|The Nature of Religious Conflict
Religious practices and beliefs have often been at the center of conflicts throughout history. Religious conflict can involve two or more completely different religions or can rip apart one religion from within. Religious beliefs are so deeply engrained into cultures that conflicts arise with change or when religions come into contact. Even if the differences are minor, followers of all religions can become fervent when threatened. In short, religion is something worth fighting for, according to history.
However, possibly one of the greatest ironies is that religious conflict usually goes against the teachings of the religions involved. Imagine the strength of religion when war and violence are justifiable only when defending the faith, a faith that promotes good-will, peace, and the acceptance of others.The Crusades
During the Middle Ages, Europeans had only one significant unifying aspect of life. The Catholic Church permeated every aspect of society. Waging war with another feudal lord was often viewed as an economic venture where loyalties were easily broken if the price was right. Battling for the Church was an entirely different thing, animosities and rivalries were forgotten if the Church needed defending.For about 200 years, Western Europe under the sway of the Catholic Church, attempted to retake the Holy Land away from the Muslims. The largest target was the holy city of Jerusalem, however, other areas were fought over, such as the city of Constantinople. Jerusalem remains a religiously significant and contested site today with Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all having a vested interest. The Christians were never able to effectively take, and then maintain control, however, many changes occurred as a result of the Crusades.
The majority of feudal lords were killed, which allowed the few remaining to gain more power, eventually resulting in the rise of nation-states and absolute monarchs. Also, cultural diffusion occurred between the Arab and European worlds. New ideas and trade goods flowed between the two areas which eventually brought Europe to the forefront of world affairs.
The Protestant Reformation
Following the Crusades, Europe entered into a period known as the Renaissance. The rebirth of thinking included ideas concerning religion. Power, territory, and riches obtained during feudalism had created an atmosphere of corruption within the Catholic Church. Some members of the clergy began calling for change. One protestant who demanded a reformation was Martin Luther (pictured here). In his 95 Theses, Luther exposed the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church such as the selling of indulgences in which people could give money in exchange for a place in heaven. Luther and other protestants such as John Calvin were excommunicated from the Catholic Church and formed their own Protestant religions. Lutheranism and Calvinism are only two of many examples. The Church attempted a Counter-Reformation, but change came too late to bring all Christians back. Subsequently, many wars were fought between Catholic and Protestant lords and kings who used religion as a guise to gain more territory and power. One such conflict between Protestants and Catholics has lasted into present-day. The situation in Northern Ireland has been a violent cycle of terrorism and hatred.
Islam vs. Hinduism
India and Pakistan have been involved in conflict since the creation of their respective nations. This conflict is religious at its core and continues into today. After the end of British rule and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the followers of Hinduism and Islam turned upon one another. India, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, could not satisfy its Islamic citizens concerning representation in government. Therefore, the Islamic people of India broke away and formed the nation of Pakistan. Before 1971, Pakistan had an eastern and western portion divided by India. However, the eastern half declared it own autonomy and was renamed Bangladesh. The conflict and hatred continues today. War is always on the horizon and has become an even greater concern now that both countries have successfully developed nuclear power and weaponry.
The Arab-Israeli Wars
A series of wars were fought between the Jewish sate of Israel and the various surrounding Islamic states. Religion was the core issue, while political and economic contentions made the wars have a global significance. The Jewish state of Israel was viewed by the Arab world as a foreign influence that threatened a traditional Islamic way of life. Arab nationalism unified to a degree because the surrounding Islamic nations saw Israel as a common enemy. Despite being unified by religion, each Arab nation had its own agenda concerning territory and power. Therefore, the Arab nations would never be able to consolidate forces well enough to defeat the Israeli Army. Areas of contention included the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights.
The first Arab-Israeli conflict pitted two nationalistic movements against each other. The War for Independence (1948-49) was the failure of the Arab world to stop Israel from being formed as a Jewish sovereign state. This war resulted in Jerusalem falling under the control of the Israelis and the end to a proposed plan for an independent Palestinian state to be formed. The Suez War of 1956 resulted in Nasser’s Egypt losing control of the Sinai peninsula, threatening the stability of the vastly important Suez Canal. The Six-Day War of 1967 saw many of the surrounding Arab nations attack Israel and then proceed to lose territory (the contested areas listed above) to Israel in less than a week. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was an Egyptian attack across the Sinai and became a Cold War event as the Americans and Soviets became involved. Nasser’s successor, Anwar al-Sadat, (pictured here) was the first Arab leader to recognize Israel as a nation. For this alone, he was assassinated, effectively ending any attempts at lasting peace.
Throughout this entire period of conflict between the Arab world and the Israelis has been the issue over Palestinians. A large population of Arab people, the Palestinians were promised a sovereign nation at the end of WWII. The plan disintegrated with the arrival of the Israelis and the beginning of the conflict. Since then Palestinians have taken up residence in most countries in the Middle East and many have immigrated to the United States. Even the nation of Israel has a significant population of Palestinians, which has served to exacerbate an already volatile situation. Beginning in the 1960’s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasir Arafat, has led Palestinians against Israel in a nationalistic movement for a sovereign Palestine. Terrorism has been employed against innocents on one side and drastic force have been resorted to on the other. Peace accords have been made but then eventually fail. At present, the conflict has reached an alarming height again as a cycle of violence rotates with terrorist bombings being answered with Israeli attacks.