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Avoid a classic blunder: Stay out of religious wars in the Middle East

13 Comments

Muslims in the Middle East are fighting wars of religion. Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland during the last third of the 20th century, there is little anyone can do until local peoples crave peace so intensely they are willing to cultivate it.

History shows that outside meddling only intensifies sectarian fury. Stopping internecine war begins at home. President Barack Obama imperils Americans by trying to excise an abscess that can be cured only from the inside out. The decision to re-engage in Iraq, and the wider Middle East, also contradicts the president's other, bigger objective: to exit the nanny business.

The last time religious aggression swept an entire subcontinent was during the Reformation four centuries ago, when Christians hashed out their hatreds much as Muslims of the Middle East are doing today.

Islamic State, or as the president calls it, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is fighting to restore a caliphate. Catholics and Protestants spent decades warring over similar issues. Should all Christians accept the same religious doctrine? Should all nations be under the dominion of the pope?

The first Islamic Civil War, from 656 to 661, created two competitive sects - Sunni and Shiite. Neither recognized the other's legitimacy.

Sunnis bowed to a caliph who ruled over all believers regardless of nationality. The last caliph was Sultan Abdülmecid II. Kemal Ataturk, the resolute builder of modern Turkey, fired Abdülmecid in 1924. The 400-year-old caliphate in Istanbul vanished.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone was happy about the rupture. In 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood began in Egypt. That group and other like-minded sectarian organizations gradually spread into the new secular nations of Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran.

Today, growing factions within the Sunni and Shiite populations wish to see their sects triumph and to replace secular with religious authority.

All were wrestling with the questions Catholics and Protestants brokered in Westphalia in 1648: Whether or not to burn, behead, shoot, or drown one another for apostasy, and whether to submit to a single religious authority.

The agreements reached in Westphalia followed 130 years of strife, including the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England beat back Catholic King Philip II of Spain's rampage across Europe to put down heresy. Other rulers fomented mob violence with incidents such as the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in France, when the Catholic king targeted well-born Protestants. The king's assassins murdered nobles in their beds while commoners knifed and strangled Protestant neighbors in the streets.

One-quarter of Europe's population was killed during the devastating Thirty Years' War (1618-48), another bloody phase of the Reformation. Brutal punishments included burning at the stake and pouring excrement down the throats of captives, a torture known as the "Swedish drink." War spread famine and bubonic plague across Europe. Like now, greed complicated religious conflict, as combatants wrestled over lands and gold.

Exhausted, Protestants and Catholics finally agreed to negotiate. Gathering in separate towns, they sent messengers back and forth to avoid seeing one another's despised faces. After five years of argument, the Peace of Westphalia concluded the tragic wars of religion. Separation of church and state took hold.

Religious or ideological battles typically aim to redraw boundaries and overthrow governments. Onlookers cannot end such conflicts - as Americans ought to know. Neither Britain nor France could stop the U.S. Civil War, which claimed 700,000 American lives, the most of any war the United States has engaged in.

Many of the Middle East's religious sects are still so caught up in hoping some renegade faction kills off their enemies that they tolerate violence until it comes close to home - and then plead with the United States to come fix their mess. Plagued with conscience, Washington often responds.

Obama now promises, after committing to another foggy battle, foggy battle, to consult "allies abroad and Congress at home" within "two weeks."

Washington needs a new strategy. One that puts the United States first and recognizes that other nations must bear responsibility for themselves and their own problems - especially internal issues.

As the "Economist" has noted repeatedly, countries like Iraq and Syria haven't a hope of stopping Islamic State militants until they focus sharply on solving this sectarian struggle rather than fueling internal rivalries.

The United States can't make them do this, as amply proved by Washington's 11 years of vain collaboration with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and eight years with President Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who built power at the expense of religious and ethnic opponents.

In the Middle East today, local leaders must decide whether peace is worth the price of costly compromises.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

13 Comments
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"When you combine the greed and ambition of people like politicians or religious leaders...."

You forgot to mention financial chiefs, who are making the poor poorer and themselves (and the Chinese) richer. And who's greed crashes financial markets, inflicting huge wealth destruction on everyone else, while they stash their massive gains on obscure tax haven islands...so that their secretaries and janitors pay higher income tax rates than they do.

That's real "greed and ambition."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

StrangerlandSep. 27, 2014 - 09:24AM JST (Good post Sangetsu)

Concur. Joseph Campbell was a god (sorry for that). It is too bad he's not around now. Although Campbell was apolitical he had an acid tongue for modernist politicians with no grounding in history. Now would have been a great age for him.

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Good post Sangetsu.

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So where did they get their Jihadi ideology, then?

It comes from their leaders, who tell them that the greatest good men can do is to martyr themselves for the sake of their religion. They are told that an eternity in paradise awaits them after they die. If they knew that all that awaited them after death was an early start of an eternity buried in the sand, they might value their lives, and the lives of others, a little more highly.

You seldom if ever see the imams, ayatollahs, bishops, and other religious leaders martyring themselves, do you? If martyrdom is such a quick way to paradise, why bother with living at all? But people are gullible when it comes to things they don't understand, they believe what others tell them. Fear is the greatest tool of control ever invented. Fear of satan and hell, fear of the unknown. People will believe anyone who they think can allay their fears, they will pay anything, and do anything, including blowing themselves up, along with as many others as they can.

Most religion is based on fear. In places like the middle east, were people have a smaller proportion of the wealth and luxuries we enjoy, they have a greater proportion of religion. In their lives, there is little opportunity, hope, or beauty, so they want very much to believe that there is a better place. It is too bad that they are made to believe that they must first kill or die before they reach this place.

Joseph Campbell's outlook on religion, heaven, and hell, is the best which I have found. "Heaven and hell are not places which we go after we die. Heaven and hell exist here and now, all around us." Which state we exist in depends on the choices we make here and now. One's life can be heaven, or hell, depending mainly upon what one makes of one's life. If you are sensible, responsible, keep yourself healthy, your environment clean, help you family, and those others which you can, then you will probably be as close to heaven as you will ever get. If you are senseless, careless, ignorant, and unhelpful, your life is likely to be hell-like.

The most interesting quote I have ever heard is "god helps them who help themselves". It is a simple enough quote on the surface, but when you really think about it, it is an enlightening principle. This quote negates the need for organised religions. God exists in everyone, as the higher principle that sensible people aspire to. When we help ourselves by studying, working hard, and, in-turn, making the world around us a better place, the we become like gods ourselves, which must be true if in fact god exists in us.

But we are told by priests and politicians that the world is an evil and dangerous place, and that in order to protect ourselves, or get into heaven after we die, we need their help (which always comes at a price). We are never told told that safety, success, or heaven are all thing we can obtain for ourselves, without their help. Constantly relying on others for help makes you helpless. The inability to help yourself condemns you to a small and mean life, always dependent on handout, or welfare subsidy. Failure to live up to the potential you were born with is the greatest wrong which you can do, to yourself, and to others.

When you combine the greed and ambition of people like politicians or religious leaders with masses of ignorant people who are eager to believe in something better, then you end up with a world which is evil and dangerous.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"what IS are doing has nothing to do with religion."

So where did they get their Jihadi ideology, then?

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sangetsu03Sep. 24, 2014 - 08:22AM JST Sorry, the article is nonsense. The wars between catholics and protestants were not about religion anymore than the wars in the middle east are. The wars between religions were conflicts over wealth, authority, and power; religious faith was merely a charade to fool the gullible into supporting one side or the other.

... I actually agree with sangestu03!! OMG! Hell may just have frozen over!!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@Thunderbird

Jeff... the RUC were the police force in Ulster (renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland)... I think you mean the UDA,

Hard to tell the difference sometimes... ask a Catholic.

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Jeff... the RUC were the police force in Ulster (renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland)... I think you mean the UDA, the protestant opposition to the IRA, but I get your point. What was happening in Ulster was a combination of sectarianism and nationalism, rather more complicated than the article makes out.

In Iraq and Syria it's more complex. What started in Syria as a revolt against Assad's regime took on sectarian overtones later on. In Iraq it IS sectarian... however, what IS are doing has nothing to do with religion. They are killing anyone who opposes them, whatever their race or religion... as a result I don't have a problem with air strikes against them. They won't be stopped by negotiation.

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"Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland...."

An asinine comparison. In Ireland, 3,000 people died in 30 years. In Syria alone, the death toll is 200,000 in the last few months!. The IRA or RUCs were not spiritual organizations, It was about politics and territory.

In the Mideast, it's solely about religion. Read the manifestos of ISIS and Taliban, etc. It's all religious and spiritual dogma.

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I am rather concerned that the petrodollar conspiracy theory may be true. It goes like this....

As long as the oil producing nations are embroiled in permanent war, and the US has military influence upon them, then oil will be traded in dollars alone since the US can bomb anyone that does not use dollars to sell their oil. Saddam started selling Iraqi oil for the first time in Euros in 1990, he was ousted and replaced with a dollar user. According to some, the same happened in Libya. http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/289-134/5625-libya-all-about-oil-or-all-about-banking

As long as the dollar is the only currency with which one can purchase oil, then the USA can print dollars taxing every other nation on earth, till they are blue (or very obese) in the face, because their currency, while nominally a fiat currency, is backed by the worlds most precious commodity, the black gold.

At the moment it is Iran that is selling oil in currencies other than dollars. The US could not justify attacking Iran just because it was getting nuclear. But with the televised beheadings and general irrational fear of a new Caliphate and Global Jihad, if Iran can be seen to be cooperating with ISIS then the bombs can drop on the offending Iranian oil Bourse, and the dollar-printing can continue indefinitely. http://usa.mediamonitors.net/Headlines/Petrodollar-Warfare-Dollars-Euros-and-the-Upcoming-Iranian-Oil-Bourse If that should happen, I will be persuaded by the petrodollar theory.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

At last, an opinion piece where the author gets it. Trying to join in a religious war is about as stupid as it gets. Obama is looking like he may equal the stupidity of Bush with this one.

Stay out of religious wars in the middle east. No good whatsoever can or will come out of it, and plenty of bad can and will come out of it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There is something different about these wars, though: monotheism makes it easy to justify killing people only slightly different than you. And the common people DO believe it is about religion.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Sorry, the article is nonsense. The wars between catholics and protestants were not about religion anymore than the wars in the middle east are. The wars between religions were conflicts over wealth, authority, and power; religious faith was merely a charade to fool the gullible into supporting one side or the other. The wealth and power of bishops, cardinals, and popes was incredible, the church extracted vast amounts of money from it's followers. Jesus himself never bothered to wear gold-threaded clothing, or drink from golden cups inlaod with jewels, but the church has been led by men, and not Jesus.

The ruling class of the day envied the church's power, and using the church's excess as an example of corruption, these rulers sought to create a more "righteous" religion. The real goal though was to divert the wealth and property of the old church's followers to themselves. It was easy to convince many of the ignorant common people that the church was corrupt, all one had to do was visit any bishop's home and/or cathedral to see the wealth. But the church maintained that these riches were the reward of living a pious life, and that such riches would belong to everyone if they went to heaven. It was as easy to control the gullible then as it is today.

The wars in the middle east are fought with the same goals in mind. Religious leaders vie for authority, power, and wealth. They stir up the blood lust in their followers that the original basis of religion tried to control. It is the same story as the wars between the catholics and protestants, but the cause is not pure religious faith. The cause is the same as other wars and conflicts; incredible greed and desire of "leaders" supported by great ignorance and stupidity or their followers.

"What a wonderful thing for rulers that men are stupid" said Adolph Hitler. This is, and always has been a true statement.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

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