Albright says politicians must face the realities of religion
Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who served in the American government from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, says that religion is an unavoidable part of geopolitics ñ and that leaders need to deal with it, rather than trying to pretend it doesnít exist.
But she expresses concern that, whereas most American presidents have been people of personal faith, President Bush ìhas made his [own] religious convictions American government policyî.
In her new newly-published book ëThe Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairsí, Dr Albright attacks the faith-based violence like that of Osama Bin Laden.
She also criticises the negative influence of the religious right ñ but lays more blame at the doors of Mr Bush himself.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning (30 May 2006), the former US foreign policy director also said that ìthe United States has to engage [with Iran]î and ìhas to have bilateral talksî.
Referring to the aftermath of 9/11, she continued: ìPresident Bushís certainty that he talked to God makes it difficult to test assumptionsî.
Backing state neutrality in religious matters, and noting that faith can be both benign and malign in its impact, Dr Albrightís new book says that negotiators often prefer to steer away from thorny matters of belief. But she says that this is a mistake.
The right option, she argues, is to acknowledge that religion is inherent to many conflicts around the world, to seek to better to understand world faiths, and look commonalities rather than just to wish the differences would go away.
In a volume which is more reflective than polemical, the ex-secretary of state supports what she says is the bipartisan approach of former boss Clinton to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
But she faults current US leader George Bush for projecting a sense of his own righteousness on the global stage. And she says that launching the Iraq war may be ìone of America`s worst foreign-policy mistakes everî.
In this she distinguishes herself from New York senator Hillary Clinton, hotly tipped as a Democrat presidential candidate for the 2008 US elections, who has recently away defied her liberal reputation by becoming hawkishly pro-war.
Instead of seeking to dominate through military force, Dr Albright writes, America should work creatively within international institutions and law to isolate violent religious extremists and their allies.
The best way to resist radical Islamism, which she distinguishes from mainstream Muslim beliefs, is to develop nuanced understandings of individual Islamic countries, argues Albright.
She deplores the tendency to generalise and oversimplify such relations, as in the ëclash of civilisationí thesis, which has gained ground among American neo-conservatives and more hard-line secularists.
Albright backs the inclusion and integration of Turkey within the European Union, something which has been resisted by a number of Catholic and Christian Democrat leaders.
ëThe Mighty and the Almightyí contains chapters on the teachings of Islam, faith and politics in the USA, and the struggle between Christians and Muslims to win hearts and minds in Africa.
Albright is not the only senior political figure to show a literary interest in matters spiritual. UK Liberal Democrat peer and former Labour minister Shirley Williams published God and Caesar: Personal Reflections on Politics and Religion last year. It has more recently appeared in paperback.
Dr Williams examines the relationship between Christian teaching, the Church and public life in the modern world. She discusses religious and ethical considerations relevant to the struggle against terrorism, and sets out the basis of an international legal and moral order.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is also reputed to be interested in exploring the contribution of faith to political processes when he finally leaves Number 10 Downing Street.
[Also on Ekklesia: Politicians line up to write about religion; Shirley Williams calls for Iraq helicopters to aid quake zone; TV producer defends claims about God, Bush and Iraq; Bushís hurricane prayer day stirs controversy; George Bush announces war with Iraq and pleads for God blessing; Bush criticised for claiming God made him go to war; Book questions George Bush's theology; TV producer defends claims about God, Bush and Iraq; God's politics by Jim Wallis straight in to NY times bestseller list; Religious Right to hold thanksgiving service for Bush; Bush told Christian Coalition founder 'no Iraq casualties'; Bush claims god for his foreign policy; President Bush's church decries injustice and war in Iraq]