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Religion and Society

Democracies and religions tested by globalisation

The last issue of ‘Oasis’ has its keyword in the term ‘transition’, which makes it possible to interpret together what is happening at present on the two sides of the Mediterranean. As highlighted by Cardinal Scola in the editorial, creating relationships and dialogues with different worlds – the west and the Arab world; Christianity and Islam – is a peculiar feature of the journal, its originality. In this unitary vision the term ‘transition’ is accompanied by the question: ‘through whom?’ Where is the transition going through? Or, in other words, where is the Arab spring going? Where is Europe going with its euro crisis? Where is Italy going with its political crisis that is shaking the entire institutional framework? This ‘where’ is not clear, not predetermined, even if we can point to possible directions. Instead, what is clear is the cause that led to the crisis of the dominant political orders. It is the post-89 globalisation that causes the decline of the ‘political’ West, of that political theology (Schmitt) which, prevailing in the East-West clash, breaks up for lack of enemies. In Italy the end of the first Republic, and its still ongoing aftermaths, expresses itself in the figure of the ‘liquid’ parties, of the politics of technicians, in the decline of the idea of representation. In the Europe that empties the sovereign states, globalisation marks the crisis of the national liberal democracies. It proceeds as the neutralisation of differences – political, religious, natural – as the end of History (Fukuyama). This process concerns Europe and the western world in general, but not the rest of the world however. After 11 September 2001 globalisation, outside the west, has delegitimised the political orders that appeared during the East-West clash, but not the political dimension. The novelty is here given by the fact that the new politics is conceived starting from the religious. This is what Samuel Huntington had perceived in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, of 1996. The diffusion of the single world market and the spread of wellbeing do not automatically neutralize differences. On the contrary outside the West they produce self-esteem, rediscovery of ideal and religious roots and the refusal of western hegemony. As stated by Serge Latouche, the westernisation of the world entails mimetic and oppositional processes to once. On the one hand, the post-2001 scenario sees a West in which globalisation and secularisation coincide and, on the other, a globalisation that causes technological mimesis and political theology (Islamic, Jewish-Orthodox, Hindu). Globalisation is a two-faced Janus that arouses secularisation and fundamentalisms.


It is in the wake of this perspective that we can see a return to politics on the other side of the Mediterranean, a return that is to some extent a ‘first time’. It is the subject of the Arab spring that, with particular attention to Tunisia, is at the centre of this issue of ‘Oasis’. It is a theological political return that cannot be – is not able to be – a mere return to tradition. Despite the Salafites or Al-Qaeda, even the Muslim Brotherhood or an-Nahda realise that a ‘return’ is not possible. A return is not viable that completely excludes European-western modernity, the form of the modern state with its rights and freedoms. The theological-political return thus becomes the problem of the relations between politics and religion. Having discarded the Salafi way, which wants the Islamic state immediately, taking advantage of the uprisings to divide the Muslims, and the way of European laicism, two ways remain: the tactical one that instrumentally accepts the democratic order in the present conditions reserving itself the right however to heavily condition it the moment that Islamisation is accomplished from the bottom; the liberal one, which recognises the distinction between laical state and religious civil society as a fundamental point. A difference which, in the number of ‘Oasis’, is well expressed by the American model, illustrated by the Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, and by the Lebanese model, through the figure of the civic state theorised by the Shi’ite Muhammad Mahdî Shamseddine. A less secular variant of this standpoint is the one that sets out sharî’a as source of inspiration, not strictly normative, of the legislative framework. From this point of view, the declaration made in March 2012 by Rachid Ghannouchi is important, leader of an-Nahda, the Tunisian equivalent of the Muslim Brothers, according to whom his party has not claimed the reference to sharî’a in the new Constitution.


In this number as in the past editions ‘Oasis’ gives a significant choice of stances on this lively debate, which is at present crossing the Arab-Islamic world and not even given a mention by our media. In this way the journal offers a really precious contribution. It makes it possible to make an opening in the wall of ignorance that separates neighbouring peoples, divided by the sea and centuries-old prejudices, whose immigrants are always present among us, and also helps to understand the affinity of the issues. Us, with the crisis of democracy in which religion does not seem to have the right to have its say; them, with the attempt to reach democracy by means of religion. The return of the religious onto their scene challenges our sorry secularisation just as, in parallel, the distinction between politics and religion has a lot to say about today’s Arab spring. A distinction that has established itself in modern Europe not only against (Christian) religion, but also thanks to it. Thanks to that duality between God and Caesar, Church and State, city of God and terrestrial city which, present in the Christianity of the first centuries and than eclipsed, is found again and then recognised by the Vatican Council II. A model that entails the criticism of political theology. Which does not mean opposition, between religion and politics, but a clear distinction in such a way as to permit the relationship between democracy and religion. Rightly so ‘Oasis’ highlights the importance of the figure and work of Jacques Maritain in this reflection. The Catholic thought of the 1900s had to reject the medievalist theological-political model to open up to liberal democracy and the meeting with the modern. An analogous pathway is today required of Islam, through a hermeneutic valorisation of the liberal positions present in its long tradition.


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