FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Deadly Perils of Religious Nationalism

The deadly nexus of religion and nationalism has left a trail of violence and bloodshed in history. In the 16th and the early 17th centuries, religious nationalism pitted Catholics against Protestants. In recent times it has Jews and Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, Hindus and Muslims, battling on opposite sides. The conflicts have worsened with struggles for power and claims on natural resources.

One would have expected that the Europeans would learn from the devastation wreaked by the Thirty Years’ War. The War had dreadful costs for central Europe, with around 20% of the German population being killed. Leaders intended the treaty of Westphalia that ended the war to be a comprehensive resolution for religion-inspired conflicts. But the support of German Protestants in the rise of Hitler wrought more devastation on Europe.

Still, Europe has enjoyed relative peace from religious wars since the end of the Second World War. The exception is the savage religious conflict in the former Yugoslavia. There is hope that Europe has put its bloody history of religious conflicts behind it. Arguably, an important reason for the reduction in religious conflicts is the diminishing influence of the Church on the affairs of state and the strengthening of secular democratic institutions.

Faith-based conflicts have largely shifted from Europe to the Middle East and South Asia. These regions can learn from the European experience. We know that religion and politics are a deadly mix and that religious nationalism can complicate matters. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Iran-Iraq war, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran and India and Pakistan are examples. Sometimes, even supposedly good intentions can have negative consequences.

Take, for example, the British government’s Balfour Declaration supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. A reaction to the suffering endured by European Jews during the Holocaust. The Balfour Declaration stated that a Jewish Homeland would not prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Or, drawing lines on an empty map, leading to the creation of artificial states such as Iraq and Syria with simmering religious and ethnic tensions without getting the consent of the people. Or, dividing India into two sovereign Hindu and Muslim countries to settle the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. We know how badly those arrangements worked out.

Some additional factors have undeniably given impetus to the religious-nationalist forces in the region. One, secular nationalism espoused by early leaders in Israel, India, and Pakistan has given way to religious-nationalist policies. Second, religious nationalists have won over territorial nationalism propagated by past regimes in Iraq and Syria. Third, a clerical Shiite dictatorship replaced the despotic government of the Shah of Iran.

We know that faith-based conflicts, once started, are very difficult to stop because of the strong feelings they awaken. Today’s opportunistic leaders cynically use the slogan of God and the country. It is a divisive tool to stay in power. Religious nationalist groups globally share a common attribute. They actively encourage discrimination against religious minorities, even if it leads to chaos and disorder. Even when appealing to a sense of national community, they have the opposite effect of dividing societies.

But the current struggle against religious nationalism in India offers a forward. India’s secular nationalism, eclipsed by Hindu majoritarian nationalism, is fighting back. Indians across class, ethnic, gender, caste, and religious lines have taken to the streets in a struggle against imposing a Hindu nation. The land of Gandhi and Nehru may yet uphold its democratic, secular principles under grave threat from regressive forces.

Regrettably, it is too late for Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, who have long succumbed to the evils of religious nationalism. The dire warnings on the outcome of India abandoning its minorities, coming from Pakistan’s leaders and commentators, seem insincere and twisted. Pakistan’s poor record in the treatment of its minorities or those accused under its unjust blasphemy laws hardly qualifies it to offer advice or criticism.

Ultimately, common sense has to prevail even if genuine tolerance may prove elusive for centuries. Against all the odds, sometimes half-measures are better than none. The way forward is a global secular community with religion removed from politics. The state can serve as a neutral guardian of religious and human rights. Muslim societies, in particular, should accept the principles of separation of church and state, democracy, human rights, religious pluralism, and civil society. A tall order, but the alternative is to live with the perils of religious nationalism.

 

More articles by:

Saad Hafiz is an analyst and commentator on politics, peace, and security issues. He can be reached at shgcci@gmail.com.

July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail