Is religion responsible for the world's violence?

As conflicts rage within Nigeria, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, we are reminded of the late Samuel Huntington's observation about the world's "bloody borders."

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

 

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hell that Darfur has become as the Arab-dominated government battles a rebellion stoked by a history of discrimination and neglect.”

Janjaweed militia members

The Janjaweed militias ran rampant over south Sudan, financed by the Muslim north, assigned a single task – to devastate the south into submission.

“Deliberate attempts to eliminate a viable Christian presence are extreme and include bombing of Sunday church services; destruction of churches, hospitals, schools, mission bases and Christian villages; massacres and mutilation; and murder of pastors and leaders,” reported the Canadian watchdog group Voice of the Martyrs. “Whole areas have been laid waste and lands seized and given to northerners.”

After confirming 2 million deaths and 4 million refugees, the UN oversaw January 2011 elections in which the non-Muslim south voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Muslim north. The country was partitioned on July 9, 2011 but violence continues – primarily in two oil-rich provinces in which the north blocked any independence voting. The United Nations reports hundreds have died and 94,000 displaced due to the violence.

On March 16, actor George Clooney earned international headlines when he and nine other activists protested outside of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., drawing international attention to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the troubled border region between Sudan and South Sudan.

Clooney meets with a survivor and her child

“Protesters who had gathered to take part in the National Day of Action for Sudan rally cheered Clooney as police fastened flexicuffs around his wrists and drove him off for processing,” reported Lucy Chumbley. “Later that afternoon, after posting and forfeiting a $100 bond, Clooney was free to go home. But for Episcopal Church of Sudan Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail, who also spoke at the rally, there will be no such homecoming.

“Elnail, leader of the Diocese of Kadugli in South Kordofan, Sudan, has been in exile since last June, when Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan Armed Forces attacked Kadugli, looting churches, routing priests and burning All Saints Cathedral, the diocesan offices and guesthouse and Elnail’s own house to the ground.

“In April, Elnail plans to travel to Yida, a camp across the border in South Sudan where many from his diocese have taken refuge. There, he said in an interview following the rally, he hopes to help clergy set in place new strategies for helping people in times of war, ‘encouraging them, raising their morale and encouraging them to stick to the Bible.’”

Anglican Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail

He warned of a famine this year, since the Sudan government’s attacks displaced tens of thousands just at the start of the planting season.

“There is hunger coming now and already people are hungry,” he said.

 “Once you don’t plant anything, there’s nothing you’re going to harvest,” said Jimmy Mulla, president and co-founder of Voices for Sudan, a U.S.-based coalition of Sudanese-led organizations.

The famine is particularly acute in the two provinces the north has not allowed to vote – the border areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There the government is again attempting ethnic cleansing, said Mulla.

Last June, just ahead of South Sudan’s independence, the Sudan Armed Forces began bombing the border regions and is now refusing to allow aid into these areas.

Northern Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir

Al-Bashir has “decided since he can’t win militarily, he’s going to starve everyone to death,” says Andrew S. Natsios, author of Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know, published by Oxford University Press.

So, is all religion in general to blame?

Some academics are quick to embrace that thesis, but not historian Augustine Perumalil. In a 2004 paper, he examined what he calls “two views of religion-inspired violence which are popular in certain circles – the view that it is in the very nature of religion to generate violence; and that the cause of religious violence is the presence of male pronouns and violent images in religious discourse.”

He found both “inadequate,” instead coming to the conclusion that “much of the violence attributed to religion is in fact caused by deeper social, economic and political conflicts arising from the avarice of certain sections of society for dominion, and from a sense (actual or imaginary) of deprivation, injury, injustice and insecurity of the masses.”

He noted that “People are sanctioned to kill in defense of country and defense of religion. For some entities, the fight is no longer my form of government against yours. It is my religion and my beliefs against yours.” But, as Hungtington observed and as Mark Juergensmeyer noted in his 2001 book Terror in the Mind of God, since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, there has been a sharp increase in the religion-related conflicts.

“With the fall of the USSR,” writes Perumalil, “fighting in the name of religion has replaced the battles pitting the capitalist West against the Communist bloc.”

William Edelen, in a 1999 article “Religion is the Cause of Violence,” places the responsibility for violence solely at the door of religion and argues that it is religion’s very nature to provoke conflict. In fact, he charged, religion has been the culprit from Moses to the Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Hitler and Kosovo.”

Such an argument is “flawed on account of being simplistic,” observes Perumalil. What is truly to blame — religion – or the inherent

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