May 11, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3830

Syrian Poet Adonis Calls for Separation of State and Religion: 'Religious Ideology Negates Democracy'

May 11, 2011
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 3830

Following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian poet Adonis, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on April 20, 2011.

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Interviewer: "Why are we Arabs always left out of the progress of history? If anything, we give rise to totalitarian regimes. Why are we absent from any process of civilization, with the exception of a few individuals – thinkers and scientists, expatriates living abroad? What is the reason behind this?"

Adonis: "I do not think that anyone would dispute that we Arabs have not succeeded in establishing a state in the globally acknowledged legal and human sense – a civil state and a civil society – in the past 15 centuries. No political or social scientist has ever sought the reason why a nation like the Arabs, who had built a great civilization, has not succeeded in giving rise to a civil society or a civil state. This is a question…"

Interviewer: "And what is the answer?"

Adonis: "My own personal answer?"

Interviewer: "Religion?"

Adonis: "Not religion in and of itself. I am not against religion, as the relation between an individual and the spiritual…"

Interviewer: "You are talking about the exploitation of religion…"

Adonis: "Religion is an existentialist need, which is worthy of respect. However, turning religion into an ideology, exploiting it politically, and transforming it into a tool in the socio-political struggle - I believe that this is the reason. Therefore, religion, as an ideological and political perspective, must be completely separated from society and the state. Religion should exist for the sake of organizing the relation between the individual and the spiritual, or God.

"Society, on the other hand, exists for its human citizens, and it must be governed by law. Society is ruled by law, not by divine inspiration. If we do not accomplish that, I don't think that we can establish a democracy. We talk a lot about democracy, but this is impossible, because all ideologies negate democracy, all the more so when the ideology is one of religion.

"Religious ideology negates democracy on two levels: on the theoretical political level and on the level of faith. On the level of faith, the 'other' can only exist as an infidel. As long as the religious perspective has prevalence in society – in its institutions, its culture, its law, and its legislation – we will not be able to attain democracy or build a civil society. […]

"For the past fifty years, at the very least, the Arabs have been calling for revolution, for reform, for progress, for liberation from colonialism, and so on, but the outcome of these fifty years, as we all know, is catastrophes and regression on all levels. In the name of unity, we have been torn to shreds, in the name of liberty, our countries have been turned into prisons, and in the name of socialism and pan-Arabism, we have been driven to poverty and homelessness."


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