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Editorial

Something most of us take for granted turns out to be a much more complex proposition. For example, many view nationalism and religion as competing modes of governance and historically that is certainly true. In the sphere of Islam, religion provides most of the governance. In the rest of the world it is the other way around. Each side has sought to balance these two competing ideologies of governance. Understanding the roots of this divide can only help us approach the problem.

The latest modern thinking has found a new twist, nationalism may be spawned by religion.

Alexander Stille - "New York Times," 31 May 2003, quoting and paraphrasing Peter Sahlins, a historian at the University of California at Berkeley:

"...prevailing theories of nationalism have a way of following the mood of the times. When Serbs, Croats and Muslims were killing one another in the Balkans, many commentators originally pointed to the eternal and atavistic origins of ethnic violence, not recognizing that the different groups had lived in relative harmony under the Ottoman Empire and even under Tito."

"'Now the context in which we see nationalism has completely changed, 'he said. Faced with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the West is more open to looking at the role of religion in the formation of nationalism.

"Anthony W. Marx, a professor of political science at Columbia University, was recently named president of Amherst College. Mr. Marx insists that the birth of nationalism dates to a time when religious intolerance ravaged Europe. He begins his book in 1492, the year that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who united Castille and Aragon to form the new kingdom of Spain, ousted the Moors from Southern Spain and decided to expel the Jews from their territory. The Spanish Inquisition, Mr. Marx writes, was a central mechanism in consolidating power and conferring legitimacy on the new Spanish state.

"Linda Colley, a historian at the London School of Economics and the author of the 1992 book "Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837" (Yale University Press), agrees that religion is central to nationalism.

"According to Ms. Colley and Mr. Marx, nationalism begins with an act of demonizing a religious "other" and creating a sense of community by defining an "us" and a "them." Recognizing this, they argue, may help Westerners better understand, for example, the contemporary phenomena of Islamic fundamentalism and Arab nationalism."

This is classical Authoritarian behavior.

Mr. Stille goes on:

"'If we fail to look at our own history, we run the risk of being too self-congratulatory and too dismissive of others,'Mr. Marx said. "When we see Shiites demonstrating in Iraq, we tend to reject or denigrate, forgetting that we went through similar processes.

"Both Mr. Marx and Ms. Colley focus on the Protestant Reformation, insisting that the religious conflicts it unleashed played an important role in the creation of Europe's principal nation-states. Leaders used religion to consolidate their own power, turning themselves into both political and religious leaders. Before full-blown nationalism, religious passion was the one popular emotion that could bring masses of people into the streets, and Europe's rulers understood that it could be used to make or break a state."

Times have not changed.

In one sense, it is a weakness of leadership to need the prop of religion to inspire his/her followers and to form and follow moral law. Yet who has not heard avid and heated arguments over religion and/or politics. Each can be as devisive as it is cohering--each needs the other for the ultimate defense of belief and homeland. People need both; they can only go hand in hand.

Muslims, having a more complete and consistent religion from their beginning, found little need for the concept of a state. The Qur'an and Hadith were adequate governance and served society well even though society split into two main groups. However, as Christendom agonized through the Inquisitions and emerged through a freeing reformation, Ilsam failed to do likewise. Europe and the Western Hemisphere found a better balance and forged ahead in science, technology, and statecraft that ultimately left Islam behind and in the state in which we see it today.

The West has a further "nationalistic" problem to deal with--Nuclear Terror Threat which is not limited to the world of Islam.

Nationalism is not working in our times; in fact it is driving nuclear proliferation.

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