Religion and Violence Essay

Religion and Violence


The attacks on September 11 are part of many incidences that have occurred over the years, which have invoked diverse questions. Other than the issue of the role of the government in securing its people, other issues have also emerged. One of the other dominating issues relates to the role of religion on violence (Haar, 2005). As analysts attempt to identify the relationship between religion and violence, majority of them have come up with one assumption. The assumption is that there is something characterizing Islam which makes it more prone to violence as compared to other religions. This paper will attempt to address this issue by identifying Islam related terrorism acts and violence incidences. The paper further acknowledges that although at the current moment Islam seems to be on the limelight, other religions such as Hinduism, Christianity Buddhism and Jewish have also been known to perpetrate violent acts in the past. 

By taking this approach, the researcher will identify whether religious violence is a primary outcome of scripture, doctrine and beliefs or it is the result of political, social, economic, and cultural factors, amongst others. The paper, therefore, indicates that religious violence is not necessarily a primary outcome of religion, but an outcome of individual’s interpretation of religion, who is situated in given circumstances (Thomas et al., 2009). This paper will mainly rely on primary source of information particularly in the form of scholarly journal articles that present original, un-interpreted material. The information contained in these materials is turned into data for the paper’s argument by using it as reference points for arguments presented in this paper. 


There are various issues to consider in identifying the conditions surrounding the interpreter of religion on a violence perspective. First, it is relevant to consider the religion interpreter and the authority under which he operates (Haar 2005).  Secondly, it is relevant to consider the economic, political and social influencing the interpreter to interpret as such. Thirdly, the religious members’ believability level also needs to be assessed (Haar, 2005). 

The assumption linking Islam to be prone to more violence activities as compared to other religions has been invoked by various circumstances. Kelsay cites the twelfth - century Syrian commentatoral - Sulami, “writing in the context of the Second Crusade, as interpreting the jihad of individual duty to apply not to every Muslim but rather to individual rulers: when one of them is attacked, the neighboring ones should take arms in defense (Kelsay 2007 : 115 – 17). First, a significant share of the major terrorism attacks around the globe has been linked to people whose basic religion is Islam (Liere, 2012). Secondly, the Jihad, which is of great importance to the Islam faith, has been constantly attributed as the cause of the bellicosity characterizing Islam. Additionally, Islam’s martyrization doctrine has also been attributed as the cause of violence among influence in as far as religious wars are concerned. As Turner Johnson states, “The traditions on just war and jihad of the sword are deeply imbedded in their respective cultures, those of the West and of Islam; they are at once religious and political in nature; they connect to fundamental understandings of political order, domestic and international; and they have influenced contemporary discourse and action.” (Murphy, 2011). Furthermore, Islam has been accused of becoming a backward religion where it is resistance to modernity and change. Terrorism attacks such as the 9/11 one appear to be frustration acts against counties that are perceived to be modernized (Liere, 2012).

Terrorism attacks facilitated by Muslim terrorists may be the focus of interest in many discussions relating to the link between violence and religion. However, they are not the only religious related types of violence. In history, the Christian Crusades and the Indian riots relating to Muslims and Christians (Christian, 2007). The violence occurring between the Jewish and Muslims in the Middle East cannot be ignored. Northern Ireland experienced unrest due to protestant and Catholic conflicts. Ayatolla Khoimeni’s accession and the Iranian Revolution are all violence incidences caused by numerous religions (Haar, 20050. 

The concept of ‘Cosmic War,’ introduced by Mark Juergensmeyer’s acts as a useful conceptual framework in researching on eth larger than life conflicts and confrontations that are engaged by religious extremists (Christians, 2007). Over the past few decades the topic of religious violence has grown increasingly important in public discourse and especially in its global manifestation. In the field of social science, discourse centering on religious violence mainly focuses on explanation of violent acts that are motivated by their enveloping social political contexts. It is therefore argued that such an approach will only highlight a limited part of the story. However, taking into consideration that some actions are driven a religious vision, such as the vision of ‘cosmic war,’ adopting a “sociotheological approach” (Haar, 2005) is particularly plausible in understanding religious violence through the engagement of global views of violent actors directly and factoring their religious concerns with the same seriousness as their political ideologies. Such an approach is especially important in Analyzing the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the middle east as this conflict is known to have both political and religious inclinations (Haar, 2005). The concept of ‘Cosmic war’ refers to the existing metaphysical battle between the forces of evil and good that lightens up the religious imagination and motivates violent action. 

The notion of cosmic is common in the theology of most religions especially the major religions, which include Islam, Judaism and Christianity (“Religion and Armed Conflict”, 1990). According to these religions, this refers to the Day of Judgment, the realization of God’s eventual intention for his creation, and the cosmic battle between evil and good. 

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Cosmic war upholds a variety of defining characteristics. Cosmic war is less pragmatic and more symbolic in terms of intent and is executed in rather dramatic ways; such displays of violence often find their moral foundation and justification in a religious imperative. Secondly, it exists in a rather diving timeline whereby although victory is imminent; it is not necessarily evidenced in this lifetime (Liere, 2012). Thirdly, it empowers those who stand up for the cause and consequently providing actions that are divinely justified as a means of solving world issues. 

Actions by Terrorist in a cosmic war are evinced as evocations of a greater clash between good and evil, between supremacies and domains and not inevitably between persons with  dissimilar religious orientations (Jenkins, 2006). The power that is contained in this concept transcends normal claims of earthly and political authority. In the Middle East and other regions that are Islam dominated, the battle for the soul of Islam is daily evidenced. In these parts of the world, Islamists and other radical groups such as Al-Qaeda have founded their scuffle against secularism, the domination of the world by the powers from the West and USA in a rather cosmic perspective (Jenkins, 2006). This cosmic context gives life to their struggle and elevates it and consequently imputing it with the imprimatur of the diving. This therefore implies that their struggle and actions are preordained as justified by the now common statement: “Islam in its pristine purity will prevail” (Jenkins, 2006). Additionally, “Historically it has been the idea of jihad as community obligation that has dominated. The Ottoman Sultans (Caliphs after Selim I) termed their warfare jihad up through World War I. Other regional caliphs also used this term for their warfare against the dar al - harb . In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the leaders of anticolonial struggles in parts of Africa characterized their efforts as jihad . While radical Islamism historically traces to the anticolonial movement in Muslim lands.” (Murphy, 2011).

Most nations tend to approach religious opposition in a tactical manner as opposed to using appropriate strategy. For instance, nations such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia put more focus on short term political benefits by employing the highest expedient tools that are available in tackling religious opposition (Christians 2007). The existence of dynamic and short term national policies in tacking religious opposition is an indication that such approaches do not offer long term results. Additionally, states have failed to show any success in containing and managing ideological and spiritual dimensions of conflict (Christians, 2007). One of the concepts useful in examining the types of states that abuse religious in order to attain political mileage and how they are able to accomplish is the political wars of position, a concept instituted by Antonio Gramsci an Italian socialist. In most instances, the cosmic war is pioneered by extremist vanguards. However, this only acts as the initial phase of the struggle. The following phase of conflict is often understood as the war of positioning. In this phase, a number of actors harboring divergent ambitions jockey for increased power and influence over the state (Christians, 2007). 

Before proceeding any further, it is important to first provide a distinction of radical political fundamentalism, radical apolitical fundamentalism and a religious political radicalism. Radical fundamentalists are known to have three main characteristics: The first is that they demand for immediate, radical and comprehensive conversion of the society (Basedau et al., 20120. Secondly, they hold the belief that adherents derive their ultimate source of authority from the cosmos; and thirdly, they mainly depend on politics to achieve their ends (Basedau et al., 2012). 

The table below shows the difference between fundamentalist from other categories on the basis of the characteristics stated above. 

Using this understanding, it is possible to insightfully understand the case of Iran n under Ayatollah Khomeni (Basedau et al., 2012). This approach reveals how a ‘quietist’ posture is able to be converted into political fundamentalist fervor. Additionally, this case in point presents a dramatic illustration of the fusion between politics and religion in the 20th century. Khomeini inspired the innovation of a political rule by clerics in Shiism (Baseau et al., 2012). Khomeini’s message merged politics, religion and nationalism and consequently, his call for political action served more than appealing to the society but also helped galvanized the masses into protesting against the shah. This case in point ended up being a watershed event as it served to embolden Muslims the world over, influencing them to become increasingly active in politics in addition to inspiring their basic fervor and eventual resulting in the radicalization of new groups such as the Muqtada al-Sard led Mahdi Army in Iraq (Basedau, Strùˆver, & Vùˆllers, 2012). 


Similarly, it is argued that Lenin’s question on politics becomes more relevant on the subject of religious violence and the state: in terms of which party is the actor and which party is being acted upon: commonly referred to as the ‘who’ and ‘whom’. This is especially evidenced by through the analysis of the dynamics between the British appointed chief Rabbi Kook in Palestine, and the British authorities living in that region. Contrary to the other Rabbi’s understanding, As a Zionist, Rabbi Kook perceived that this was God’s act, and He was using the kibbutzniks (Thomas et al., 2009). These socialist settlers defied all other religious norms but still held the belief that they were Jewish. This led him to take sides with Ben Gurion, the secular socialist leader (Thomas et al., 2009). In the end, this set him up in the status of a ‘whom’ in that he ended up being used by the secular nationalists that finally led to the formation of a secular Jewish state. 

However, after several decades, 17 graduates from his Yeshiva were able to rise to the position of leadership in the Gush Emunim, otherwise referred to as the Block of the Faithful (Thomas et al., 2009). The Gush Emunim were a radical religious Jewish organization whose main objective was to absorb the Gaza strip,  West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights  make part of the Jewish territory. This region would be referred to as Eretz Jerusalem or the greater Israel. 

Interestingly, in order to justify their cause, the Gush Emunim, cited the Torah in arguing for their definition of Israel’s boundaries in addition to stirring militant policies and actions. It was during this time that the labor party, which was predominantly secular-minded, ended up being the ‘whom’, and were used by the Gush Emunim in fronting their religious agenda. This has even been experienced in the west where a group of fundamentalist Christians residing in the United States and Jewish fundamentalists based in Israel have joined for common cause despite the fact that the two are diametrically opposed. This relationship is because each perceives the as critical in furthering their own religious goals (Religion and armed conflict., 1990). 

Bearing in mind the historical relations between Christians and Muslims, which for ages has been characterized by dissensions, quarrels and conflicts, it is understandable why the two share a deep chasm of mutual distrust (Thomas, Roggema, & Monferrer, 2009). Although there have been continued efforts to achieve a mutual understanding there doesn’t seem to be any progress. After the September 11 terror attacks, there were significant calls for the dissenting religious leaders to embrace dialogue and understanding (Haar, 2005). 

Today, Christianity and Islam are known as the world’s most popular religions comprising approximately forty percent of the global population. The manner in which the believers of these two religions relate and understand each other has profound implications for the future. As far as the Christians are concerned, the increasing rate of growth of Islam globally and especially in the west is a reason for utmost concern (Haar 2005). For Muslims, the increasing cases of terrorism and the growing negative attitudes and misunderstanding is reason for increasing need for Muslims to defend their faith. In overall, for both groups, high levels of ignorance acts as a significant barrier to effective and meaningful dialogue that could possibly lead to amicable solutions (Liere, 2012). 

There is also the argument that as far as the current crises on Islam is concerned; Islam is a hijacked airplane and the perpetrators of this act are radical Muslim groups. This is especially true considering the fact most of the prominent Muslims including high ranking clerics have on many occasions criticized the acts perpetrated by the radical groups, commonly referred to as terrorist groups (Liere, 2012). Furthermore, it seems that the radical groups are campaigning for their cause and beliefs in a more agile manner (Haar, 2005). It is therefore the responsibility of the passengers, the non-radical Muslims, to also come out strongly in defense of their Islamic beliefs and point out clearly that the radical groups are not acting in the name of true Islam but as factions and rebels. 

In addition, it is important that the powerful governments from the west embrace new approaches in order to confront terrorism especially with regard to Islamic terror groups such as Al Qaeda. It is known that the most powerful thing in this world is not physical weapons sbut an ‘Ide.’ (Haar, 2005). An idea cannot be killed nor cannot be shot at with a bullet. An idea is the foundation of an ideology; an ideology forms philosophy; a philosophy becomes the foundation of theology; theology brings forth psychology; psychology becomes a mentality; mentality influences attitude; and attitude controls life (Liere, 2012). In fact, when one attempts to suppress an idea, it tends to multiply as opposed to diminishing. This is historically evidenced when past regimes have attempted to use force in suppressing a given idea. In this way, the use of force will only result in the birth of more bolder and radical adherents who will have the ultimate perception that west, which to them is a representation of Christianity, is an enemy worthy fighting to death. It is argued that the only way to win over a negative idea is to replace it with a good one. It is therefore the role of the non-radical Muslims to heighten their awareness campaigns and teach on what they believe to be the real Islamic ideals. 

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