The contention should not simply end with statement that the entire “Takfiri” sectarian problem within the Islamic world is the result of a trifle, but that all sectarian strife in the world is, has been and will be the result of a trifle rather than a true faith dispute. When evangelical Protestants declare that Catholics cannot be saved, they are excommunicating other people of their own faith over a trifle, and are therefore also Takfiris like the recently infamous Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

So, if differences over faith are not the real source of sectarianism and exclusivism, what can be eradicated in order to prevent violent sectarianism? The truth lies in an honest examination of the secular sources of violence between the different cultural groups in question. In Sri Lanka, there is tension between the Tamils and Sinhalese, the latter of whom include religious extremist preachers who identify as Buddhists. This is identical to the situation in Iraq, although the conflict in Sri Lanka is described as more “ethnic” than sectarian (the difference is trivial.)

Woman with arms uplifted

In each community suffering from sectarianism, the problem is really always a unilateral extremist power ideology (in the same sense as “Hutu power” or “white power”) coming from one faction, with religion invoked in a clumsy and erroneous manner to justify atrocities against other human beings. These atrocities are motivated by a primal conflict over resources and are non-religious in nature, even if religion is invoked as a sordid attempt to dignify the atrocities. As such, religion cannot be blamed, but nationalist power ideologies can be blamed, which brings us to the real problem.

Always, religions are accused by their detractors of causing or excusing violence and military aggression, and yet nation-states are not accused so by these detractors. And yet, if we look at this problem objectively, religions are not involved in violence perpetually, but nation-states are involved in violence perpetually. Nation-states are based not only on perpetual application of violence through law enforcement, borders and armed force, but nation-states are known by modern sociology to be founded on the belief in arbitrary fictional entities – “nations”.

It causes wars. Note that militant atheists quite often level this very same claim against religion that can be levelled against the state with ever more forcefulness and validity. It is legitimate to assert that there are no “nations”. Nations are narratives invented (sometimes overnight) by political factions to justify their rule over a particular territory and receive the compliance of the people within it. Why is it acceptable for people to believe these myths that consume millions of lives, but harmful for people to believe in God as a benevolent entity favoring peace?

There are few examples to show religion causing war without the real cause being nationalist aggression and pride, but every example of war has involved nationalist aggressors of some variety. If there is a false idea to be censured for causing hatred and war, it could only be the continued earthbound power ideology that one nation can be superior or more deserving than another. While there are many people quick to remind us that religious authorities must be barred from politics, we see too few calls to ban the misguided system of pride that has caused all wars and has sent millions of men to their graves. While it has shown its merits in preventing faith-related persecution by governments, the barring of religious guidance from the halls of power has not done anything to prevent wars. The belief in nation-states as vessels for legitimate interests, by comparison, has led to all wars.

What must be added to this conclusion is that religiosity is increasing in the world, and is a source of consolation to the millions most afflicted by war and poverty. While this happens, the Nineteenth Century nation-state is rapidly losing legitimacy and loyalty. Our states are failing to maintain their cultural homogeneity which had secured confidence in the myth of the nation, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected by means of communication, education, migration and transport.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing is certain: religious faith as we know it will outlive the state as we know it, and such an inevitability makes the political future more dependent on the construction of beneficial relations among religious communities than among states. In this sense, religion holds an indispensable key to world peace that no state will ever possess.

Harry J. Bentham is a futurist author based in Britain. His background includes a degree in Politics and Religious Studies, and membership in the prestigious scientific Lifeboat Foundation think tank since 2013. As the author of several science fiction and political science books, his commentary has also gathered increasing attention and praise at over 40 diverse publications. Other examples of his work have featured at the academic Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) and the tech enthusiast h+ Magazine. He also currently updates his own biweekly web magazine through ClubOfINFO Circulation. To read more from Harry, visit his column, L'Ordre.