Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Religion and Politics in America: The Rise of Christian Evangelists and Their Impact

This book by Muhammad Arif Zakaullah was published and released by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations (Beirut-Lebanon) in February 2007. It discusses the dimensions and interactions of both, religion and politics, in the United States of America (USA), and more specifically the strong influential role of Christian Evangelists in determining the US policies. Though the subject was previously explored by several writers, this book is special in analyzing the historical background and the roots of Christian Evangelism, all the way till their present status and power. Remarkably, the author presents "in perfect doses" a blend of ideology and events, past and present (updated till late 2006), all tied up in a well organized concise approach.

Zakaullah produced a highly academic, documented and objective study. Being a Muslim, he managed to present his study from a different perspective, trying to establish a better understanding of the policy-making process in the USA in the Muslim world, and calling for a constructive inter-civilizational dialogue.

The author starts with a look on the current situation between America and the Muslim World, which “has been exploited by extremists in both camps endangering world peace in the first decade of the 21st century.”

Then he justifies the major reasons behind his research:

“The peace loving majorities in both the West and the Muslim world want to know the causes of this problem to resolve it. The hawks in the West have developed a number of approaches (e.g. Islamophobia, clash of civilizations, etc.) to explain this situation to their people and the world at large. These approaches put the entire blame on Muslims and Islam. On the other hand in the Muslim world it is the other way around as all the explanatory models put the entire blame on the west and Israel. This blame game has been going on for quite some time leading to actions by each side that, instead of solving problems, have caused further deteriorated of the situation. This reality calls for a different approach. The Muslim world has to learn to appreciate that in Western societies the bottom line is the public opinion and not the wishes of the President/Prime Minister and his cabinet.”

All through the book, Zakaullah discusses the rise of Christian Evangelists within “this democratic context” and the various challenges they faced and dealt with.

In its first chapter, the book presents the 2000 and 2004 US presidential elections as a clear example of the democratic political system in the USA, and that public opinion does play the major part in shaping the US policies. The book then proceeds with a brief historical background of Christianity in America. In there, key teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin are presented, as well as a brief survey of the various political, economic and social factors that set off many Christians from Europe to the “New World”, during the 15th and 16th century. The early American society thus had a conservative protestant majority. Here again, Zakaullah discusses key social and economic issues that led to another change in the characteristics of the American Society, this time towards “contemporary Christian Fundamentalism” causing conservatives to become a minority.

This “contemporary Christian Fundamentalism” movement was then engaged in intellectual, educational and organizational fronts, in which it relied heavily on media. Nonetheless, it maintained its “non-involvement in politics” policy.

While the early chapters focus on the rise of Christian evangelism (fundamentalism) in the ideological and social context, chapters five and six discuss the circumstances that led them into politics. It was the era that followed Watergate Scandal and the 1976 presidential elections that paved the way for the Christian Fundamentalism (and later Christian Evangelism) towards political power. Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential elections with a vast support from evangelists. Though he didn’t stick to his “evangelist agenda”, his victory reflected a great deal of power and influence for Evangelists within the American public.

The latter was noticed and employed by the Republican Party, whose focus used to be primarily on a conservative economic agenda. In Zakaullah’s words, “the Marriage of Economic and Christian Fundamentalisms” took place and led to “A ‘Born Again’ Republican Party” whose major challenge was “winning the coming 1980 presidential elections.”

Here again, Zakaullah genuinely goes through the 1980’s presidential elections campaign to illustrate the rise of Christian Evangelists. “They realized that in order to unite right wingers of all shades and colors, this agenda would have to encompass economics, morality and pro-family issues as well as being anti-homosexual and anti-abortion. The party strategists knew that they already had the expertise, manpower and networks to promote the pro-market economic agenda but they were also aware that they had neither the expertise, the organization, the networks, nor the volunteers to articulate and sell effectively the pro-family evangelical agenda among the voters. The only way they could succeed was to unite all the fundamentalists across all the religions and denominations.”

Reagan did win the 1980’s presidential elections. He was then succeeded by George Bush (sr.). The Republicans realized that “president is not enough because it was the Congress and the bills that make policies” and they even succeeded in having a majority in both houses.

In its last part, the book discusses the rise of “Christian terror in the ideological war” and even some Christian terrorist organizations, the most dangerous of which is the “Army of God” organization. Such movements were justified by the fact that “16 years wait under these presidents (1976-1999) did not deliver the goods the frustrations started running high and many radical fundamentalists lost all hope” according to the book.

The author then goes briefly past issues like Millennialism, G.W. Bush presidency, to discuss more in depth the current views of the Muslim world regarding America and American Politics. The Muslim world perceives the American foreign policies as a result of external factors, pro-Israeli, biased against Muslims, disregarding the power of the American public opinion in shaping these policies. The only internal factor that they might consider, if any, would be the Jewish lobby inside the USA. No serious efforts were made into understanding the dynamics behind this lobby’s influence, that is the actually, the power of American public opinion in policy-making.

The Author then concludes with “The Need for a New Intellectual Culture in The Muslim Academia and Beyond”, what he calls: “A Wakeup Call”:

“The Muslim world has to learn to appreciate that in Western societies the bottom line is the public opinion and not the wishes of the President/Prime Minister and his cabinet. Muslim intellectuals, media and policy makers should be engaged in the exercise of understanding the way Western societies work. They should interact with the Western public opinion in a constructive way. This would in turn result in a genuine, meaningful and effective inter-civilizational dialogue on issues of mutual concern.”

This, according to Zakaullah, “would cause even the long standing divisive issues would have a much more conducive environment for a peaceful and mutually beneficial conflict resolution.”

The author, Muhammad Arif Zakaullah is an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics in the International Islamic University, Malaysia. His ongoing research focus is the contemporary political economy of the United States. He is also the author of: The Cross and the Crescent: The Rise of American Evangelicalism and the Future of Muslims (Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2004). Being only 160 small pages, the book is strongly recommended for those who would like to have an updated “eye bird’s view”, that is yet comprehensive and worthy, of religion and politics in America.


Nite Garden said...

Gambaq kt mana tue?

the anThropologist said...

Tuelah umah cheq. Tak tau ka :D

Nite Garden said...

Mak ooi! besaqnya mansion ang ;p

Tapi aku musykil pasai apa ang tak letak bendera m'sia kt umah ang.. Awat ang pi letak bendera negara lain?

Nite Garden said...

Associate Professor Muhammad Arif Zakaullah ni org mana? I mean is he Malaysian?

the anThropologist said...

Cheq kan orang Amerika :D

Dr. Arif Zakaullah orang Pakistan, buat PhD kat USA and now ngajar kat UIAM.

Nite Garden said...

Ooooo American rupanya ang... pandai ang mkn tempe yer hehehe

the anThropologist said...

Erk *konpius* :P

Nite Garden said...

Aritu kemain ang berbangga ngan darah jawa ang. la ni ngaku american plak.. Ni kena buat undi tak percaya nih..

Jawatan ang sbg president club org jawa mesti digugurkan huahuahua

the anThropologist said...

Cheq quasi Javanese, half Javanese half American. *gitteeww* :D

Nite Garden said...

So jawarican la ang nih ;p

the anThropologist said...

Jawarican?? Huahahahahahaha :P