Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion World

The curse of ideology

Religion is the most dangerous ideology

By Farid Mirbagheri

THE CONTEMPORARY era is marked by the curse of ideology. Our ideas, ideals and beliefs, and those of our forefathers, have all been ideologised in the service of wealth and power for those who have successfully instrumentalised values for temporal gains.

Ideologies dismember and universalise belief systems, concoct absolutist dogmatic doctrines, link every aspect of life to a larger abstract goal, stagnate and rigidify humanity and impede progress.

Specifically, capitalism as an effective wealth-creating system has been corrupted and exchanged for a capitalist ideology that caters for profit-making only. Through financialisation of commerce and industry, real value in the economy has been replaced with sheer speculation in the market. Everyone is encouraged to seek more and more profit with no regard to creating the wealth that supports that profit. A land speculator, for example, can reap millions in proceeds by just sitting on his/her property without contributing anything at all to the wealth that is represented by that income. Adam Smith’s views on wealth creation and adhering to justice are overlooked whilst his projections on the invisible hand – profit – are remarkably magnified. Capitalism – wealth creation – is ever more sacrificed by the expanding capitalist ideology: profit-making.

Liberalism is the second ideologised curse. As an emancipating, empowering and enlightening factor it has secured the freedom of many around the world and has led to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, in its ideological version, it has changed democracy to electocracy, where the only way to express and achieve freedom of expression is through a Western-style liberal framework. Difference and variety in human culture is marginalised. Accordingly, a Western liberal approach that is arrived at and sustained by a sense of nationalism, secularism, rationalism and individualism (as experienced in the West) failed to win the peace in Iraq (a country driven by tribalism and religiosity) after 2003.

Political freedom is measured only in the conventional unit of analysis – elections – that is detached from the traditional and cultural parameters of the society they are introduced in. The freedom to remain loyal to one’s sense of identity can only be allowed and legitimised if it can be formatted to suit the liberalist framework of party politics. Though human rights are not and should not be negotiable, differences in cultural traditions must be respected. However, whilst the ballot box is sanctified, true liberalism – freedom – is sacrificed at the hands of a liberalist ideology.

The most dangerous ideology, however, is the religious one. When the Almighty is placed at the source of all that is decided by policy makers, there is hardly any room left for opposition unless one is prepared to risk being demonised as the server of Satan. This has been noted in all countries and localities that have been marked by the contemporary Islamist ideology. Difference is not tolerated and, if deemed necessary, terminated. This destructive power and its violent nature can now be observed in (just as it was in Europe during the Dark Ages through the behaviour of a Christian ideology) the deeds of ISIL, that appear bereft of reason and devoid of compassion.

An elevating experience in human spirituality that can significantly enhance quality of life – religion – has become a source of regression and oppression through the monopolisation of interpretation and decontextualisation of the text. The maxim of ‘religion for humanity’ is turned on its head: ‘humanity for religion’. Humans and humanity are sacrificed in the cause of ‘serving God’.

The Marxist ideology depleted the economy of its bastion (USSR) for it failed to observe that profit was far greater an incentive for wealth-creation than fear and the state. Capitalism, in its ideologised fashion, may suffer a similar fate if it continues to detach profit-making from wealth-creation. The Islamist ideology that claims monopoly of access to the Almighty and by extension is deemed unaccountable for its actions (to its followers) will last for as long as it can identify enemies to destroy. A change of perception, therefore, can shake that ideology to its foundations. The media and the press can play a crucial role in that.

Capitalism, liberalism and Islam can all be very positive forces for the advancement of humanity as they have been in the past. But distorted as ideologies they will only serve to corrupt and misguide us all in the service of those who use them as instruments for accumulation of power and wealth.

Professor SM Farid Mirbagheri holds the Dialogue Chair in Middle Eastern Studies at the Department of European Studies and International Relations, University of Nicosia

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