is going to identify who we are. Rick Santorum may be surprised. Down the road, it might not be Christianity.

    I believe in strict separation of church and state. Personally, I don’t think the founding fathers meant that ministers should be exempt from social security taxes or that anyone should be able to become a minister of any fringe church. The entire tax-free concept has gotten out of hand. Think of all the property that is exempt from real estate tax simply because it is owned by a church somewhere up the line.

    I am a fiscal conservative, but a social moderate on the current issues. Rick Santorum is a social paranoid. I think he believes he’s just as Messianic as Obama did.

  3. Observer Reply Report comment

    March 1, 2012 at 11:06 am

    A Godless society (nation) cannot last. We expect this society, built upon laws of right and wrong, having the reliance of it’s people to follow those laws. The national debate, as long as our country has been, is what is right, and what is wrong. It still continues. Belief systems play into those debates, as well they should, because the result governs all people.

    The result has been, rules everyone no matter for their faith, or lack thereof, freely follows. And the guarantees of the Establishment Clause facilitate that. Jefferson’s “wall of separation”. Without such, a great many people in the U.S. would become disenfranchised (Anabaptists, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, ect).

    The writer of this article makes a very valid point. A piece from December on the BBC also made that point, voters were choosing not by general qualifications, but on relgious ones, in particular, Social Conservatives. It is not hard at all to propose that those voters use religion as the only qualification, despite the Sixth Amendment. That should worry people.

    One needs look no further than Iowa, to see the chasm religion has played in this election, and the motivations behind choices. Perhaps the most vile of examples is the actions of some, revealed in their desire to discriminate against certain groups based not on law, but their own religious beliefs. Something we as a people (religious or otherwise) have passed laws to prevent. That is something to which every citizen should raise an eyebrow towards.

    And if elected, would they stop at that one issue? What group would be next? Maybe you? So much for the good of the whole.

  4. Larry Reply Report comment

    March 1, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Nothing scares me more than the politician who constantly flaunts his faith. Over the years I have been involved with christian, religious people in business and for the most part the more they flaunt how good they are the bigger crooks they are. Religion for the most part is based on fiction. Now, I know this will make some people mad but the Bible and Koran are books written by men to control men. Secular religion has no business in government. How can you be fair and impartial to all men when your beliefs get in the way.

    • Watcher Reply Report comment

      March 1, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Nothing scare me more than a politician who doesn’t believe in anything. Goes well to prove the statement “if you don’t believe in something, you will fall for anything” And a non-believing politician just draws non-believing followers, and so on and so on. Next thing you know people don’t believe in their government anymore… oops too late.