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Religious belief and religious identity as separate forces in politics in the Middle East

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The debate over slavery.
    2. Emphasis on religion.
  2. Important exceptions in the present day Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  3. This is a problematic definition when it comes to sectarian political movements.
  4. Religious identity as a political force.
  5. Mubarak's administration.
  6. Conclusion.

In the debate over slavery that took place in America in the nineteenth century, apologists for both sides appealed to Christianity, the Union's dominant religion, to justify their respective cases. George Armstrong, in his 1857 book The Christian Doctrine of Slavery, stated that, ?[I]t appears to us too clear to admit of either denial or doubt, that the Scriptures do sanction slave-holding; that under the old dispensation it was expressly permitted by divine command.? Writing several years earlier, George Bourne called such readings of the Christian Bible ?perversions? that ?produced a slaveholding Christianity, the propagation of which has been visibly followed by the displeasure of God.? What is interesting to note about this debate is that both authors assumed that appealing to the religious sensibilities of the majority of the (empowered) population would be sufficient to sway the undecided reader to their respective positions. While one's views on slavery might have determined one's interpretation of Christianity rather than the other way around, these sources show that Americans felt compelled to justify their political views based on religious beliefs.

[...] The importance of religious belief to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt stands in marked contrast to the identity politics persistent in Lebanon. The Maronite community is a prime example of this. Despite the fact that the Maronite church has its own theology and rites, its spiritual life is virtually indistinguishable from Roman Catholicism. Even in diaspora Maronites pray to French saints at least as often as they pray to Lebanese saints. Even the Maronite liturgy is essentially an oriental Roman Catholic Mass. [...]

[...] Hasan states that she believes that communal politics in Egypt is a confluence of many factors, her book Christian versus Muslim in Modern Egypt often implies that religion is the only political issue. Additionally, Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem, while very good in describing the situation during the Lebanese Civil War, sometimes slips into this same reductionism. See Ahmad Shboul. In addition to arguing that both state and opposition manipulate religion for power, his essay ?Between Rhetoric and Reality: Islam and Politics in the Arab World? argues, not entirely convincingly, that the goal of many in the Muslim Brotherhood is a semi- secular social justice program in Egypt. See Wilson, 111-112. [...]

[...] Some scholars, by conflating political Islam and Muslims generally, conclude that conflicts in the Middle East are exclusively about religion.[11] Other scholars present religious conflicts as covers for real intentions, often described as leaders manipulating religion for the sake of gaining power.[12] This paper seeks to demonstrate that both of these schools of thought are true but incomplete, and that religious belief and religious identity are separate, if sometimes related, political forces. For the sake of clarity, this paper defines religious belief in politics as the conviction that perceived teachings and practices of a particular religion can and ought to shape public policy; this definition largely follows Wilson's definition of a world-enhancing sect, which ?self-consciously seeks to improve the skills and competences of its members so that they may find themselves a better place in [the world].?[13] Thus, political groups based on religious belief view their religion's teachings and/or practices as a means (or the means) to a truly just world. [...]

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