In my post about the TVO episode with Mark Steyn, commentator "aelfheld" took issue with my assertion that Islam is an authoritarian religion, claiming that, as it recognizes nothing outside of itself, totalitarian would be a more apt description.
I don't agree with that. I think it is very important to be clear in our use of language so that we have proper problem identification. Normally, people spend about 10% of their time identifying a problem and 90% coming up with solutions (e.g. Kyoto Protocol.
To describe a religion as authoritarian is to refer to the requirement of strict obedience to the dogma. Islam demands strict obedience. Other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, do as well. Although, what we find is that people stray from obedience for different reasons in all three of these religions. But that doesn't mean at their historical and purest core they don't demand obedience as the key to entering the kingdom of heaven.
The term totalitarian applies when a religion becomes the operative agency in the administration and policy formation of the state -- when it controls the civil functions of a society. Iran would be an example. This is a theocracy, whereby clerics dictate to the civil authorities the policies and the laws. In Saudi Arabia, the civil authority, the tribe of Saud, having entered into a pact with the Wahhabi sect of Islam, allows the religious authorities free rein in enforcing religious rules.
This is not peculiar to Islam. In the 9th century, Charlemagne created France (and Europe) by entering into a pact with the Vatican and either destroyed or converted the Germanic barbarian tribes to Christianity. All pagan gods were abolished.
In the 15th century, Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain threw out the Islamic Moors, then entered into a pact with the Vatican, commenced the Inquisition, and drove the Jews from Spain in an effort to make the country completely Catholic Christian.
And while our historical evidence is weak, Old Testament accounts from the time of the Jewish kings, Saul, David and Solomon, suggest that the ancient Israelites were no less fanatical about religious purity within the territory of the state's writ.
To speak of a religion as totalitarian without identifying in its relation to the secular power of the state is not accurate.