September 2, 2008

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia examines the role that religion plays in politics.
In the opening essay, the writer Tõnu Õnnepalu uses the example of India to ex-plain the role of religion in people’s lives. “People certainly have something that can be called ‘religious need’,” he argues. “Religion is actually nothing other than the need to understand the world we live in.”

This issue of Diplomaatia examines the role that religion plays in politics.
In the opening essay, the writer Tõnu Õnnepalu uses the example of India to ex-plain the role of religion in people’s lives. “People certainly have something that can be called ‘religious need’,” he argues. “Religion is actually nothing other than the need to understand the world we live in.”

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia examines the role that religion plays in politics.
In the opening essay, the writer Tõnu Õnnepalu uses the example of India to explain the role of religion in people’s lives. “People certainly have something that can be called ‘religious need’,” he argues. “Religion is actually nothing other than the need to understand the world we live in.” In Europe, religion has adopted a somewhat disguised form and things such as yoga groups, life coaches and internet chat groups can replace the institution of the church. In India, however, the religious side of life is still very obviously public.
“Isn’t it so that while we underestimate the importance of religion in our own countries, we tend to overestimate its importance in India or Arab countries simply because there it is so much louder, more public, a more natural part of life; and there questioning its importance is considered to be merely one of the West’s strange whims?” Õnnepalu asks.
Diplomaatia also publishes a piece by Bernard Lewis, the scholar who is considered by many to be the foremost expert on Islam in the Western world. Writing about Islam and Europe, he argues that the world has reached a breaking point: “The era that was inaugurated by Napoleon and Nelson was terminated by Reagan and Gorbachev. The Middle East is no longer ruled or dominated by outside powers. These nations are having some difficulty adjusting to this new situation, to taking responsibility for their own actions and their consequences, and so on. But they are beginning to do so, and this change has been expressed with his usual clarity and eloquence by Osama bin Laden.”
Lewis argues that an Islamic onslaught on the Western world has started, and it is unclear who will win: “They have certain clear advantages. They have fervor and conviction, which in most Western countries are either weak or lacking. They are self-assured of the rightness of their cause, whereas we spend most of our time in self-denigration and self-abasement. They have loyalty and discipline, and perhaps most important of all, they have demography, the combination of natural increase and migration producing major population changes, which could lead within the foreseeable future to significant majorities in at least some European cities or even countries. But we also have some advantages, the most important of which are knowledge and freedom.”
Member of the Estonian Parliament Sven Mikser, examines the role of religion in the politics of Islamic countries through an excursion into their history. He concludes that “However much we might want to see Moslems, in common with the majority of the Christian world, draw a clear line between religion and politics, it unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.” But this does not mean that the participation of the majority of the population in political decision-making, or guaranteed human and citizenship rights are not possible in the countries of the Islamic world.
Gideon Lichfield, the Jerusalem correspondent of the Economist, discusses the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argues that “the role of religion in any conflict is hard to determine, and especially so in the Middle East. More often than not, religious aspects conceal something more basic — a dispute over land or power. Bringing in religion can be a way to rally support for one side or the other. Often this deepens the conflict, because it turns an issue that can be challenged or arbitrated, like the ownership of land, into one that is absolute and non-negotiable: the way to worship God. Sometimes it takes control of the conflict entirely, giving it a dynamic and a momentum that were not there before.”
In the concrete case of Israel and Palestine, “religion can be used to justify peace as well as belligerence. And since most Israelis and most Palestinians still support the idea of a two-state solution, it is clearly not belief that prevents peace from happening. What decides the fate of the region is still, overwhelmingly, the byzantine complexities of its politics.”

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