Religion and Conflict
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe. Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals' identity, any threat to one's beliefs is a threat to one's very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists. However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world. This aspect of religion and conflict is discussed in the parallel essay on religion and peace. This essay considers some of the means through which religion can be a source of conflict. Religion and Conflict
Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latentsource of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God's will to fruition. Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God's wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God's will. Some groups, such as America's New Christian Right and Jama'at-i-Islami of Pakistan, have operated largely through constitutional means though still pursue intolerant ends. In circumstances where moderate ways are not perceived to have produced results, whether social, political, or economic, the populace may turn to extreme interpretations for solutions. Without legitimate mechanisms for religious groups to express their views, they may be more likely to resort to violence. Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine have engaged in violence, but they also gained supporters through social service work when the government is perceived as doing little for the population. Radical Jewish cells in Israel and Hindu nationalists and Sikh extremists in India are other examples of fundamentalist movements driven by perceived threat to the faith. Religious revivalism is powerful in that it can provide a sense of pride and purpose, but in places such as Sri Lanka and Sudan it has produced a strong form of illiberal nationalism that has periodically led to intolerance and discrimination. Some religious groups, such as the Kach and Kahane Chai parties in Israel or Egypt's Islamic Jihad, consider violence to be a ‘duty'. Those who call for violence see themselves as divinely directed and therefore obstacles must be eliminated. Many religions also have significant strains of evangelism, which can be conflictual. Believers are called upon to spread the word of God and increase the numbers of the flock. For example, the effort to impose Christianity on subject peoples was an important part of the conflict surrounding European colonization. Similarly, a group may seek to...
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