The Connection between Religion and War
After years of fighting against global terrorism, studies have shown that there has been an increase in religious violence and extremism. Attacks have swept across the world with Muslim extremists such as Abu Muab Al-Zarqawis and Osama bin Laden turning the once-popular jihad into an unholy war consisting of hostage-taking, suicide bombings, and broad-based violence (Esposito and Mogahed 27). Islamophobia in America and Europe has concurrently been accompanied with increasing anti-Americanism in the Muslim and Arab worlds. Images from the Western world consisting of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks in Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are counteracted in the Arab world by Iraq invasion, Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, images of destruction and civilian deaths, and abuses at Guantanamo bay. This paper exemplifies intricacies and connection between religion and war.
Religious Terrorism - Background
Religion has often been a salient feature in armed conflicts and this has been demonstrated since the beginning of terrorist activities that are religiously motivated. A long history has been shared between terrorism and religion, particularly among ancient religious groups. For instance, some of the groups that would currently be labeled as terrorist organizations include the Hind Thuggees, the Muslim Assassins, and the Jewish Zealots (Palmer-Fernandez 1). The doctrine of tyrannicide among medieval Christians is also regarded as terrorism that is religiously sanctioned and instigated. According to David Rapoport, a political scientist in the U.S., sacred terror has never disappeared. Various actions over the recent years show that the historical acts have been revived in modern and unusual forms. Although international terror groups that were active in the 1960s cannot be categorized as religious, religious terror groups started to appear in the 1980s. Moreover, the number of these religious terror organizations started to multiply in the 1990s.
By 1994, 16 of 44 global terror organizations were significantly identified as having a predominant religious attribute and this number increased to 26 in 1995 (Palmer-Fernandez 1). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most terrorism activities were either politically or ideologically driven. A good example of these terror activities includes the Irish Sinn Fein and European anarchists. However, terrorism and other wars do not appear to be solely motivated by political objectives or purposes of publicity. In its place, it appears that distinguishing features of the modern terror activities are aimed at pleasing a deity or fulfilling some spiritual objectives (Poli 136 Notes). This is similar to sacred terror activities that were common during the ancient times. Historians are of the opinion that the current period is the time when religion has returned and become one of the major motivators of war and violence and, what some scholars call, the pre-modern form of religious terrorism.
Influence of Leaders
Basically, several research studies have shown that there is a close connection between religion and war with this relationship often being made worse by both political and religious leaders. For instance, the war against Muslims and Islam has been turned into a popular slogan and belief from Mindanao to Morocco. Past and present leaders such as Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini, Zarqawi, and Ahmadinejad have used past memories and stories of the Crusades, European imperialism, and current American neocolonialism as posing threats to the survival of Islam (Esposito and Mogahed 27). The strength of globalization has reinforced this view and it has been propelled by a rapid spread of TV and internet news across the Arab world. The feeling of hopelessness and humiliation across the Muslim world has been worsened by the Western dominance over democracy. Furthermore, Islamic tradition and Islam in general, their sources of power, and prospects of future strengths and success have been threatened by dominance of the Western world.
Most Muslims say that the dominance of Western societies in the economic, military, political, and cultural spheres poses threats to self-determination, independence, and identities of the Islamic world (Keogh 1). Basically, the U.S. has used this foundation to influence the creation of secular and stable democracies, particularly in countries that are predominantly Muslim. Most of these countries are viewed as threats, implying that effective development of stable democracies will enhance the success of war on terrorism (Poli 136 Notes). However, several challenges still have to be overcome before the Western world can win minds and hearts of Muslims. Religion has been the main cause of several wars with the elusive peace being what is ultimately hoped for. On most occasions, religious beliefs have been complicated since groups of people in each region bear different views. Furthermore, religious affiliations in different regions tend to be intricately connected to partisan emotions.
Political scientists and historians are of the opinion that the worst wars across the world were instigated by ideological motives. However, killing other people in the name of religion has always been a historical issue and it has never gone out of fashion. During the beginning of the 20th century, there was a theme of hope between different religions groups as people called for peaceful initiatives and increased cooperation between followers of dominant religions. Different religious traditions called for civilization of the world as well as shared religious values (Poli 136 Notes). However, rapid globalization, environmental and economic interdependence, and the advent of information technology have not eliminated religious wars. In fact, studies have shown that increased global civilization and utilization of modern technology have actually worsened the religious warfare. What was thought to be contribution of religions to world peace has ended up reviving the religious wars.
The revival of religious wars is attributed to a wider range of factors. For instance, even before the Cold War came to an end, scholars were investigating the attributes of just war traditions. This marked the return and expansion of holy wars, whereby religion provided some form of inspiration and legitimization for wars and military actions (Esposito 45). Basically, holy war is considered as one of the earliest ways in which people thought about wars. Among Christians, the Bible contains information that divinely authorizes people to campaign against their enemies. It is also a familiar theme in the history of both Islam and Christianity where war is fought for religious purposes. In fact, it would not be a mistake to think that religious wars were not considered as just wars. People engaged in wars for religious purposes or religiously legitimate objectives. In particular, Islam followers fought in accordance with rules that were religiously legitimated. Islam believes that just wars are actually justified by Gods commandments and their prophet Mohammed.
Holy or Unholy War
The practice and concept of jihad has been of huge significance in the history of Islam. Since the early days of Islam as well as the expansion of Muslims, evidence suggests that jihad has played an instrumental role. Jihad, which simply means struggle, exertion, or the sixth pillar of Islam, has been interpreted, misinterpreted, and abused to justify liberation and resistance struggles, terrorism, extremism, holy, and unholy wars (Esposito 1). Jihad attributes its significance to commands in the Quran to struggle, which is also the literal meaning of jihad. It is a struggle towards the quest or God and an example is given of Prophet Muhammad and his early Companions. Jihads general meaning provides an obligation to Muslims and the entire community to realize and follow the Gods will. This will enable them to have a virtuous life and also widen the Islam community through education, preaching, writing, and so on. Jihad also provides the right and obligation to defend the community and Islam from aggression. Basically, jihad has called upon all Muslims to ensure that Islam is defended.
Since the 20th century, jihad has gained a remarkable transformation and it has been used by liberation, resistance, and terrorist movements to legitimize their actions and motivate all their followers. For instance, the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, and the Afghanistan Mujahidin have engaged in jihad wars in Afghanistan against foreigners and among themselves (Esposito 1). Furthermore, Muslims in Chechnya, Kashmir, Dagestan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and southern Philippines have used Jihad to fashion their struggles. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad Palestine have fashioned their wars and terror activities as jihad. The armed Islamic group of Algeria have also participated in terror wars against their government and called their activities as jihad motivated. Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden have also launched jihad wars against different Muslim governments, the West, and nations that support the West.
Diverse Concepts of Jihad
Jihad bases its significance on commands set in the Quran for all Muslims to struggle in the path of God. Teaching in the Quran has been essential in the self-understanding of Muslims, their mobilization, piety, defense, and expansion. Furthermore, jihad as a struggle is attributed to the complexity and difficulties of leading a good life (Kelsay 1). Muslims struggle with the evils in themselves as they try to be moral and virtuous and as they make efforts to reform the society and do good works. Depending on a persons living conditions, jihad can also relate to defending and spreading Islam, fighting oppression and injustice, and developing a just society through teaching, preaching, and, where possible, holy war or armed struggle.
Both violent and non-violent meanings of jihad have been contrasted in the prophetic tradition of Muslims. The tradition argues that after Muhammad came back from battle, he informed his followers that they had come from a lesser jihad and they were heading to a greater one. Essentially, the greater jihad is the most important and difficult struggle that is against selfishness, evil, ego, and greed (Esposito 2). However, it is important to note that jihad can be interpreted in line with several meanings and this is why it has been abused throughout the history of Islam. In the recent years, Muslims have claimed that jihad is a religious obligation that should be joined by all Muslims to enhance Islamic revolution across the globe. Since Jihad has multiple meanings, it becomes difficult to understand correct interpretations and factors that promote positive improvements. This is the main reason why jihad has been exploited to promote terrorism and extremism and this has been debated throughout the history of Islamic history.
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Intricacies of War and Religion
Research studies have shown that a high level of misinterpretation of meanings of different religious concepts have been used to promote war and violence (Kelsay). Both Islam and Christianity, which are considered as the largest religions, have prompted religious wars, particularly under the guidance of religious leaders. Jihad has historically been used to defend Islam and all Muslim people. Nevertheless, it has also been used as the main breeding ground for wars as terror groups use jihad to promote their terrorism activities. For instance, the September 11 terrorist attacks left people angry, stunned, and uncomprehending as perpetrators claimed that they were acting in accordance with the teachings of jihad. John Esposito argues that horrifying activities have been committed on behalf of religion and most people still harbor unanswered question concerning Islam and its followers (Esposito 35).
Extremist groups have been on the rise across the world and they use frightening tactics to hit their enemies. It is also evident that anti-Americanism is a phenomenon that is broad-based and spread across the Muslim and Arab societies. The acts of terrorism and religious wars are often driven by anger and frustration against policies implemented by the U.S. and other Western governments (Keogh 1). Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that a huge percentage of Muslims do not support violent acts committed in the name of religion and the Islam faith. To clearly understand factors that motivate religious terrorism, especially relating to the Islam religion, actions of terror groups should be differentiated from the mainstream faith. Actions of extremist individuals such as bin Laden who misinterpret the Islamic teachings in order to justify their terror actives should be analyzed from a different perspective.
This document has critically analyzed the connection between religion and war. From the above analysis, it is evident that religious violence and wars have been on the rise over the recent years, particularly due to misinterpretation of different religious teachings. Religious wars have been in existence for hundreds of years and they have assumed a new and worrying trend over the recent years. Muslim teachings on jihad have been misinterpreted by extremist organizations to launch war against both foreigners and domestic leaders who are considered as enemies. The dominance of Western ideologies in the economic, social, cultural, and political spheres across the world has been opposed by extremist groups and this has been the main reason behind the spread of religious wars.