Calling for an international treaty to ban the use of religion in politics

Unfortunately, the most dangerous abuse of religion in politics is done in the name of Islam.

2017/06/25 Issue: 112 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Salam Sarhan

How soon will the international community realise that the misuse of religion in politics is the most dangerous threat the world faces? It has fuelled and will continue to ignite the worst of conflicts. It is likely to be always used to prevent finding solutions to chronic disputes.

An international treaty to ban the use of religion in politics would be much more worthwhile. I would argue that it would be more so than even the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as it would deal with a bigger threat to peaceful coexistence on this planet.

Such a treaty would be a step towards more respect for human rights by liberating millions from religious repression, one of the ma­jor sources of human rights abuses.

The international community has been obliged to commit huge resources to deal with conflicts caused by the abuse of religion, yet it has made no effort to introduce a framework and rules to deal with the cause.

Western policies, especially in the Middle East, have played into the hands of sectarian and terror­ist groups at the expense of civil society.

The world is in desperate need for an international treaty to ban the use of religion in politics. The proposed treaty would set up a clear framework and definitions for what constitutes an abuse of religion in politics.

The treaty should emphasise the aim of preventing the disrespect of religions and encourage more transparency in politics to prevent any misunderstandings that could be exploited by extremists. This would strip fanatics of the oppor­tunity to claim there is an agenda against a certain religion, which could be used to recruit frustrated young people to terrorism.

Only a few countries would hesitate to endorse such a treaty, though they are likely to try to deny using religion in politics. Such accusations might even push them to endorse such a treaty.

Endorsement of the treaty by these countries would tip the balance in favour of moderates, bringing those states back to a world consensus, similar to what happened regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The effects of the treaty would be more worthwhile than all efforts to deal with raging conflicts, as it would put in place new rules for dealing with such situations.

Observing breaches of the treaty by an internationally respected NGO would be more effective in refuting the allegations of extrem­ists. The NGO would issue regular reports on all breaches of its rules, as well as issue immediate con­demnation of major breaches.

Unfortunately, the most danger­ous abuse of religion in politics is done in the name of Islam, yet we must acknowledge that the use of any religion in politics could lead to similar results. This has happened throughout history.

Therefore, targeting the abuse of all religions in politics is funda­mental to refute terrorists’ claim that they are defending Islam. This will strip them of one of the main tools by which they recruit naïve people by alleging there is a war against Islam.

The treaty would achieve a breakthrough in the effort to quell the most dangerous phenomena threatening peaceful coexistence in the world, which must be built on justice, equality and the rule of law.

The danger does not come only from those using supposed divine right to trample the rights of oth­ers, including those from the same religion, but also from extreme reactions to those fanatics.

The world has seen many exam­ples, like the call by US President Donald Trump to ban people from certain Muslim countries from en­tering the United States. There are also the repeated attacks against immigrants and minorities in sev­eral parts of the world, including in Western countries and across the Middle East.

Announcing such a treaty will encourage world governments to stop dealing with all factions abusing religion. Western govern­ments have committed the biggest mistakes in recent history by dealing with these factions and strengthening them at the expense of civil society in many countries, especially in the Middle East.

The biggest example of which is what the US government did in Iraq after the 2003 invasion — handing power to sectarian groups. That mistake was the main reason for the troubles that have followed in the Middle East; from the raging conflicts there to the recent attacks in the heart of Europe.

The effort to establish such a treaty will be nothing compared with the rewards of putting in place international rules for coexistence.

Now is the time to establish the International Treaty to Ban the Use of Religion in Politics, if we want a better future.

Salam Sarhan is an Iraqi writer.

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