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Aysha Taryam: Democracy resurrects the religious
January 17, 2012
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The first leg of the race for the 2012 United States’ presidency has taken off with the primary elections and the politicians’ gloves have officially come off. Although it is too early to make any solid predictions as to which candidate will be nominated for either party so far in the Republican race Mitt Romney’s numbers show he is pushing slightly ahead of the rest.

Romney ticks all the Republican Party boxes. He is a well-connected businessman, has a political background having been Governor of Massachusetts, he ran for the 2008 presidential elections and dare I say he is also a male Caucasian. With the Republican Party struggling to find a solid candidate to go head to head with the Democrats, Romney seems like the obvious choice, only he is not. With Fox News Channel, the Republican Party’s greatest propaganda machine, spewing anti-Romney statements it is safe to say that Romney is not the party’s preferred candidate.

In the past Romney’s views have contradicted the party’s political position but he has since mended his ways, which leaves us with one remaining Romney-factor that could be justification enough for the Republican Party’s turned up nose. The main reason for Romney’s alienation lies in his faith.

Romney is a Mormon. Mormonism is a religion that spurs from Christianity and follows The Church of Jesus Christ Later-day Saints. It is a religious movement that is considered by many Americans as being more of a cult than a religious group, and because of its strict beliefs, is usually shrouded in negative connotations.

Mormonism among other things is known to practise the law of chastity before marriage, have a strict code against any addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine and support polygamy. Taking into consideration that the Republican Party is mostly made up of evangelicals Romney’s religion is constantly being scrutinised by the other candidates in hopes of swaying the voters.

In an ideal democracy, such as the one the United States aspires to be, one’s religious beliefs should not factor into the equation of a potential president’s qualifications and ability to run a country. The first amendment of the Bill of Rights separated religion from state yet ironically religion remains a major deciding factor in American elections. Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy had to defend his Catholic faith in a speech saying:

“So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.”

Reality does not portray this idealism for even in the most democratic parts of the world we find presidents fighting this prejudice. After four years in the White House President Barack Obama is still being scrutinised for his background and faith. Some claim he is in fact a Muslim, while others believe he is not, they still question the degree of his Christianity based on the number of Church appearances he has made and the references to God in his speeches.

While emphasis on faith and religious beliefs seems to be an important catalyst for the American candidates we are seeing quite the opposite reaction happening in the Middle East.

Islamic parties are steering away from religious aspects of their beliefs and focusing more on greater impending ones. In 2002, the Turkish people voted overwhelmingly for Tayyip Erdogan a representative of the Islamic Justice and Development Party bearing in mind this is the same nation belonging to Kemal Ataturk, the man who separated religious and governmental affairs, and who believed that it is only through which modernity and culture can be achieved. After winning the parliamentary elections in Morocco, the Islamic Justice and Development Party immediately asserted that there will be no morality police or ban on alcohol and women shall not be forced to wear the veil. This formula has proved successful in winning voters’ confidence for other Islamic parties in Tunisia and Egypt as well.

The people are speaking, and their voices are going for the religious, be it Mormons in the White House or the Islamic parties in the Arab Spring’s newly-born democracies, we are bearing witness to nations leaning towards what history fought to subdue.

After witnessing so much political corruption have we come to the age where we call on faith to take a seat at the head of the political table? The fear is never of religion but of those who take its name in vain, the idea is not losing faith but being blinded by it.

If indeed what we desire is democracy then we must adhere to its rules and believe it when it calls on respecting the people’s voice no matter what it shouts for. If today that voice shouts for Mormons and the Muslim Brotherhood then we must stand aside and let democracy have its way, otherwise we should not call for it in the first place.

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