6.4: Religious Conflict
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Human beings have struggled against one another for a variety of reasons. Religious disagreements can be particularly intense. Sectarian violence involves differences based on interpretations of religious doctrine or practice. Thestruggles between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, or the wars associated with the Protestant Reformation and Counter Reformation, are examples of this form of conflict. The current violence seen between Sunni and Shia Muslims is also in this category. Closely associated with this kind of conflict is religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism rests on a literal interpretation and strict and intense adherence to the basic principles of a religion. The conflict arises when religious fundamentalists see their coreligionists as being insufficiently pious. Extremism is the idea that the end of a religious goal can be justified by almost any means. Some groups that are convinced that they have divine blessing have few limits to their behavior, including resorting to violence.
Another form of religious violence is between completely different religions. Wars between Muslims and Christians or Hindus and Buddhists have been framed as wars for the benefit or detriment of particular religions. What is described as religious strife, however, is often not. Although some religions are fighting over doctrinal differences, most conflict stems from more secular causesa desire for political power, a struggle for resources, ethnic rivalries, and economic competition.
The Israel/Palestine conflict is a struggle over territory, resources, and political recognition. The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has less to do with religion and more to do with differences in ethnicity, national origin, and post-colonial identity. Massacres in Sahelian Africa are better framed as farmers versus herders. The long running violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland is better framed as a violent dispute between one group who holds allegiance with the Republic of Ireland and the other who holds allegiance with the United Kingdom.
This is not to say that religious violence does not exist. It does. The most obvious example of this in recent years has been the emergence of Islamic State. This organization carries all the worst examples of religious extremismsectarianism toward other Muslims (the Shi’a), attempted genocide of religious minorities (Yazidis and Christians), and brutal repression through the apparatus of the state.