By Mohamed Salmawy
1 May, 2014
“There has been much talk in Egypt since the fall of Muslim Brotherhood rule of the need to separate religion from the state. But the reality is that political Islam remains a fact of life in the Arab region, regardless of the fall Muslim Brotherhood,” said the prominent German scholar.
His remark surprised me because the entire European Renaissance could not have occurred without the separation between the church and state. I said, “in the Middle Ages, and the Dark Ages as you call them, you experienced a condition similar to that to which the proponents of political Islam aspire. In Europe, it was the church that ruled. Progress only became possible in the Renaissance by ending the intervention of the church in political affairs. You were fortunate in that the church at the time did not resort to violence and terrorism. However, before this it had been responsible for much tyranny and fanaticism which occurs when religious dogma, which is absolutist, prevails over political reasoning, which is relative.”
“But the situation in your case is different. You may have to live with political Islam for many years to come.”
“The blood that is flowing in the streets every day is the greatest proof of the impossibility of that,” I responded. “Just as the inquisitions were the greatest proofs of the need to prevent the intervention of religion in people’s civil life, in the freedom of belief and in the judiciary. The terrorism that we suffer from today is the ultimate proof of the failure of political Islam to practice politics in accordance with the established rules. It is a daily reminder of the need to keep religion and politics separate.”
He said, “but society must reach that conviction in a natural way. I do not believe that Arab societies or Muslim societies, in general, have reached that point yet.”
“So, it’s about Arab backwardness versus Western progress. What applies to you doesn’t apply to us. Do you really subscribe to that racist outlook? Are you suggesting that whereas you in the West could effect the separation between religion and the state which you regard as a hallmark of your progress, we in the Arab world are doomed to continue with the unhealthy mixture between the two because our societies have not sufficiently matured? For centuries Arab civilisation had been far in advance of European civilisation.
In fact, had it not been for the advancements achieved by the Arabs your European Renaissance would never have occurred. Today, Arab societies seek to emerge from the mires of underdevelopment the ills of which they have suffered for so long. Yet you think that instead of moving forward they should turn back to the conditions of your Middle Ages which your societies boast of having conquered.”