Wednesday 23 March 2005

Iran's Unlikely Champion (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, March 23 (UPI) -- Unlike its Sunni counterpart, the theology of which has often been used by autocrats to profess a divine sanction for their license, Shiite Islam had at its theological core the concept of the separation of mosque from state.
The philosophy was clear that until the 12th imam of legend returned from his occultation to take over governance, the clergy were to leave temporal matters alone. It took nearly a thousand years for this tradition to get diluted when, in 1501, the Safavids installed Shiite Islam as the religion of the state.
Almost a half a century later, the Shiite tradition of separation of temporal from spiritual got wholly subverted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who implemented his innovation of a "Velayet-i-Faqih." He -- in the same way as Sunni rulers -- had "divine" sanction to run the administration the way he saw it. This perversion of genuine Shiite tradition has resulted in a crisis of identity in Iran, where those who can be accurately described as "Khomeinist" rather than Shiite or even Muslim rule in the name of the creed they have rendered unrecognizable from its roots.
Given the tension that has existed between Shiite and Sunni Islam from the death of the Prophet Mohammad in AD 632, it is remarkable how closely "Khomeinism" follows in its chemistry and practices a like perversion of Sunni Islam that was invented by Abdul Wahhab, who died in the 18th century, and has now supplanted Islam as the state religion of Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday 2 March 2005

Not Our Problem (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, March 1 (UPI) -- The Maldives is a tiny group of islands nestling in the Indian Ocean that got into the news only because of the Dec. 26 tsunami. For years it has been the focus of concerted NGO action designed to convert the regime into a genuine democracy, with political parties and a Westminster-style parliament where the two sides glower across the aisle at each other.
India has shown that multi-party democracy can work even in conditions of illiteracy and poverty. The country borrowed heavily from British political institutions, even while retaining most of the administrative and judicial infrastructure left behind in 1947.
Another country that could succeed in such a transformation is Iraq, which has a sizeable middle class and a national consciousness based on the centuries of civilization in the region, beginning with Mesopotamia. To interpolate from this that a similar graft would succeed in the very different scale of the Maldives may be a mistake.
A rough rule of thumb would be that it takes a minimum population of 5 million in order to create the diversity that is called for by a multi-party democratic system. A lesser number would not be able to sustain the spread of debate and contain it within bounds that do not result in widening fissures within the society.
To take the example of the Maldives again, it is a fact that the Maymoon Abdul Gayoom regime is paternalistic and lacks a significant machinery to monitor and respond to public opinion. It is equally a fact that the Maldives is a moderate state with an overwhelming Muslim majority, and that President Gayoom has thus far succeeded in keeping in check Islamists funded by Pakistani, Malaysian and Saudi Arabian religious charities. It is this visible secularism that has motivated such intervention, which has succeeded in creating a small but very vocal group of democracy activists that are calling for an Islamist state.