The following ran on UPI.org on Feb. 23, 2012. Political scientist Matthew Wilson provided expertise for this story.
March 5, 2012
By JOSEPH CHRYSDALE
TORONTO, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Muslim countries are overthrowing fundamentalist rulers and the United States could have a Mormon presidential candidate as religion keeps a firm, inevitable foot in politics.
Not since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy's Roman Catholic background was considered newsworthy as he ran for the U.S. presidency have religious faiths figured so prominently in political coverage as the Republican Party conducts primaries and caucuses to elect a challenger to U.S. President Barack Obama in November.
In the run-up to the caucuses in Iowa Jan. 3, widespread mention was made of the Mormon and Roman Catholic candidates. While the pool of candidates continues to shrink before the final primary in Utah June 26, Mormon Mitt Romney is maintaining a broad support base.
Among the former governor of Massachusetts' key challengers is former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic with a record of socially conservative votes opposing same-sex marriage and abortion.
Another candidate is former House Speaker and college history Professor Newt Gingrich, a Baptist who converted to Roman Catholicism.
None of the candidates has directly linked his faith to their leadership aspirations but international media has repeatedly noted their affiliations.
Why the resurgence of interest in religion's role in politics?
Much of it has to do with the Islamic fundamentalist "awakening" that's been simmering for decades, brought to an ugly head by the Sept. 11, 2001, airliner terror attacks in the United States.
Associate political science Professor Matthew Wilson of Southern Methodist University told UPI in a telephone interview one of the worst-case scenarios of religion affecting politics in modern history was the Taliban fundamentalist Muslim regime in Afghanistan that began in the 1990s after the Soviet invasion was defeated.
Thousands of NATO troops are in Afghanistan attempting to shore up a democratically elected government and train Afghans on how to secure their own country from insurgents.
Early in January 2011, political unrest also began stirring in North African and Middle Eastern countries. Tunisia was the first country to defy government police and soldiers and take to the streets demanding political reform.
The wave of violent dissent swept through Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco and Syria. As in Iraq, sectarianism pitted Sunni Muslims against Shiites and other factions.
Wilson also cited the former Soviet Union, North Korea and China as governments that have and do actively suppress religion.
As for German dictator Adolf Hitler, Wilson said he was more tolerant of religion during his regime, but only to a point.
"He was interested in religion to the extent that it could serve his political objective," the professor said. "If [religion] got in the way of his objectives, he was more than willing to suppress it."
Hitler had one infamous exception to tolerance -- his hatred for Jews. The Nazis' "Final Solution" was bent on the extermination of Jews and anything associated with them in Germany and other fallen countries. Hitler's political policies were responsible for the deaths of at least 6 million Jews....
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