Garda Ghista, January 2008
Theocracy is a widely used word referring to a government comprised of priests / clergy who claim to represent God. These priests have full executive, legislative and judicial power over the people of that community or nation. Theocrats are those who advocate for theocratic governments. Theodemocracy is a lesser known and lesser used word which refers to a democracy under religious rule. The greatest threat today in the world is not terrorism, but rather theodemocracy due to its assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms of human beings.
Religion and Nationalism
According to Anthony Marx, nationalism did not pre-exist. It had to be created through concrete steps taken by political leaders, kings and emperors to bring about social cohesion. It was not a question of advertising the idea through the print media of the era, nor was it through propagation of capitalism, which left out the impoverished masses. Marx says that Western nationalism evolved during the period of the French Revolution, as by that time citizenship was pervasive in Europe.
Nationalist feeling among a leader’s people was critical in order to engage in collective tasks such as carrying out wars and collecting taxes. Leaders soon realized that nationalist sentiment can be aroused maximally by the strategy of exclusion – excluding the “others.” Language was one means for this to be carried out, i.e., excluding those who spoke a different language from the majority. What became more useful than all other strategies, however, was to create nationalism based on religious fervor of the masses. This again was exclusionary, eliminating those of other religions not in the majority. Kings found that the easiest way to create religious fervor and ensuing nationalist fervor was to attack heretics. The resulting nationalist sentiment led to greater engagement with state issues and issues of state governance. Thus what began in Europe as religious passion and fanatical religious exclusion and conflict was redirected by the elites towards political identities, while continuing to have a religious base.
In both England and France, the process of nation-building was never smooth. It was riddled with wars, conflicts and revolution. Exclusion of others proved to be the primary factor in these conflicts. In many instances kings set loose wars based on religious fanaticism only to have the resulting popular movement go out of control and demand the king’s removal along with greater democratic rights. Initially most heads of state in Europe were chosen based on religious affiliation. Over the last ten centuries, as a result of revolutions and demands of the populace, governments moved in a secular direction. However, Anthony Marx shows repeatedly that national unity was invariably created using religious fanaticism. Rulers were indifferent as to the extent of violent conflicts or the number of dead created by religious fervour. As he writes, “The passions of faith were the stuff of which the passions for the state were built…. [A national] democracy required prior national unity, built most effectively on the basis of religious exclusion.” Hence the liberal distribution of democratic rights that took place after creation of a nation state had its roots in, or was invariably preceded by, illiberal exclusion of “others,” including heretics, people of other faiths, languages and races. Hence national unity is always forged on intolerance, anti- sentiments, and il-liberalism, according to Anthony Marx. It involves the elimination of diversity. This glue of exclusion and intolerance that holds together nations continues in the present. Hence, it is an error for Western nations to look down condescendingly on geographical regions today still struggling through clash and cohesion to become nations, because Western nation-building was no less violent.
Interestingly, as we move into the 21st century we see the Western strategy of using exclusion and denigration of the “others” now being used by other nations against the West, as peoples around the world seek to divest themselves from Western imperialism and search for a far higher level of democracy that can be offered only at the global level. People in impoverished nations will no longer tolerate their exclusion from the world’s wealth and amenities. Neither will they tolerate that their voices are not listened to, that their ideas are not a part of the democratic process. Samuel Huntington would like us to believe that a clash of civilizations is taking place between West and Middle East. However, what we may really be witnessing now are cries by the people to end intolerance, illiberalism and exclusion and to collectively, on a global scale, work for a level of democracy not yet seen on our planet. This process would be a natural step forward in the process of human evolution.
Sociology professor Michael Mann, in his latest seminal work, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing, focuses on ethnicity as being a major factor in nation-building and the creation of nationalism. In addition to ethnicity, he talks about “We the people” as laid down in the United States Constitution. “The people” are supposed to represent the good, moral collectivity. Yet, when we look at the two meanings of “the people” – demos and ethnos – it becomes clear that invariably in every society or nation there is an ethnic in-group and one or more ethnic out-groups which do not belong, which become once again the “other.” He talks about two groups of people: stratified (diverse layers) and organic (one ethnic group), and explains how throughout Western history, liberal democracies with constitutions supposedly providing protection to individual human rights simultaneously failed to give protection to ethnic groups as well as failed to stop class struggle. Thus under liberal democracies the majority group has committed genocides and fundamentalist cleansings of other minority groups. The U.S. Constitution was penned by 55 wealthy white men, and while claming to represent “the people,” they left out women, slaves and native Americans. They even wanted to leave out white men without property and social standing, but the social forces compelled them to include this class. Thus the wealthy, propertied men were awarded active citizenship while the remaining populace, including women and all ethnic minorities, were allowed simply passive citizenship. They had civil rights but no political rights. Thus the notions of class, age and gender were all embedded in the U.S. Constitution from its very inception, and gave birth to a heavily stratified American society.
In Europe by the 18th century religious conflict had subsided to an extent, and in its place arose the secular issue of linguistic conflict. Leaders heralded monolingualism, one dominant official language, which led to the disappearance of multiple local languages and cultures by the beginning of the 20th century. Nevertheless, ethnic conflicts continued, as exemplified by the British suppression and ethnocide of Irish Catholic peasants during the Irish famine of the 1840s, during which thousands of Irish died and thousands fled to the United States. These ethnic genocides were what Mann refers to as the dark side of European liberal democracy. The present homogeneity in present-day European nation-states is due to earlier ethnic cleansing. Attempts were made periodically by idealistic individuals to create political parties that demanded one united, integrated state based not on exclusion but on inclusion. Yet there was a constant worry over one ethnicity dominating over other ethnicities in a region. The Slovak Tiso, who led the Slovak nationalists in the late 20th century, defined “nation” as “a community of people who are of a single origin, single physical type, single character, single language, single set of customs and single culture of equal goals, and they constitute an organic whole in a coherent territory.” Tiso was representative of nationalist elitists who disdained multiethnic states.
Jews had been the most resented religious and economic group for centuries in Europe, and as a result of religio-nationalist fervour regular pogroms, including rape and murder, were carried out against these “killers of Christ.” Growing so-called democratic sentiments led to increased persecution of Jews, first as a religious group and later as a racial group. Political leaders repeatedly used the Jews as scapegoats to whip up popular support among the masses. If not killed outright, they were often forced to emigrate to other areas. Class discrimination along with discrimination against ethnic minorities became fixtures in Western democracies. Individual rights were heralded but the rights of ethnic groups and the proletariat as a class were ignored.
Today ethnic and religious genocides are happening in other countries still struggling to attain higher levels of political and social democracy. Many Westerners look down on these present-day genocides while forgetting that Western democracies were attained with no less bloodshed and ethno-religious cleansing. It was after World War II and the near collapse of political colonialism that the existing 191 nations of the world selected anthems, flags, official languages and nation-oriented educational systems. The global anti-imperialism of the second half of the 20th century was secular in nature, with the exception of a minority of Muslims seeking a global Muslim caliphate. In India the potential rise of Hindu and Muslim fascism was checked by secular forces bent on emphasizing class struggle over ethnic and religious rivalries. One by one states modeled on socialism failed to meet the economic needs of the people, which led once again to the revival of religious extremism, as when the Iranian people turned to Islam rather than communism to overthrow Reza Pahlavi. The Iranian revolution spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini represented the first clear theodemocratic regime.
According to Mann, the greater the infant mortality rate of a country and the less it engages in international trade, the more likely it is to succumb to ethnic or fundamentalist uprisings, because poverty weakens both neoliberalism and secularism. Economic impoverization becomes the breeding ground for what Mann also refers to as theo-democracy, or rule by “we, the religious people.” Muslim fundamentalism involves a supposed government by an elected group of people who implicitly follow the Qur’an and Shari’a in all decision-making. Maulana Maududi referred to it as a “divinely-directed democratic government.” Both Muslim fundamentalists in Iran and Afghanistan as well as Hindu fundamentalists in India have pushed for theodemocracies. However, as these movements grew, the democratic aspect was minimalized and the theocratic aspect increased, to the extent that in Afghanistan religious mullahs ruled the country while the Taliban was in power, and ayatollahs pulled all the strings in Iran, although in Iran an external semblance of democracy was maintained in the form of national presidential elections. The catch was that the ayatollahs decided beforehand which persons they would allow to be candidates. Strong opponents who threatened their own power, such as then President Ayatollah Khameini, were not even allowed to run in the 2005 presidential election. Thence came the growing scenario that those who began as theodemocrats once in power quickly converted to theocrats. In such regimes, the Shari’a becomes the only rule of law. Both Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists declare that religious minorities should leave the country, be eliminated through genocide (as what happened in Gujarat, India in 2002) or should practice their minority religion in the privacy of their own homes and accept lives as second-class citizens or even non-citizens. As Hindu fundamentalist and RSS leader Gowalkar said, “The foreign races must lose their separate existence … or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming, deserving no privileges … not even citizen’s rights.”
Karen Armstrong and also Michael Mann make it clear that most fundamentalists are not violent. They seek to make their own communities strong in the moral and religious realms, and they oppose any corrupt authoritarian influences. Only a small handful take up jihad, or holy war. Further, jihad is not necessarily a violent struggle. It can also be a moral struggle for righteousness, to maintain the sanctity of the Qu’ran or to fight any kind of oppression, suppression or repression of their religion. Only very few fundamentalists will advocate physical violence and then incite the sheep-like masses to engage in the physical overthrow of oppressive forces. Likewise a few Hindu fundamentalists will advocate for the violent elimination of ethnic minorities. Above all, Muslims will fight imperialist neoliberal threats having the potential to disturb their religious and ethnic agendas.
While Samuel Huntington talks about the clash of civilizations as being a clash between two major religions, Mann sees a clash between Muslim fundamentalism and materialism, aka imperialist capitalism, which it links to secularism and immorality. At present the greatest imperialist threat to Muslims is the U.S.-Israeli nexus moving into Middle Eastern countries with nefarious intentions. Some Jews have their own theodemocratic vision of a Zionist state in which Jews may occupy Israel only if they adhere strictly to the Torah and in which Jewish law is imposed on the state irrespective of Muslim and other minorities who reside in Israel. As Mann says, the growing danger today is global religious-ethnic conflicts born out a claim that “we, the holy people, and not the people of other lesser faiths” should rule the state.
Theodemocracy – Definition and Origins
We first come across the word “theodemocracy” in the writings of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of the Latter Day Saint movement that gave rise to what today is called the Mormon church. His mission was to restore Christianity in its original form, which according to him was lost. This involved publication of the Book of Mormon and other writings to serve as a complement to the Bible. In addition to being the leader of his religion, he was also an important military and political figure. At present his followers number around 13 million with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints numbering about 12.5 million members. From his mid-teens, Wilson used to tell people that he had visions of God and visits from angels who would give him guidance and instructions. His Book of Mormon was published in 1830, but even prior to this date Smith had begun baptizing followers who told others they belonged to the Church of Christ. The church headquarters was eventually established at Kirtland, Ohio in 1831. After severe opposition, persecution, and moves to different parts of the United States, he established a new headquarters in Commerce, Hancock County, Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi River, and in 1844 Smith announced his intention to run for president. That same year he was arrested for supposed illegal activities, and while in jail a mob came and shot him dead. The Mormon movement continued to grow after his death. The seminal point herein relates to a statement of Smith quoted in the Nauvoo Neighbour newspaper on April 17,1844, as follows:
“…the world is governed too much and there is not a nation or a dynasty now occupying the earth which acknowledges Almighty God as their lawgiver, and … I go emphatically, virtuously, and humanely, for a Theodemocracy, where God and the people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteousness.”
Thus Smith in 1844 made the first mention of a theodemocracy, which for him would be the perfect democracy, in which the government would give people the freedom to affiliate with whichever community they felt morally akin to. His dream of theodemocracy was that the people along with the elected government would rule together, preserve liberty together, and together ensure the development of public and private morality. This was Smith’s vision of the term “theodemocracy.” It was a glorious vision. Nineteenth century Mormons believed that God would choose the righteous people to rule and that the people would voluntarily support and elect those persons. This system would work not only within the church but also in the political state structure. The term “theodemocracy” was Joseph Smith’s neologism for a scenario in which the laws of God would be sustained by the popular will of the people.
Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi (1903-1979) was the second known person to bring up the concept of theodemocracy. Born in Hyderabad, in what is now Pakistan, he became an influential Islamic scholar and founder of the Islamic Party (Jamaat-e Islami) in India. His vast knowledge in fields such as philosophy and literature plus his constant activism helped to spur Islamic movements globally. His ideas had a profound effect on Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood (Jamiat-al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin). Maulana Maudoodi studied at Darul Uloom but ceased his college studies when his father became terminally sick. However, he continued his studies independently, and when 15 years old began working for a prominent Urdu newspaper. In 1921 Maulana Maudoodi moved to Delhi, and under his leadership al-Jamiyat became the leading Muslim newspaper for South Asian Muslims. He participated in movements working against British occupation of India and began translating Arabic and English books into Urdu. In 1930 he published his first book called al-Jihad fi al-Islam (Jihad in Islam), which continues to be considered as a literary masterpiece.
By 1933 Maulana Maudoodi was writing extensively regarding Western imperialism and the conflict between so-called modernization and Islam. He wrote numerous tracts presenting Islamic solutions to Muslim problems that arose under British colonialism, particularly the domination of Western culture on Muslim society, which aspect concerned him more than British military dominance. He then founded an academic center in Pathankot, Punjab province that focused on teaching Islamic political philosophy. By this point Maulana Maudoodi’s highly critical views of Western ideas had crystallized. He considered concepts such as nationalism, pluralism and feminism as Western strategies to undermine traditional Muslim culture. He wanted to start a struggle (“jihad”) aimed towards uniting the entire humanity under an Islamic government.
By the 1940s Maulana Maudoodihad moved to the newly created Pakistan, where he condemned the state government, saying that Pakistanis had physical freedom but mentally remained enslaved to the British. He wanted an end to the British system of government and longed to bring about his theodemocracy, in which the people would continue to have a voice but in the final analysis were controlled by priests who would ensure that Islamic law was followed. In 1953 the Pakistani government arrested Maulana Maudoodi and sentenced him to death. Due to a global rally for his release, the government relented and finally released him. Imprisonment was later to give him a heightened appreciation of the necessity of democracy within a governmental structure. However, he continued to preach the principle of a democratic state wholly subordinate to Islamic law. He began to write extensively against capitalism, and while studying neo-classical and Keynesian economic models, he refused to use western economic vocabulary, saying that the capitalist model with its premise of unlimited human wants and advocating of individual profit as the highest value, along with its complete denial of ethical evaluation, made it anathema to the Muslim way of life. In his book A Fury For God: the Islamist Attack on America, Malise Ruthven writes:
“In the true Islamic state, for which Maudoodi coined the term “theodemocracy,” the representatives of the people may be co-opted into the national assembly rather than elected, on the grounds that truly virtuous people will not always put themselves forward. As Yousef Choueiri has observed, Maudoodi’s theodemocracy is an “ideological state in which legislators do not legislate, citizens only vote to reaffirm the permanent applicability of God’s laws, women rarely venture outside their homes lest social discipline be disrupted, and non-Muslims are tolerated as foreign elements required to express their loyalty by means of paying a financial levy.” 
The prime objective of the Islamist state in the view of Maudoodi was “to command what is amicable and forbid what is indecent,” as per the Qur’an. These words can be used to control every aspect of human life, including economic, social and political. No aspect of life would be left untouched by the clergy, whose duty would be to enforce the practice of morality in every sphere. Maudoodi’s ideas seem contradictory in that, while on the one hand espousing what is essentially total control over human lives by the clergy, he simultaneously advocates for heads of state to be elected through free elections and for fixed terms. Parliament members would also be elected by the people. He believed that the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judiciary – should function with equivalent power distributed amongst them, and that no one, including the head of state, be above the law, i.e., the judiciary. Maudoodi insisted that his proposed governmental model is not a theocracy or religious state but rather a theodemocracy. He also referred to his model as a “nomocracy” (government of the law), that is, a government elected by the people but conforming in every way to the laws of the Qur’an and Sunna. In his later writings, Maudoodi leaned more and more towards a parliamentary democracy, with universal franchise, regular elections, human rights and civil liberties, along with the potential of multiple political parties. His later preoccupation with procedural justice along with the fact that he spent his final years in the United States were likely a reaction to his periods in prison and censoring of his writings and speeches by various Pakistani regimes. Thus he espoused a theodemocracy while later leaning more heavily towards democracy.