I was reading today how the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, has accused the west of creating the conditions which allowed the development of the extreme militant fundamentalist group that is the current enemy number one of the US and her allies- ISIS. It is a sign of how much things have changed in international relations that an Iranian president could say things like this and anyone would be listening. Even more than most of us would listen and think that he is absolutely right.
Anyone ever heard someone say this?-
“More wars are created by religion than just about any other cause.”
It is one of those truisms that, even though very easily challenged by a cursory look at history (witness both world wars in the last C) is remarkably persistent in our culture. Religion creates fervently held divergent ideas and fanatics who would defend these ideas at any cost.
Karen Armstrong (she of the Charter for Compassion initiative) has written a new book entitled Religion and the history of violence. She deals with this subject in a remarkable article in The Guardian today, which is really worth reading in full. In the article, she deals with the co-existence of violence and religion throughout history, arguing that in most cases, religious violence is intermingled with political expediency in such a way that it is almost impossible to describe the cause of the violence as being the religion itself.
She next deals with the rise of this thing called ‘secularism’, which was the West’s answer to perceptions of the danger of allowing religion to mix with politics.
When dealing with more recent religious conflicts, she had this to say;
When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life. What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte.
Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.
Fundamentalism as reaction, not as consequence of faith itself. Pretty much what the Iranian President is saying. Armstrong goes on to say this;
Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs. There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional.
When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme.
The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.
It feels to me there is great wisdom in these words. Contrast them with the rising cry of violence that our government is rushing to join. The answer to violent groups like ISIS appears to be, more violence- as if this will ever put out the flames. As if this will remove the circumstances that led to the violence in the first place.
The counter cry will arise- evil can not be allowed to stand. Men of violence must be opposed. Justice should flow like a river.
But we have been here before have we not?