George Stephanopolous is the moderator. Shirin Ebadi, from Iran, first Islamic woman to win the Nobel Prize, starts speaking in Farsi. Shirin says she prefers to talk about ideology than religion. When she says ideology in Farsi the word sounds the same as in English. Ideology, she says, can be either religious or secular, as in Cuba. Ideology serves to give life a purpose. But when ideology is managed unilaterally by the state it becomes a tool for political oppresion. Islam is a religon she thinks. But Islam used to govern is an ideology. Is Islam compatible with democracy? The problem is that in the Islamic world governments manage Islamic law and people who are against the government are seen not as the opposition but as infidels. Shirin, however, believes that Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights but that it has to be reconquered from non democratic rulers. Key is to separate religion from ideology.

Richard Land is somebody who is openly advocating the elimination of the separation of church and state. Interestingly his ideology is that all religions should get a voice. He is against secularism. The more I listen to him the more I realize that he stands for what I stand against. Richard Land does not speak about people like myself, for whom God and worship does not play an significant role in life.

Shashi Tharoor is the Under Secretary for Communications for the United Nations. He explains the case of India. Secularism in India means not a lack of religion but a multiplicity of religions. India is very religious, even communists, he says, are religious in India and celebrate the Hindi equivalent of Christmas. He says it´s silly to ban head scarves because in India everyone has some kind of turban, cap, rosaries, and all sorts of religious signs.

Richard Holbrooke believes very deeply in the separation of church and state. Interestingly the president of Pakistan was born in India and the president of India was born in Pakistan thanks to partition. Richard, I am so glad you are in this panel!!! Richard is basically enumerating the myriad cases in which religion led to death, religious wars in India, Europe, and elsewhere. He goes over the case of HIV/AIDs and how it was very difficult to stop the spread of the epidemic in the 90s in the States and around the world as American right wingers believed that AIDS was God´s curse on homosexuals. But he credits the Bush administration to turn this around convincing Jesse Helms and other right wingers to change their view and support AIDS prevention policies. But overall Richard Holbrooke believes that religion should be clearly separated from state policy.

How can religion play a role in politics while allowing people of all faiths and of no faith to worship or live freely?

Majority rules minority rights is key to democracy. Religion cannot encroach in minority rights.

To me what is key here is that the political process of democracy allows for religious organization to start their own political parties. The issue of religion and politics to me is an issue where the christian coallitions in America would like to see laws change and separation of state and church disappear, and secular people like me are resisting change. It is unusual that I find myself resisting change but in this case I do.

But here´s a suprise. Richard Land in the end said that he also believes in the separation of church and state cause if it did not exist, the state ends up corrupting the church!

In general, I believe that the divisions in the world are not ONLY along religious lines. The most important difference in this area is secularism vs religiosity. I would support the view exposed by my friend Bruce Feiler that the division is not between the United States and Islam but between the secular Americans, mostly in the blue states, and the religious Americans, mostly in the red states. And the alliance is blue states with Europe and red states with the Muslim world. The worse thing that could happen in the world is that people who believe that religion should run politics take over.

Lastly I would say that a person whose views I dislike as much as Richard Land is still much closer to me than the views of certain racist Argentine Catholics who I met while growing up, or those of jihadists. Richard Land is a person I can simply disagree with. The others want me dead!

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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pier on September 17, 2005  · 

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