A friend of mine who has quite a knack for political analysis wrote this about the growing crisis in Iraq:
The problem is that elections don’t work very well in places that do not have a homogeneous population, especially if they have no history of democratic institutions. If you count forced relocation as a kind of genocide, what happened in Europe after the Treaty of Versailles poured democracy over everything was about as big an episode of genocide as the world has ever seen.
Right now, Iraq sits on the very brink of a civil war with world-wide repercussions that will also wreck whatever is left of a fragile democracy. Much of this may stem from a non-homogeneous population.
A homogeneous population shares basic concepts and values that provide adequate foundation so inevitable differences can be bridged in conversation, discussion, elections and debate. Those shared concepts translate into a shared vocabulary where words mean essentially the same across other differences.
A non-homogeneous population, however, operates without that central shared core. The same word can be something radically different depending on which side of the divide a person lives and learns.
Why is Iraq without that core?
On first glance, it should be a relatively cohesive society. The vast majority of the citizens are Muslim, holding to the five pillars of Islam: belief in God, daily prayer, fasting, charity and hajj (pilgrimage). The problem stems from the successor to the Prophet Muhammed, who founded Islam in the 7th century.
The minority Sunnis agreed that the prophet’s friend, Abu Bakr, could take over leadership. The majority Shiite felt bloodlines mattered more and the reins should have gone to Ali bin Abu Talib, the prophet’s cousin and also son-in-law.
That divide has been exacerbated by centuries of mistrust, the need to consolidate rather than share power, and radically different understandings of what an Islamist-based society looks like. Religious differences have fractured shared values.
I have said before that it is impossible to separate religion from politics and not only in religiously-based societies like Iraq or Afghanistan. So, let’s transfer what is happening so far way to what is happening right before us in the US.
Here, unspoken religious values radically influence political decisions. Many of those unspoken religious values are simply not shared across the entire population base in the US. We face similar dangers to Iraq in our democratic structures.
Personally, I am seeing some US political platforms veer in the direction of what is called “restoration theology.” This is an idea that the Bible, particularly the sections of law found in the older portions of the Hebrew text, becomes the law of the land.
Far more than the pretty generic–and helpful–Ten Commandments, we now see a basis for some extreme homophobic stances, such as in the stoning of gays, recently suggested as acceptable by an Oklahoma politician and laws that seriously restrict the freedom of women. There is also more of a basis here for excluding a significant number of people, i.e., the “aliens,” from normal societal rights and privileges.
All the above can be considered “biblical.” But just like the Sunni-Shia divide, an equally big divide separates many in the US who also wish to honor the scriptures and live in a more just and welcoming society where all humans should be treated with dignity and respect.
I suggest that this is becoming a deeper and deeper divide. These radically different Christian viewpoints are both based on the Bible. In Iraq, the radically different viewpoints are both based on the five pillars of Islam.
We in the US are becoming a far more fragile non-homogeneous society. I fear intractable and often unexamined religious beliefs underlie much of this.