‘Theocracy’, in simple terms is where a God is deemed as the ultimate ruler of the state, and a religious leader runs the affairs of the government, and a prime example of this is any strict Muslim state like Saudi Arabia where ‘Sharia Law‘ is in place. A theocracy, meaning the ‘rule of God’, has been common place throughout history all around the world, and the appointed leader, or monarch is God’s representative, or even seen as a descendant and their control is absolute and are above being questioned.
Theocracies are controlled by a dominant religion, and any other faith, or non-belief is often deeply frowned upon and don’t inherit the same rights, like marriage, or property ownership. In the past Egypt, China, Japan and Israel were theocracies. In the present day, theocracies are predominantly Muslim and consist of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brunei, Yemen, Sudan and Afghanistan, although there are strong possibilities that Egypt may be returning to its theocratic beginnings.
“Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god’s purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers his authority and that of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family at home
Whilst ‘Vatican City‘ is located within Rome, it’s still identifies as a legitimate state, and is under rule by the appointed Pope, who is the leader of the Catholic Church, and is under theocratic control. The Catholic Church is unfortunately responsible for many crimes throughout history, and the first one that usually springs to mind is the attempt to cover up sexual misconduct by priests against nuns and children, which has gone on for centuries.
Pope Urban was responsible for the beginning on the Crusades where Catholics and Christians went into the Middle East butchering Jews and Muslims, because the Pope feared them spreading into Europe. City after city were captured and it was common practise to decapitate the slain and place their heads on a spike. Whilst both sides committed atrocities for three hundred years, the Catholic Church set the ball rolling.
Pope Innocent VII was claimed by scholars to be an extremely paranoid and brutal man, and whilst Catholicism wasn’t solely responsible for Witch hunts, they were extremely active. Innocent, who ironically wasn’t innocent, had many women burned at the stake, or thrown into rivers to drown, and if they didn’t drown they were executed for being witches.
Perhaps the most brutal act by the Catholic Church were the collection of inquisitions, where the Pope of the time signed a document called a papal bull, which were essentially public decrees, and during the inquisitions it was the job of the Catholic Church to combat heresy, and this often involved severe torture to get a confession and then the accused was executed after a trial.
During the colonisation of North America, 500 or so years ago, the Italians and Spanish had key involvement in this, and some scholars maintain that their main aim was to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism. But many other historians say that whist this was a factor, their main ambition was to acquire the lands and the wealths that came with it, often at the costs of the indigenous population.
“Killing, raping and looting have been common practices in religious societies, and often carried out with clerical sanction. The catalogue of notorious barbarities – wars and massacres, acts of terrorism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the chopping off of thieves’ hands, the slicing off of clitorises and labia majora, the use of gang rape as punishment, and manifold other savageries committed in the name of one faith or another — attests to religion’s longstanding propensity to induce barbarity, or at the very least to give it free rein. The Bible and the Quran have served to justify these atrocities and more, with women and gay people suffering disproportionately. There is a reason the Middle Ages in Europe were long referred to as the Dark Ages; the millennium of theocratic rule that ended only with the Renaissance (that is, with Europe’s turn away from God toward humankind) was a violent time” – Jeffrey Tayler
The list of crimes against humanity from the theocracy of Vatican City is endless. It’s one of the largest crime organisations in the world, and is corrupt to its core. It has links in Italy to the Mafia, money laundering and Pope Pius XII had a personal relationship with Adolf Hitler where they signed a treaty (Reichskonkordat), which guaranteed the rights of Catholicism in Germany if they acknowledge loyalty to the Third Reich.
You can’t talk about theocratic dictatorships without mentioning Muslim states. Muslims will argue that Islamic States are not dictatorships as dictators are ego driven, and being egotistic is a sin, but instead claim that Islamic States are divinely ruled. Regardless of your definition, oppression and severe punishment are key components, and an authotsrian rule in the form of Sharia Law needs to be strictly observed. Tawhid, which is what a Muslim’s faith is based on where they believe ‘God is one‘, and in some Islamic States to turn away from that and take another faith like Christianity, could cost you your life. I read a quote once and I forget who it’s by, but it goes something like; it pays not to think in a Muslim country. Islam literally means ‘submission‘, and you’re taught from a young age to accept and never question.
“The very concept of an Iranian university is an oxymoron. There are no free and open places of learning in that repressive theocracy. Dissenters are not given tenure; they are murdered, after first being tortured. Blasphemy, which is broadly defined, is punished. Gays are not only excluded from Iranian universities, but are imprisoned and killed” – Alan Dershowitz
In many Islamic states, like Iran, or Afghanistan, religious law and civil law are one of the same thing, and if you go against this, punishment can be extremely severe, especially if you’re accused of heresy or homosexuality. Radical Muslims wish for the whole world to be this way, and they loathe the lifestyle of the west. Everyone has heard of the atheist atrocities fallacy where communist dictators, despite being autocratic, and wishing for the most part to have absolute power, are linked to atheism. But what makes an Islamic State’s dictator any different to a Marxist dictator?
“Who are your favourite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model” – Christopher Hitchens
Islam is devoid of compassion in radical states, as it doesn’t care about a person’s individual rights, it only cares that you follow Allah’s words to the letter. In Islam you have servants and a master, and it’s as far away from a democracy as you can get. One of the Hadith’s tells of a woman being stoned to death for being an adulteress, so there’s no second chance, no room for error, and no forgiveness. Does Islam understand pacifism? It’s called the ‘religion of peace’, but it’s not really, is it? So many are willing to jihād (one definition; armed struggle against unbelievers, another meaning ‘inner struggle‘) and violence has gone hand in hand with Islam since its beginnings. Jihad is only supposed to be used in self defence, but Pakistan and Afghanistan are breeding grounds for Islamic extremists, and 9/11 certainly wasn’t self defence.
ISIS and ISIL have extremely strict views of Sharia Law, and are very comparable to Saudi Arabia’s, with punishment for crimes being as severe as it can get. Many executions are public displays, and the majority are beheadings, and sometimes the decapitated body is crucified for a number of days as a public display. It’s not uncommon for mass executions, and in 2019, 37 civilians were executed and sources claim that confessions were brought about from torture.
Libya is a former theocracy and was controlled by the dictator, revolutionary, Muammar al–Qaddafi (Gaddafi). He gained power in 1969 until he was overthrown in 2011, and being a Muslim he applied Sharia Law combined with Socialism. Gaddafi had a military background and his coup d’etat overthrew king Idris, and as soon as he gained control, his corruption, interference with Africa’s political affairs and despicable human rights violations began.
“Those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” – Muammar el-Gaddafi
He expelled all western nationals and the Jewish community as he despised Zionism. Gaddafi’s secret service network went around the world assassinating Libyans who fled his reign of terror, he ruled Libya with an iron fist under extremely strict Sharia Law combined with Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which meant (peopledom) that brought disagreement and contempt from Fundamentalists, and Libyan terrorists became commonplace who had links to the IRA and were responsible for the destruction of several flights, ie: Lockerbie.
Iraq was also a theocracy that Saddam Hussein put into place combining his Arab socialist views, and his Sunni Islamic faith. He rigorously opposed Shi’a and Kurdish as he feared that they wished to gain power from his neo Ba’ath party who were an Arab socialist party who wanted all Arab nations to unify into one state, who implemented severe penalties for crimes under Sharia Law.
Allah is on our side. That is why we will beat the aggressor.” – Saddam Hussein
His regime was notoriously cruel and was responsible for mass genocide, mass casualties in the invasion of Kuwait and Iran, and the Guif War conflict. He had direct links to Al-Qaeda who wanted death to the west. Amnesty international had a long list of crimes against humanity that Hussein and his authoritarian regime were responsible for and this is what his eventual trial and execution stemmed from.
Religious dictators of Africa
Whilst not a theocracy, but more a dictatorship run by a brutal Islamic Idi Amin, Uganda was ruled by tyranny throughout the seventies and Amin, a devout Muslim, was responsible for the most horrific crimes against humanity through severe megalomania. He had an allegiance with a Mr Gaddafi, who as we know was a fellow Muslim. Here’s an article I wrote about him last year:
”I’m a good Muslim and I’m only interested in Islam.” – Idi Amin
You can’t discuss African dictatorships without mentioning the Zimbabwean religio-political figure, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe, despite being a ruthless figure, was a highly educated intellectual who had a Jesuit upbringing in the predominantly Catholic country of Zimbabwe. Mugabe ruled with an Iron Fist and had little to no mercy, but the church had an impact on him, be it positive or negative remains to be seen, but either way he believed in God but managed as a whole to keep it out of his government unless he saw fit to use it to his advantage. Here’s an article I wrote about him last year:
”Only God who appointed me will remove me.” – Robert Mugabe
Omar Al-Bashir ruled Sudan with a brutal tyranny that’s difficult to contemplate, and like many African dictators he seized power from an elected democratic government through a coup d’etat. He instantly criminalised opposing political parties, silenced the press and gained support from the extremist Islamic figure, Ḥasan al-Turābī, who was the leader of the National Islamic Front. By joining forces they began to turn Sudan into an Islamic state and implemented strict Sharia Law. During his reign 2,000,000 people were displaced due to famine as he prevented foreign aid.
He was accused of war crimes, mass genocide, ordering rape and pillage, and other severe crimes against humanity and an arrest warrant was eventually issued by the International Criminal Court. He was an extremely paranoid man and feared a coup against him, so he systematically had many of the leading figures of his government executed. The country was officially listed as a state sponsor to terrorism, especially with Ḥasan al-Turābī’s links to Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.
Throughout all of this the country was in the midst of a civil war, with the north (Muslim) fighting against the south (non-Muslim) who didn’t want Sharia Law imposed upon them. This civil war, named as ethnoreligious conflict lasted twenty two years. In 2019 and early 2020, al-Bashir faced crimes against humanity.
“Our God, high and exalted, from above the seven skies, gave us the opportunity. If she is lashed according to Sharia law, there is no investigation. Why are some people ashamed? This is Sharia” – Omar al Bashir
Charles Ghankay Taylor, who was a former president of Liberia, is another in a long line of corrupt, religious, African dictators. During his guerrilla training in Libya he became a protégé of Gaddafi, who funded uprising against the government in Liberia. Another corrupt leader, who had allegiance with the televangelist Pat Robertson, who he gave rights to mine for diamonds in Liberia. Upon Robertson’s questioning about this, considering Liberia was in the midst of civil war still, Robertson blatantly lied and claimed the planes were sending over much needed relief.
Both Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone were in the midst of civil war, and Taylor was held accountable. During this time, a large population of Liberia were left homeless and the death toll went into the hundreds of thousands. He was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, that included enlisting child soldiers, execution and mutilation, and taking advantage of the ‘blood diamond’ trade. In 2012, at the age of 64, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison. A lay Baptist preacher turned genocidal dictator, accused of cannibalism, and drugging child soldiers to fight for him.
“Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time” – Charles Taylor
Religious dictators of Latin America
One of the most notorious of South American dictators was Augusto Pinochet who maintained power of Chile for 17 years. As is often the case, Pinochet rose through the military ranks until he overthrew the Socialist Chilean government, backed by the United States as they both shared a dislike for Socialism, and in 1974 he was declared the President on Chile. He instantly began his reign of terror by persecuting anyone who disagreed with him, or could potentially get in his way.
Thousands of people were executed or vanished without any trace, whilst Pinochet got wealthy from corruption in the form of embezzlement, arms trading and fraud. After his rule ended, he was arrested whilst outside of Chile and had 300 charges of human rights violations put against him, but he died before he could attend trial. He was accused of thousands of cases of torture and assassination, and Pinochet claimed that it was necessary to save Chile from communism. He was also responsible for the existence of the ‘caravan of death‘ which was an army death squad who travelled in helicopters to army garrisons executing prisoners. The Catholic Church gave Pinochet its blessing to the military authority as Pinochet was an active, practising Roman Catholic like much of Latin America.
“Everything I did, all my actions, all of the problems I had I dedicate to God and to Chile, because I kept Chile from becoming Communist” – Augusto Pinochet
Anastasio Somoza DeBayle became a Nicaraguan dictator, after the death of his brother, ‘Luis‘, who was President before him. He continued a reign of terror from the Somoza family that began in 1936. At an early age he attended the ‘Christian brothers‘ school, which was founded by a French Roman Catholic priest named, Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, before he was shipped off with his older brother to attend boarding school in Florida. Upon his return to Nicaragua, he married his first cousin, Hope Portocarrero, an American in the Managua cathedral. His father was assassinated 6 years later and his brother took presidency. After his brother died Nicaragua went through a few political changes and a natural disaster until Anastasio finally seized power and his tyranny began. It didn’t take long for Nicaragua’s citizens to become his victims of human rights violations.
Despite this, he had support from President Carter who commended him for his human rights record, yet he was renowned in Latin America as one of the bloodthirstiest dictators to have ever lived. Why did America support him, and why did they supply, train and arm the Nicaraguan national guard when they were violating the citizen’s human rights? The answer is simple, and it was to keep America’s foot in the door, and with the paranoia of communism spreading, they supported anyone who stood up against it, regardless of their actions.
The Somoza’s were in allegiance with Cuban exiles and the CIA with the intent of removing the Castro regime in Cuba. The Somoza’s were just puppets for Washington’s imperialism, and so long as they kept communism at bay, the CIA stood back and let bloodshed and tragedy ensue throughout Nicaragua.
“I don’t want an educated population; I want oxen” – Anastasio Somoza DeBayle
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina maintained a cruel rule over the Dominican Republic for 31 years, which was known as ‘El Trujillato‘, until his assassination in 1961. The Hispanic Caribbean region where the Dominican Republic is located was rife with the rise and fall of dictatorships, but Trujillo’s cruelty became legendary, as did the length of his tight grip on his subjects. He was a notoriously cruel man, who advocated national and international terrorism that involved attempts at assassinations, and military coup d’etats against other dictators in the region. He’s been compared by historians to Adolf Hitler in that he wanted it all.
Like many dictators before and after him, he didn’t tolerate confrontation, so the Dominican Republic became a one party state, so with no opposition he had free reign to do as he wished, and what he wished for was bloodshed, and much of it. His ego was second to none and he had the capital city renamed after him, streets and regions bearing his name, and he created a slogan that read ‘Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra‘, which meant ‘God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth’.
Despite being raised as a Roman Catholic in a large and deeply devout family, and believing in the will of God, he placed his faith in localised folk religions, as this allowed him to live a sleaze ridden life of greed and debauchery, with mistresses, accusations of rape, money laundering, embezzlement and a list of other crimes of equal significance. One of his most heinous crimes was the extermination of the Haitian migrants because of his racist fuelled hatred he commanded the massacre of thousands.
“He who does not know how to deceive, does not know how to rule.” – Raphael Trujillo
Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda, who was a former President of Paraguay is the longest serving dictator in South American history, with 35 years of corruption and brutality in his name. Like most dictators he seized power through a coup d’etat and being anti-communist, of course he had the full support and backing from the United States, and as usual they turned a blind eye to the repression of Paraguay. Stroessner took away civil liberties from the civilians and ruled under militarism and forced constant propaganda.
Stroessner ran several criminal enterprises and also gave refuge to terrorists and Nazi war criminals, due to his German heritage and sympathy to the Nazi ideology. He ran drug smuggling rings, most commonly cocaine which brought him much wealth. Born and raised a Roman Catholic like 90% of Paraguay, his belief in God didn’t deter him away from corruption and crime.
I could literally go all around the world to find a theocracy past and present, or a religious dictator who’s committed atrocious crimes against humanity, and all theists will say (if they even had the courage to read it) is ‘no true Scotsman‘. They cannot ever accept that someone has had true faith, but led a despicable life with complete disregard for human rights and welfare.
Time and time again we hear how atheism is responsible for communist dictators, but as I’ve written in this article, communism and socialism does mix with religion, and almost every dictator in the history of humanity has had a religious upbringing. But does that mean that religion is to blame. Of course it doesn’t, just like atheism isn’t to blame. Dictators require power and they take what isn’t theirs and they abuse it. It makes no difference whether the tyranny is from a man who’s in touch with his God, or has no God. But neither can take the moral high round, as greed, the need to be in control, and to cause suffering is unfortunately part of human nature. Some people just can’t suppress these urges.