Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Ghannouchi on Religion and State

Rashid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's Islamist al-Nahda group, on religion and the state:
"Tunisians agree on the constitutional text even when they deeply disagree about religion. For instance, a move to make the state a neutral religious actor has strong appeal for those who wish to move toward a French-style secularism that minimizes the role of religion in political life. But it also appeals to some Islamists who see it as a way of liberating Islam from the state's heavy hand. When I spoke with Ghannushi, he talked favorably of what he called the 'Anglo-Saxon' model as opposed to French secularism -- by which he meant a state neutrality that is not unfriendly to religion in the public sphere. The words were not uttered just for my benefit -- I saw him expand on the subject in an interview with an Egyptian satellite channel a few days later. Thus, a vaguely worded constitutional provision on religious neutrality would likely be implemented very differently by the opposing camps, but they might still be able to agree on a common text."

This is fascinating, and gives rise to two questions. First, does he see this "Anglo-Saxon model" as a good idea, or simply better than a French-style alternative? Second, is he more interested in the British or American variant? It might not matter that much, but as someone once commented to me, "We English may not go to church as much as you Americans, but when we do, we go to the Church of England."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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