The Crusades introduced a whole-new term to the world’s collective mind: “Wars of religion.” For centuries, every time a new war broke out, it was consistently suggested that religion was somehow the underlying reason behind all the conflicts. In other words, it was implied that selfish interests, greed for land and power had no role and that egoism, the real cause of wars, had stayed veiled.
The supposedly sectarian conflicts that took place throughout the history of Christianity were nothing but an outburst of the deep-running greed for more power and influence. There is no doubt that Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians had significantly differing views, but religious differences were definitely not the true reason for their wars. In those bloody and fierce conflicts, even popes vying for more political power were not a surprising sight.
The Middle East has been no different in that respect. The players behind the big wars in the region always pursued their own selfish interests. Although for years it was suggested that the wars in the Middle East were related to religion, the truth is quite different. Parties in many of those conflicts were usually followers of the Baath regimes, which was the application of the Marxist ideology in the Middle East.
The sporadic sectarian clashes in the Muslim world also resulted from the same mentality. Although dismissed by many as a simple matter of sectarian disagreements, the real problem rose from the power struggle between various clans, ethnicities and interest groups. The Sunni-Shiite conflict, which has continued unabated for centuries in the Middle East, was in fact a disguised form of competition between different ethnic groups in their search for increasing their influence and power and gaining control of natural resources and important trade routes. Until the emergence of radical groups, this conflict was never actually directly about sects. On the contrary, various sects were used as an accessory to trigger hatred and provide a fertile ground for wars.
The famous thesis of the 1990s, “The Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel Huntington, in a way described how those conflicts would take shape in time. He claimed that the conflicts between countries and disagreements within countries would gradually morph into wide-ranging cultural conflicts. According to Huntington, this would be a natural outcome of globalization; in other words, power balances would shift as the lust for power and influence introduced new wars. The materialist and self-seeking worldview that began to take hold of the world has proven Huntington right. However, states continue to blame religion for what is happening.
It is important to keep in mind that the radical groups that claim to act in the name of religion are nothing but the unwelcome results of the ongoing power struggle in the world. It has never been a secret that superpowers have no scruples about supporting various radical groups as leverage and sometimes as a “tour de force.” It should also be noted that radical groups resort to violence largely because of their feelings of anger and vengeance, rather than religious beliefs.
The 2014 report of the Institute for Economics and Peace might help explain the situation better. The report showed that religion was not the main cause in any of the 35-armed conflicts in 2013. According to the report, they were mostly related to anti-government sentiments, separatist movements, ideological divides and the distribution of natural resources.
The report provides statistical analysis of the question, “Does the proportion of religious belief or atheism in a country determine the peace of the country?” Accordingly, three of the 10 most peaceful countries are highly religious. In 11 out of 20 countries with the highest levels of peace, 90 percent of the people defined themselves as religious. The commonality between the least peaceful countries was the low level of their democracies. In countries where atheism is official state policy, scenes of serious conflicts and tensions are common; this includes communist countries.
“In Muslim countries, does the demographic spread of Sunni and Shia determine peace?” This question showed that there was no real link between peace and sectarian differences. Qatar, where 85 percent of the population is Sunni and 15 percent Shiite, ranked at number 11 in terms of peace; while Afghanistan, which has the same proportion, is in utter chaos. With this example, it is emphasized that the real problem is not sectarian differences. In the same manner, Bahrain is a relatively peaceful country, despite its stark divide between sects (50 percent Sunni, 50 percent Shiite).
“Can religion play a positive role in peace building?” This was perhaps the key question in the study. According to the report, interfaith organizations particularly reinforce peace. In other words, for effective and permanent peace in the world, it is important that religious people work together to strengthen the alliance and friendship between religious people.
The conclusion of the Institute for Economics and Peace report, which is based on a thorough statistical analysis, is genuinely thought provoking. It is not religion that causes wars, but it is the only way to stop wars altogether with an alliance between faiths. In these days, where the dark clouds hovering over our world seem to be getting thicker, it is important that the peacemakers pay attention to this very important fact. Using more bombs, putting the blame on Islam and creating hatred with anti-Islamic remarks will inevitably make the situation worse. If those seeking a solution truly want peace, they need to start paying attention to the words of real peacemakers that call for a return to the essence of religions.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Arab News: