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Religious Wars?

By Matthew Yglesias on September 22, 2006 at 9:44 am

"Religious Wars?"

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I’m giving up an adjectives with which to describe America’s Worst Columnist, but he “observes” today that Christianity’s better than Islam because “the inconvenient truth is that after centuries of religious wars, Christendom long ago gave it up.” Kevin Drum remarks:

It’s this kind of blithe, self-congratulatory nonsense that makes me wonder where the “clash of civilizations” crowd parks their brains. Cleverly, Krauthammer restricts himself here to “religious wars,” and it’s true that Christendom hasn’t had a genuine religious war in quite a while. But Christendom sure as hell hasn’t given up on war — not among ourselves, and not against others. Just to name a few, and just to stay within the past few decades, we have Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Malaysia, Suez, Iraq again, Greece, and Germany. And it would be easy to add a dozen more if I felt like it.

Even this, however, seems to me to concede far too much to Krauthammer. What were the Serbs and the Croats doing in the Krajina if not engaging in a bit of the old “sectarian violence?” Surely the contrasting cyrillic and roman alphabets weren’t the key issue here. Yes, obviously on some level they weren’t fighting about the fine points of Orthodox versus Catholic theology either, but the same is true of, say, Shiite-Sunni conflict — it’s not really about the proper successor of the prophet. Rather, sect is a key component of identity, and you have some identity-related fighting. One could also look at the attitude of the Maronite clergy during Lebanon’s Civil War for a good example of a recent Christian religious war.

This is not to deny the obvious fact that there’s a seemingly greater quantity of Islamic-inflected violence in the world. On the other hand, Muslims aren’t mistaken in their belief that an awful lot of Muslim-populated land (the West Bank, Chechnya, Kashmir, Sinkiang, etc.) seems to be in the hands of non-Muslim states against the will of the local population. That hardly justifies many of the gross acts of violence that have been perpetrated in the name of “liberating” those territories, but it’s not as if this stuff happens for no reason or because Muslims are just weirdly atavistic. Members of other religious groups (again, the Lebanese Maronites are apropos here, as are the Armenian Christians of Nagorno-Karabakh ) are by no means averse to the deployment of violence when they think this is going to be an expedient method of escaping alien domination.

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