Sample Paper on Politics and Religion in the Middle East: Concept of the Political

Introduction

In the description of the political, Carl Schmitt posits that the political is part of inherent human nature and that it cannot be abolished because of this inherency. This implies that whatever remains on earth, all that is required is two individuals of opposing ideals to start politics. Declarations of peace or love, which are attempts at eliminating politics and creating harmony, just take politics to the next level rather than eliminating it (Schmitt, 2010). As such, any efforts to abolish politics can be equated to efforts to eliminate honesty about politics. It is therefore crucial to understand that such efforts are finite and have limited scopes. For this reason, politics is considered a distinguishing factor between different categories of people and that those differences should be significantly distinct as to enable the conflicting parties to kill or die for whatever they believe in. It is this premise and description of the political that forms the background for the distinction between an enemy and a friend, or rather ‘them’ and ‘us’. Beginning from this principle, the relationship between different factions of people can be drawn. It is on the basis of this theory that political and religious relationships can be explored.

From the description of the political adopted from Carl Schmitt’s theory, this study explores the concept of religious integration into politics in the Middle East. This is founded on the classification of people into ‘them’ and ‘us’, a practice that is common within the Islamic religious practice. If religion deciphers between people on the basis of their ideals, it means that the religion is a political form. Essentially, the religious practices in places where such creed-based distinction is rampant can be described more like a political process, than the extent to which the politics of those nations can be said to be influenced by religion. Moreover, from Schmitt’s theory, this distinction into friend and enemy based on ideological differences is inherent to man and cannot be wished away. From this perspective, the integration of religion in the political practices of the Middle East nations provide a perfect example of the impression that conflict is inevitable and that the dream of abolishing conflict is utopian. Religion is considered the foundation of all principles of peace and love, and the inevitability of conflict even within a religious context confirms that humans are predisposed to disagree. Learning how to optimize life experiences even under the predisposition to conflict is a practice that is only learnt by accepting that conflict is inevitable and cannot be abolished.

Characteristics of the Political

The concept of the political describes the distinction of friend and enemy based on five key characteristics. Johnson (2011), also expounds on the five implications of the friend versus enemy as given by Schmitt. The first premise for this distinction is that the distinction is collective rather than individual. It is an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ concept in which every person considers those with whom they share ideologies as the in-group while those who do not share their ideologies are the out-group. The ideologies shared may be on religion, politics or even concepts of social life (Schmitt, 2010). While this premise expands and de-personalizes human relationships particularly friendship and enmity, it creates the perception that no one can ever have an ideology that is independent of those of others. Moreover, it raises questions as to whether all those who do not posses similar beliefs as a given group qualifies to be treated as an enemy. This first argument posits that private adversaries are not enemies of the public. Rather, the concept of the political is such that people take sides and anyone who is not on one’s side is automatically labeled an enemy while those who are on the same side are labeled as friends.

The second distinction between friend and enemy in accordance with Schmitt’s theory is polemical. This implies that in a relationship with enemies, there is always a resident potential for violence. The same potential does not exist among friends; even among enemies, fighting is not always inevitable. There must not be actual fighting between the two groups but there must be the potential. In this regard, Schmitt specifies that neither the sole objective nor the sole content of the political is group conflict. However, differences between people and strained relationships result in the possibility of conflict. Also, the possibility of inter-group conflict is what results in the political dimension of social existence. This implies that in any context where there is this segregation into ‘them’ and ‘us’, there has to be the propensity for conflict in order for that context to be described as political, and for the distinction between friends and enemies to be clear.

Additionally, Schmitt describes the distinction between friend and enemy as existentially serious. This is obtained from the perception that where there are enemies, probably due to the possibility of conflict, there are high chances of eruption of violent conflict. This is serious because the conflict can be so violent as to result in death. Consequently, it is deductible that where there is collective distinction between friend and enemy, the resulting violence can be a cause of unprecedented death. The fourth distinction is that the concepts of friend and enemy are irreducible to no other distinction. For instance, there can be no assumption that the friend equates to good and the enemy equates to bad. This implies that friendship and enmity are relative while morality is absolute. This distinction is also linked to the final rationale provided by Schmitt, which is that although it is impossible to reduce the friend/ enemy distinction any further, other relationships can degenerate to the political if and when they portray the other four friend/ enemy distinctions. Economic, philosophical and religious relations can easily degenerate into political relationships.

The concept of the political as provided by Schmitt refers more to the relationship between nations and peoples and to international relationships than it refers to domestic politics. As such, rivalries between politicians and other political factions, or any other engagements within a social set-up, which are confined to the laws of the land, do not constitute political enmity. This enmity rises once they confirm violation of certain practices which are in accordance with the law. Where there is a conflict between the political and other courses of life, the political is bound to win due to its seriousness, or commitment to the point of ultimate sanction. The focus of the political is on the relations between the citizens and the sovereign states. Domestic relations can however become political when citizens are involved in a civil unrest or a revolution.

Religion in the Middle East and the Concept of the Political

The concept of the political as discussed distinguishes friend/ enemy based on various characteristics. These characteristics, when considered in the context of religious and political relationships in the Middle East, give the perception of a political religion, in which there is a clear indication of friends and enemies. Kazmi (n.d) purports that the embedment of religion in the political systems of the Middle East is founded on the structure of the region, which is drawn from the region’s history. The region’s history is such that the governments of most of the countries were formed through collaboration between religion and tradition in the regions. The relationship between the two aspects of life has resulted in clear distinction into the concepts of friend and enemy, which can be understood from the context shared by the concept of the political. Most of the monotheist religions in the world today including Judaism, Islam and Christianity, have found their roots in the Middle East region, resulting in the development of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ perspective.

From the first premise of distinction, the collectivity of the concept of friend versus enmity is visible. The monotheist religion, Islam, which is the premise upon which the political beliefs in the Middle East are founded, forms a strong foundation for the consideration of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ perspective. Muslims believe that Islam is the only true religion, (the ‘us’) and that Allah is the only true God. To them, people of all other religious faiths are infidels. It is based on this belief that any actions or decisions that is seen to contradict a particular part of the Islamic teachings, is considered an enemy. Moreover, since the politics of the region and its religion are intricately connected, one cannot sever the link between the two. Understanding the regions politics requires a prior understanding of the region’s religion. The same religion, just like in Judaism, has been used as a way of legitimizing other actions that could be linked more to the political than to the religious. With the consideration of the friend versus enemy distinction and the perception that a private enemy is not necessarily a public enemy, it appears that the religio-political situation in the Middle East is such that one can cause harm to another, but the fact that he/ she professes the same religion as the victim is sufficient reason to be treated as a friend. The way in which the Middle East countries, particularly those under ISIS, treat non-Muslims is also another evidence of the collectivist distinction of friend versus enemy.

Religious integration into politics also satisfies the second distinction of friend versus enemy in the Middle East. The polemical distinction points out the potential for violence between political groupings. In the context of the Middle East, Tessler (2002) reports that monotheist religions resident in the Middle East including Islam and Judaism, often use their religion as a justification for war, described as holy war. This not only proves the resident potential for war in political systems but also confirms that the wars are conducted due to the distinction between friend and enemy. In the Islamic countries, ‘holy wars’ referred to as jihad, are common, as was evidenced in the nations of Iran, Iraq, and Syria, where the non-Muslims were described as infidels and fought. The objective of the distinction into friends and enemies based on religious beliefs is not to initiate war or to foster group conflicts; rather, the concept of the political even among the religious groups contributes to the tendency to fight.

The third premise of distinction between friend and enemy is best reflected through the importance with which the political systems in those countries consider religion. The legislative process takes into consideration the Islamic Sharia as the guide to all the laws of the country. Similarly, the Jewish halakah forms a major determinant of all Israeli laws (Kazmi, n.d). The evidences from these religious Middle East countries are an indication of the impacts of religious beliefs on the political systems. These beliefs are held with such seriousness that the factions that hold unto them consider them sacred. This level of seriousness is what contributes to the tendency to defend the beliefs even through violence, which in most cases results in death, confirming the third premise of the distinction between friend and enemy. Most of the international wars that have been fought in the Middle East have been as a result of religious differences, particularly with Muslims considering their religion to be more superior than those of others (Kazmi, n.d). The capacity to kill or die for faith is an indication of the political inclination, which is beyond the domestic political divisions in a nation. In this particular case, differences between the people in a nation are attributed to the perception of others as friends (us) and others as enemies (them).

The other characteristic of friend/ enemy distinction, which is that it is irreducible, to any other distinction is also clearly evident in the religio-political context of the Middle East. Amongst those who share religious convictions (considered friends), there are good as well as evil men. The ‘good’ men are among those who profess the same faith as some of the ‘evil’ men. This explains the arguments about religious radicalization, where there are those who take the religion too seriously and use it as the basis of war, while others of the same faith practice it with moderation. Nevertheless, those who practice with moderation do not deny the radicalized on the premise that they are evil, but rather attempt to convince those of other religious to understand that not all of ‘them’ are evil. In this context, it reflects the argument that while friendship/ enmity is relative, morality is absolute.

The Middle East context also provides sufficient proof of the capacity of other relationships to degenerate into the political due to the other four distinctions. The religious relations in the Middle East have degenerated to political arguments, such that it is no longer possible to decipher between the politics and the religion of the Middle East (Tessler, 2002). National wars have been triggered by religious differences, as well as regional wars especially through outfits such as the ISIS, which begin as professions of religious beliefs (Kazmi, n.d). Radicalization has led to the decision to handle specific religious matters as political matters of national interest not only because the religious teachings and rules have been used to formulate national laws, but also because those teachings have been considered to supersede any other religious teachings, distinguishing people into ‘them’ and ‘us’. The consequence has been the creation of nations that are inconsiderate of religious divergence, and in which religious tolerance is unheard of such as Syria.

The Concept of the Political and Other Theories

The concept of the political can be presented in parallel to other philosophical theories within the context of the Middle East. One of the theories discussed by Paskewich (2014), is the concept of ‘thumos’, described both Aristotle and Plato. ‘Thumos’ is described as the part of the soul that possesses neither physical nor theoretical reason, but which has the capacity to be compassionate. Since it has the capacity to be compassionate, ‘thumos’ can be described as the source of attachments such as those that exist in the political, is collective and is also associated with every decision that is transcendent of human values, and which is linked to life –negating values (Paskewich, 2014). The distinction between friend and enemy as described by Schmitt includes practices that promote collective honor such as support for a religious associate even when he/ she is engaged in practices that devalue life. Things that are worth killing or dying for such as cultural convictions, religious beliefs, religious conflicts and such other interactions, which make it possible for people to kill, are attributed to ‘thumos’ as presented by Aristotle and Plato. Hobbes (1968), also links conflict to the state in the sense that while man is rational, enforcement of peaceful coexistence requires the intervention of the state. This implies that when the state itself is predisposed to conflict, a peaceful coexistence is next to impossible.

Needless to say, the practices that characterize religious beliefs and the associated political convictions in the Middle East can only be attributed to souls that have neither physical nor theoretical reason. The presence of reason would see participants making decisions to tolerate individuals from other religions and to only distinguish between men as either ‘good’ or ‘evil’, since these are the moral absolutes. Friendship/ enmity, which form the basis of the political, are relative and thus commonly observed outcomes in religio-political wars. In the Middle East, it has become more common to see attacks transcending life and negating life values (Tessler, 2002). For instance, killing other because they profess a different religion from ours is not only barbaric but also devalues life, and is beyond physical and theoretical reason. It is this deductible that most of the things that people consider worth killing for, and which form the basis of their decisions to engage in war with others, can be reasoned out to preserve the sanctity of life. Ignoring this sanctity is tantamount to violating life values, which is evil.

On the contrary, abolition of the political results in the abolition of the capacity for compassion. The positive side of ‘thumos’ is this compassion capability, which drives most human relationships, including the political. While it may drive people to commit activities that violate the sanctity of life, it promotes social interactions and can be valuable in other contexts. Abolishing the political would thus result in the creation of apathetic humans, incapable of compassion. The apolitical individuals are incapable of commitment or intensity, and value nothing beyond themselves. This implies that they have reached the state described by Nietzsche (2010) as ‘the last man’ where there is nothing that the man considers higher than himself so there is nothing he can risk his life for. He lives for nothing and can risk to die for nothing. Such a state produces utopian practices that are not only self-absorbed but also self-consumed.

The consideration of Nietzsche’s last man description reflects the status of the political as described y Schmitt in that it is an inevitable part of humanity and cannot be abolished. Abolishing the political would imply destroying the distinctions between friend and enemy, and focusing on the individual good for all people. Wherever there are two or more people, conflicts, which form the basis of the political, are bound to rise. In the Middle East context therefore, it is impossible to say that there is a possibility of ending conflict or abolishing the political. The religious beliefs in the countries of the Middle East have become so entrenched in the politics of those countries that it is no longer possible to disintegrate the two (Dalacoura, 2000). Furthermore, the existence of multiple religions could be the only strategy towards abolishing conflict in the region. However, this may only reduce the religious aspect of the political, which is not the only descriptor of politics in the region. It is therefore necessary for the nations in the Middle East to understand that while the political is inevitable and is part of human nature, it is also necessary to consider the implications of one’s actions and decisions on others. This can only happen when there is an understanding that beyond dependence on ‘thumos’, there is need for physical and theoretical reason, and that the political is inevitable.

In line with the arguments presented by Aristotle/ Plato and Nietzsche, Hegel also provides a perspective on history, that can be beneficial towards developing an understanding of the political and of the religions and political relationships in the Middle East. According to Hegel, history describes a collection of struggles to the death caused by images and interpretations of identity (Walicki, 1987). The interpretations are founded on aspects such as cultural beliefs, ways of life that represent concrete manifestations of our world views. Hegel’s theory is that philosophical dialectic indicates that man is free and that the history of war is such that conflicting world views can only be brought to an end by the adoption of a single world view perspective across the warring sides. The state in which everyone is free to have their own philosophical ideals is described as history, and the capacity of man to enjoy this freedom is the realization that the history is inevitable (Walicki, 1987). The only strategy for the abolishment of history would be through unification of all thoughts and ideologies into one. This particular principle is what Schmitt describes as the political, which can only be abolished when all people ascribe to one system of beliefs, which is not always possible. Just like the political, history cannot also be abolished.

Understanding the political as a concept that cannot be abolished would imply understanding history as something that cannot be abolished. These two concepts are described in similar manner, and can be applied similarly in the discourse on the Middle East and the religious wars that are prevalent there. In particular, both Hegel and Schmitt implore humans to understand the inevitability of conflict. However, Schmitt further asserts that the political creates a favorable environment for breeding conflict, which has the probability of resulting in death. The probability of conflict even among religions is always there, and as much as people have conflicts of interest and ideologies, it is recommended that rather than engaging in hostilities, there should be the recognition that both parties are right. There should be an intention to cease hostilities by fighting against the absolute evil and focusing on the good in others. This is the only way to help cease hostilities.

Recommendation: Liberalism in the Middle East

As mentioned previously, conflict is inevitable and is an inherent part of human nature. For this reason, the rationale for conflict based on the political is difficult to understand, yet there is need to end some of the conflicts that are founded on mere difference of opinions. Religious differences should not be the basis of political war and should definitely not be reduced to the political. Rather, the absoluteness of good and evil should supersede every consideration and distinction of friend and enemy (Johnson, 2011). In such a way, it would be easy to manage conflicts and to prevent unwarranted blood-shed. The liberal utopia would be described by a situation in which all disputes are solvable by bargaining and bloodless reasoning. However, it is impossible to solve the opposition between anti-liberalism and liberalism through the use of a liberal means. For that reason, the conflict between the liberal and the anti-liberal is perforce political and can be best handled politically. Promotion of liberal anti-politics therefore requires the use of the political to eliminate the anti-liberal. In the Middle East therefore, there is need for the political elimination of the radical so that liberal anti-politics can be promoted through collaboration between parties and promotion of life valuing beliefs (Valentine, 2018). This begins with the realization that religious differences are inevitable.

Abolishing the political would need the abolition of differences between people or groups and closure of the gap between friend and enemy. When the gap is closed, there would be nothing to fight over any more. Moreover, it would also mean the abolition of seriousness such that differences in ideologies and beliefs no longer matter anymore (Johnson, 2011). This second option would be the most viable for the Middle East since religious differences are inevitable. It is required that members of the different religions should understand that those of others are equally important. In this way, the gap in perspectives which causes religious conflicts in the Middle East will have been closed. Abolition of violence is in most cases abolished using violence and through assimilation of other cultures. Minority cultures in some of the Middle East countries have been assimilated as people from other religions, who fear losing their lives because of their beliefs, adopt other faiths. Thus, cultural unity in the Middle East can be attributed to violence that drives assimilation. On the other hand, abolishing seriousness can only be achieved through enhanced spiritual apathy by indoctrination in individualism rather than collectivism, relativism rather than perceived absolutism, tolerance over intolerance, and religious diversity – multicult system (Bockenforde, 1997). A multicultural environment would support peace without necessarily emphasizing the importance of one belief over the other. Violence is characteristic of more utopian forms of anti-liberal utopianism. The contrary, multicultural utopianism, can only hold for a short while since it results in increased diversity without an effective strategy for conflict resolution (Johnson, 2011).

A political struggle requires money, leadership and manpower, which most countries may not easily find accessible. As it is now, it may be impossible for any society to win the political struggle. However, the current community is bound to grow in strength and size. It may be difficult to predict the implications of such growth on future political standings. However, the society today needs to engage in a metapolitical task, aimed at raising consciousness and cultivating a society that can give birth to future communities where multiculturalism and multicultism are acceptable, and in which the inherent nature of the political does not inevitably result in conflict. A lasting solution to religious and political digressions can be found in accepting that multicultural beliefs are inevitable.

Conclusion

The Middle East is mostly recognized for the role that religion has played in developing the different countries’ political systems. In particular, there is widespread identification of the Middle East with violence stemming from religious differences. These differences and the resulting conflicts can be attributed to the concept of the political as described by Schmitt, and the characteristics that distinguish between friend and enemy. In this context, understanding the characteristics of this distinction, including collectivism, polemical nature, existential seriousness, irreducible to other minimums and the capacity for degeneration of other forms of relationships to the political, has helped to place the Middle East scenario within the context of various philosophical perspectives. In particular, Schmitt describes the political through comparison with various other theorists. Aristotle/ Plato give the concept of the ‘thumos’, which explains the rationale for the violent tendency in the political. Hegel describes history in the same context as the description of the political and the impossibility of abolishing it. Similarly, Nietzsche recognizes the role of compassion in human relationships and the apathetic nature of the apolitical man, further confirming the inevitability of the political and the inherent nation of the political in mankind.

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