The article tries to find out the role of religions in conflicts and what was the benefit of religious leaders from war.
Although all religions prohibit killing of humans but to expand the horizon of religion clergy blessed invasion and occupations. They abused the beliefs of people and instigated conflicts. But in reality expectations of clergy were not expansion of religion and salvation for poor people. The first and paramount purpose was to gain wealth.
During the middle ages the Catholic Church inspired poor peasants to start crusade in order to invade rich lands in Middle East. Pope sanctioned to kill indigenous people from other religions, to steal their property, and finally to settle in so called holy lands. Mass killings and destructions justified by Pope with liberation of Holly Lands from infidels. This was not an only case where religious leaders caused conflicts and ignited them.
After the discovery of new lands at the end of 15th century to acquire more fertile lands and raw material European States entered the competition. A new political and economic entity “Colony” was created. Colonial policies and exploitation backed by churches. Slave trade and depopulation of Africa were carried out in the name of God. Native population of America and Australia exposed to massacres and genocides. Majority of native population forced to flee their homes. Religion blessed and inspired Monarchs to realize these inhumane acts.
But comparison of current religious situation with past wouldn’t be right. Religions passed a long way over the 100 years and during these period lots of changes have occurred.
The last decades showed that the role of religions in society has changed a lot. In Western World religion maintained as a spiritual institute. The role of Vatican has decreased noticeably. Churches changed from supporter of despotism and dictatorship into the defender of human rights.
The first changes occurred when the First and Second Wave Democracy took place in the North and Central part of Western Europe. Protestant countries of Europe acquainted with democracy. Protestant Church was more reformist church comparing to Catholic and Orthodox Church and easily adopted changes in society. Samuel Huntington in his book “The Third Wave” states that Protestantism is the only religion or a sect that has democracy inside. But fundamental changes in Christianity took place after the third wave of democracy. For the first time the biggest institution of Christianity, Vatican Church started to support ordinary people and democracy. Vatican Church played an important role in the collapse of Soviet Union and Eastern bloc.
Reforms within the church transformed unjust and oppressive body into the defender of human rights. Religious leaders denounce wars and conflicts, call political decision makers to sit behind the round table and solve it with negotiations. Reputation of Christianity reconstructed and the true religion of Jesus Christ introduced to people.
Talking about the role of religions in conflicts it’s not possible not to touch upon the conflicts in Middle East. This region enables to give a wide coverage to religious interactions, to study what prevents Jews and Muslims living together and whether they are peaceful as it described in the holly books or they also have insufficiencies?
Middle East is the region which allows studying three major religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the birth place of all these three religions and civilizations. Religions caused trouble rather than peace and stability in this region. According to holly book of Muslims Koran, there was intolerance between these two communities from the early days of Islam. Jews couldn’t accept the prophet of Muslims because until that time they were the only nation whom all prophets were sent. It was difficult for Jews to accept Prophet Muhammad as a messenger of God. Jews and Muslims aroused hatred to each other and it resulted with bloody wars.
But confrontations between these two nations reached to the highest level after the World War Second. Jews suffered from World War Second more than other nations. Converting to Christianity was the only solution for Jews in order to survive in Europe under the increasing Anti-Semitism. Considering loyalty to Judaism and conservative position of Jews, Zionism (movement of Jews to the land of Israel) was unavoidable. State of Israel was a need of Jews in order to prevent another holocaust in the future.
Judaism played an important role in self determination process of Jews. Some critics argue that starting from 19th century Judaism transformed into nationalistic movement and established Zionism. But Zionism itself supports secularism and denies any kind of religious influence on political issues. Since the independence of Israel religious transformation into nationalistic movement has been prevented reconciliation with Arab Muslim world. Not only nationalist position but also apartheid position of Judaism indicates that it is incapable of compromising. Religious leaders of Israel support neither two states nor one state solution. Advocates of independent Palestine and critics of illegal settlement in West Bank are accused of being anti-Semitic. Uncompromising position doesn’t let the conflict to come out from dead end.
According to reports from international organizations Israel is the only democracy in Middle East. But there is a contradiction. Israel is a Jewish state and fully protects the rights of Jews. Israel gives privilege to one particular nation and minorities living in Israel especially Arab Muslims are deprived from basic human rights. This kind of system is ethnocracy rather than democracy.
One side blaming and accusations towards Israel would be completely wrong in approach to Arab-Israel conflict. Muslim clergy also responsible for nourish hatred in the region. Intolerant position of Arab Muslims hampered reconciliation process in the Middle East and ignited the region with sectarian conflicts. Public opinions show that Islam is considered as the most backward religion in the West.
For centuries Arabs and Jews feel hostility to each other. Jews are the most mentioned nation in Koran, the holly book of Muslims. Jews are characterized as a nation who betrayed Moses and because of that they are described as cursed nation by God. For years Muslim Clergy also abused these in order to drive out Jews from Middle East. The Muslim devout provoked to animosity and backed terroristic attacks against Israel. Struggling to establish independent Palestine, Arabs fail to recognize self determination right of Jews.
Islam is the last religion and Prophet Muhammad is the last messenger to people. This religion was considered to introduce corrections to previous religions. The life of Prophet Muhammad was shown as an example to his followers. Islam calls for peace and it gives extraordinary value for human life. But despite all of these Islam has the worst image among the other religions in the world.
Sectarian conflicts dominate the headline, freedom of speech, freedom of belief and human rights are violated. Muslims states are ruled either by dictators or sharia law. Crimes committed on behalf of Islam, 9/11 and other terroristic attacks, tribal culture originated stereotypes about Muslims in the world.
The most of Muslim countries always suffered from the interference of religious leaders to political issues, which caused instability in the country. Avid for power of religious leaders generated misinterpretation of Islam. Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 was the first attempt where religious leaders gained victory over monarchy. They utilized people in their fight against dictatorship and tyranny and after overthrowing the monarch more brutal and oppressive rule of government created by them. Minorities are driven into a corner, country is ruled by law of sharia, and the ruling system continues destabilizing activities in the region. Terroristic movements are supported in order to maintain its power in the region. Subversive political and military activities of Iran caused counteraction by another conservative religious state of Saudi Arabia. Enormous oil and gas reserves of Saudi Arabia enable to expand its religious interest in the region. Power aspirants in the region realize their policy by colonizing other Muslim states and continue to undermine situation. Syrian democratic anti governmental demonstrations was the domino effect of Arab spring which was peaceful demonstrations of people from repressive government. But in the course of the demonstration civil confrontation inside the Syria exploited and turned to sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia conducted by inciting radical terroristic organizations such as Al Kaida and Hizbullah.
Arab Spring considered as the fourth wave of democracy according to political analyzers. But challenges that all revolutionary movements confronted resulted with the failure of revolution. The factors which made democratic transition unavoidable during third wave didn’t occur completely in Arab Spring. Position of religion was not ready to accept reforms and adopt democratic secular rule of system. High level of illiteracy and lack of middle class reinforced the position of religion over society. External factors also weakened transition and inspired sectarian conflicts in the region.
Nowadays Muslim countries have difficulty with establishing working democracy because of ethnic and religious diversities. The absence of democratic experience in the past also makes the transition impossible. As a democratic model Muslim countries can apply Turkish model of democracy. Established secular democracy by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk separated religion from state and army assigned as a protector of secular democracy.
As a conclusion it is necessary to point out that all existing religions are the indicator of our daily way of life which calls us to live in peace and harmony with all people. Religions invite humanity to tolerate diversities and respect human rights. Dialogues among all religions could be right recipe to eliminate stereotypes and misinterpretations of other civilizations. Modern and reformist religious leaders from different religions should work together in order to decrease the role of traditional political motivated religious views.