Moderate Religious Teachings Key to Establishing New Stable "Religious Civil Societies"

April 1, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On April 1, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor ran an opinion piece by Amitai Etzioni, the founder of the communitarian movement, on how to curb anarchical tendancies in post-war Afghanistan and Iraq. Etzioni writes, "A typical Western response [to the social disorder] is to focus on law and order, fostering police forces, retrained and under new command. When the police don't suffice, efforts are made to add other armed forces. These clearly have a role to play. But in the long run, something different is called for, something not included in the typical aid organization or World Bank manual: a renewed social moral fabric that leads most people, most of the time, to refrain from antisocial behavior on their own, not because they fear the cops...In the long run, liberated societies can form new informal moral codes and social controls. In the short run, however, they must build on what is in place. And in many areas, this is religion. I refer not to the fundamentalist but to the moderate teachings that exist in all religions, Islam included. The line that separates the two is precisely what is at issue: Fundamentalism undergirds totalitarian regimes; moderate practices depend largely on moral suasion. As a guest of Iran's reformers in 2001, I learned their main goal is to establish 'a religious civil society' in which people will want to follow the prophet Muhammad rather than being forced to do so. The fact that to Western ears a 'religious civil society' sounds like an oxymoron is precisely what is wrong with Western thinking."