Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Separatist movements - the peaceful route to independence?

Scotland, in the end, decided not to be independent. However, it did encourage other separatist movements, many of which supported Scottish referendum. There is evidence that Catalonians from Spain helped the ‘Yes’ vote campaign and many Kashmiris in Scotland and England supported Mr. Salmond’s Scottish National Party, not for any love for an independent Scotland but for its positive implications for Kashmir region. Despite the negative results, referendum has shown that there is no need for fighting or killing for independence in the 21st century. As Jonah Blank, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, writes in the Foreign Policy after the Scottish referendum (See From Glasgow to Kashmir) :
Almost every modern nation has some sort of local separatist movement, and the international community views nearly all of them either with indifference or contempt. Merely to be considered a quasi-legitimate candidate for independence, a group generally has to suffer generations of brutality bordering on genocide. Even then, the odds aren't great. Just ask the Kurds.
The vote in Scotland shows what modern-day secessionism should look like. What if an ethnic group didn't have to justify its bid for a separate state through a saga of historical oppression, or seek to achieve it through a violent insurgency? What if the standard for independence were nothing more than the statement: "We want out." London agreed to take aye for an answer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bhutan: A religious nationalist state??

Bhutan is a small kingdom in Himalayas, between India and China. Not many people know it exist and for a long time, Bhutanese elite were happy for being hidden/separate from the world. Darius Lee discusses Bhutan's constitution and calls it a constitutional theocracy (See Here There be Dragons! Buddhist Constitutionalism in the Hidden Land of Bhutan). For us, it is interesting because it is another example of how national identity and religious identity gets mixed up, giving rise to religious nationalism.

Lee argues that written constitutions are meant to stop power concentration but some countries, which he calls constitutional theocracies, have mixed religion and constitutionalism and damaged the very purpose of constitutions.
The goal of constitutionalism is limited government, which is opposed to any form of absolutism, whether religious, cultural or secular. In an age of human rights, untrammeled government power is circumscribed through constitutionally entrenched fundamental rights, including religious freedom. 
But constitutional theocracies turn it upside down, Lee argues, and use constitutions to legalize curtailment of religious and other freedoms. These constitutional theocracies are different from common theocracies.
Unlike a ‘pure’ theocracy, power in a constitutional theocracy is not drawn directly from divine text or a governing priesthood but lies in political figures operating within the bounds of a written constitution. Constitutional theocracies adhere to the core elements of modern constitutionalism, such as constitutional supremacy but enshrine religion as a source of public law.
The key differences between a secular state and a constitutional theocracy in terms of state structure, as identified by Lee, are given below:

                    Secular state                                                            Constitutional theocracy
       Separation of religion and state                              State recognition of a particular religion as privileged
Benevolent neutrality; accommodates religion                   Not neutral, favors one religion over others
   Religion is not a source of public law                                       Religion is a source of public law

In terms of religious freedom, the key differences are as follows:

                   Secular state                                                             Constitutional theocracy
  State holds no monopoly over religious belief                          Religion is tied with national identity
    Does nothing to control religious doctrine                 Legal sanction for propagation of unorthodox beliefs
Accommodates practices of religious minorities            Limited protection for practices of religious minorities

Lee declares that Bhutan is a constitutional theocracy, like Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, although its 2008 constitution commits to separation of religion and politics and does not declare Buddhism as state religion. In comparison with other Buddhist-majority states, Bhutan falls between Cambodia and Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.  

Although article 3(3) of Bhutan constitution prima facie supports separation of religion and politic, its justification shows that this separation is rooted in Buddhism. Article 3(3) reads:
It shall be the responsibility of religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan. Religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics.
The two reasons given for its inclusion are not related to human rights or freedoms but to Buddhism. This article was included in the constitution first, because Lord Buddha separated religion and politics and secondly, because under the first king of Bhutan, religious and political affairs were separate. 

Other reasons for declaring Bhutan a constitutional theocracy are given below:
  1. Preamble of constitution pays homage to the three gems of Buddhism. 
  2. King must be Buddhist, although he is declared protector of all religions (Article 3(2)). 
  3. Article 3(6) establishes the Dratshang Lhentshog (Commission for the Monastic Affairs) and Buddhist religious bodies are funded by the state. 
  4. Some part of the ecclesiastical structure of the Dratshang Lhentshog and the qualifications for religious office are given in the Bhutan Constitution, reflecting the privileged position of Buddhism.
  5. In Bhutan, Buddhism is considered a major part of Bhutanese culture and the state considers it its responsibility to defend it. For example, article 4(1) asks the state to ‘preserve, protect and promote the cultural heritage of the country, including… religion’.
  6. Article 9(20) of the Constitution asks the state to ‘create conditions that will enable the true and sustainable development of a good and compassionate society rooted in Buddhist ethos and universal human values.’ 
Using examples from penal code and other laws, Lee further demonstrates the close link between state and majority religion, negating the notion that Bhutanese state is neutral in matters of religion or that religious minorities are not discriminated.  

While Lee's arguments about Bhutan not being a secular state are strong, his definition of constitutional theocracies needs more elaboration because if we define constitutional theocracies only on the basis of how much privilege the constitutional clauses grant to majority religion in these countries then many other (quite liberal and secular) countries have to be called constitutional theocracies which they are not. For example, as Lee acknowledges, many West European democracies have established churches. Their constitutions privilege majority religion. Can we call them constitutional theocracies, like Iran? I think Lee would not agree.

On the other hand, if we  give importance to not only constitutions but all the other factors (like Lee does in case of Bhutan) in defining constitutional theocracies then is it right to call them constitutional theocracies? 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Governments are supporting or controlling religion?

How do we know governments are controlling or supporting religion? Same laws and actions can be used for controlling religion as for supporting religion. For example, a government can give money to religious schools to impose curriculum of its choice (controlling religion) or to promote the majority religion (supporting religion). Similarly, a government can take control of religious endowments to make them more efficient and to use their funds for repair/maintenance of religious sites (supporting religion) or to dry the main source of funding for independent clerics, thus allow its (paid) clerics to dominate the religious discourse (controlling religion). Jonathan Fox, one of the leading scholars working on State-religion relationship, argues that it is difficult to be definite about it as it is almost impossible to be certain of what are government leaders' motivations for a particular (in)action (See his talk on Political secularism, religion and the state).

In some cases, however, the main primary motivator is not ambiguous. In Communist states, because of their Marxist-Leninist ideology, anti-religious rhetoric of the leadership and repression of all religions in public sphere, one can safely assume that the government is trying to control religion. Consider Soviet Union, for example. Lenin wrote against religion and called it a spiritual booze as well as opium (like Marx), probably because, in early 20th century Russia, booze was much more popular than opium. (See Socialism and Religion: Lenin)
Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practice charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.
Moreover, there were anti-religious campaigns in USSR. These campaigns included damaging churches, murdering of priests and other acts of violence and suppression; actions that cannot be construed in any way as supporting religion (See Russian orthodox church). 
By 1918 the government had nationalized all church property, including buildings. In the first five years of the Soviet Union (1922-26), twenty-eight Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were executed, and many others were persecuted. Most seminaries were closed, and publication of most religious material was prohibited. The next quarter-century saw surges and declines in arrests, enforcement of laws against religious assembly and activities, and harassment of clergy. Antireligious campaigns were directed at all faiths; beginning in the 1920s, Buddhist and Shamanist places of worship in Buryatia, in the Baikal region, were destroyed, and their lamas and priests were arrested (a practice that continued until the 1970s). The League of the Militant Godless, established in 1925, directed a nationwide campaign against the Orthodox Church and all other organized religions. The extreme position of that organization eventually led even the Soviet government to disavow direct connection with its practices. In 1940 an estimated 30,000 religious communities of all denominations survived in all the Soviet Union, but only about 500 Russian Orthodox parishes were open at that time, compared with the estimated 54,000 that had existed before World War I.

Similarly, in case of many assertive or aggressive secular states, like France and Turkey, because of their strong anti-clericalism bent, it is clear that the motivation is that of control, not promotion of religion. Following is an excerpt of Ataturk's speech from the early days of the Turkish Republic:
Gentlemen and Great Nation! Know it well that the Turkish Republic cannot be a country of sheikhs, dervishes, disciples and lunatics. The correct road is the road of civilization.

And a paragraph about the de-christianization campaign of early days of revolutionary France (See Religion, Society and Politics in France since 1789, page 1):
During the course of the year II much of France was subjected to a campaign of dechristianization, the aim of which was the eradication of Catholic religious practice, and Catholicism itself. The campaign, which was at its most intense in the winter and spring of 1793-94, but which began as early as the summer of 1793 in some regions, and continued after the fall of Robespierre in August 1794 in a few areas, comprised a number of different activities. These ranged from the removal of plate, statues and other fittings from the places of worship, the destruction of crosses, bells, shrines and other ‘external signs of worship’, the closure of churches, the enforced abdication and occasionally, the marriage of constitutional priests, the substitution of a Revolutionary calendar for the Gregorian one, the alteration of personal and place names which had any ecclesiastical connotations to more suitably Revolutionary ones, through to the promotion of new cults, notably those of Reason and one Supreme Being.
Perhaps one clue to solve this puzzle is the attitude and behavior of governing elite. If they show respect to religious symbols and try to demonstrate that they are not against religion, then they are supporting religion. The operative word here is 'demonstrate'. Most elite will claim that they are not against religion; only against a particular 'subversive' version of religion. So, if the behavior shows that governing elite are against religion, then most probably they are controlling religion, not supporting it.