Nathan C. Walker
A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.
Meir Hatina and Uri M. Kupferschmidt
When the Arab Spring of 2011 sparked a second revolution in Egypt (the first having occurred in 1952), it caught the longstanding Muslim Brotherhood almost by surprise. Arguably the oldest Sunni political mass movement in Egypt (having been established in 1928), it had proven remarkably resilient during more than eight decades of alternating repression and toleration by subsequent governments. Though its social composition changed over the years, its principles, as laid down by its founder Hasan al-Banna, continued to inspire large segments of the population in a quest for a state based on Shariʿa, and provided an alternative vision for a more just and moral society. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood built a wide network of social, educational, and welfare institutions.
From the early 1980s onwards, with Mubarak in power, the Brotherhood was condoned, if not officially recognized, and members were allowed to participate in several parliamentary and other elections. As an organization with formal traditional leadership bodies, but also a younger generation versed in the modern social media, the Brotherhood was seen to be slowly nearing a point where it would be able to make the transition to a party. It began to formulate a political platform and an economic blueprint for the country. A modicum of democracy was adopted, and more openness towards the integration of women was seen. After winning a relatively large (minority) representation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the regime was scared enough to allow the Brotherhood to win only one token seat in 2010.
The revolution of 2011 ousted Mubarak and then led to relatively free elections with a solid victory for the Freedom and Justice Party, which had been formed by the Brotherhood, as well as a new Islamist-inspired constitution and the election of Muhammad Mursi as president. However, within a year the Muslim Brotherhood government had missed this historical window of opportunity. It proved inadequately prepared for efficient and orderly governance, did not bring order and stability, nor did it advance the aspirational goals of demonstrators. This is how the army, not for the first time in Egypt’s history, came to intervene and depose Morsi in July 2013, replacing him with Defense Minister ʿAbd al-Fattah al-Sisi. It was not long before the Brotherhood was once more suppressed and outlawed. With many leaders in jail, but latent support continuing, observers tend to believe it is not the end of the Brotherhood’s existence.