Politics in Minutes (2016)

Religious totalitarianism

Before the Enlightenment, and with the exception of the democracies of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, almost every absolute ruler could be described as more or less totalitarian. Many used religious ‘divine right’ as justification for their authority, which in Europe meant power was under the control of the Catholic church.

Nowadays, however, this kind of religious totalitarianism is restricted to Islam, and the very few authoritarian Islamic states enforcing a strict adherence to sharia. These include Arabic nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Sudan, Afghanistan when under the control of the Taliban, and debatably Iran. What characterizes these regimes as totalitarian is the absence of democratic processes, such as political parties, and the rigorous control over people’s private as well as public life, but especially the outlawing of apostasy – turning away from the faith – which can be interpreted as outlawing all infidels and so criminalizing opposition.