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Secularism Protects Diversity


By: Najah Pascal*

Libya today is one of the most socially divided countries in the world. With the ever-growing power struggle, the fragmentation of society by religious and political ideology, racism towards different cultures, and the policy of exclusion by military force.

Najah Pascal

We are in dire need of some drastic changes, and perhaps secularism can offer us a much-needed shove in the right direction.

Secularism is a social relationship that regulates the lives of individuals, regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds. It is a constitution that protects pluralism and the specific lifestyle choices of individuals, from the selfishness of religious exclusivity.

Secularism is neither hostile nor aggressive towards religion. Indeed its antagonism is in complete neutrality with it. So why is there no acceptance of secularism in Libya? Most likely, it is a complete ignorance or an incorrect portrayal of secularism through the discourse of political Islam. Political Islam often portrays secularism as a ‘Zionist American concept,’ invented to destroy Islam and spread corruption among the nation, insisting that secularism was specifically designed to fight Islam.

Defenders of religious power often dismiss secularism by associating it with atheism and an attempt to undermine religion, dissuading religious believers from the concept. In Libya, where religion is so tightly bound to law and everyday culture, this is particularly relevant. Today, it is not only the fear of seeming less devout in front of family or neighbours that may disincline Libyans from the idea of secularism but the much more frightening thought of finding yourself on the radar of powerful religious groups.

There may be many secret secularists in Libya, who for their safety and the safety of their loved ones, do not speak out. Having religion so deeply rooted in the law makes it easy for political Islamists and Islamic groups to control and manipulate a vast majority of the population, as is currently the case in Libya.

Indeed, when laws can be so easily manipulated to fit the ideologies of a particular group, life can become complicated, and often very dangerous for others.

Secularism is simply the separation of religion from the laws of the state. The state has nothing to do with the religious views of an individual, so it is only sensible that the two be apart. The secular state protects every individual’s right to exercise religious and cultural freedom, without persecution, but also ensures no religion originating laws are forced upon them.

The separation of the two is not an insult to one or the other. In Libya, it is a much-needed clarification of which laws apply to every citizen and which laws apply only to those who choose to follow them.

Every year, the United Nations measures the quality of life of citizens in states around the world, through surveys and data analysis. Repeatedly high scoring countries include Denmark, Sweden, and Canada, all of which live under secularism.

Secularism allows them all to maintain a strong sense of society, respect for citizens, high quality of life, and a good standard of living. Whereas in Libya, political Islamists cling to the idea of complete control over society, including its people’s personal beliefs and religious and cultural rituals. This can have a massively detrimental effect on citizens’ quality of life, and overall well-being.

Of course, each country has its specific version of secularism. In many countries such as England, the laws of the state are no longer influenced by religious beliefs, however religious structures, such as the church of England, still enjoy particular luxuries granted due to the population’s broadly Christian origins, and many faith schools are publicly funded.

Although many people are against this kind of special treatment, the overall model seems to work sufficiently. In Libya, we must find our model, suited to the needs of our people. We must be an open society in which citizens are free to express their beliefs, but an expression of spiritual belief and its inclusion in political decisions that regulate and affect the lives of hundreds of individuals, are two very different things. Secularism offers a unique opportunity, the opportunity for people of different beliefs and cultures, to live harmoniously with one another. Religious conflict in Libya has proved very capable of tearing our society apart.

Most Libyan people still don’t fully understand Secularism. Nor do I feel, do the constitution preparation body. If they are to actually ‘prepare’ the Libyan people for the draft constitution, they must first educate themselves, then spread awareness around the country, so the people can make an educated, informed a decision about the future of their country’s law.

  • A Libyan Writer