Oct 302015
 

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If I got a penny for every time I was told that religion is the cause of all trouble, I’d be a rich woman by now. If only we had John Lennon’s religionless world, there would be no war, or conflict and everyone would love their neighbour. If only the theologians, clergymen, mullahs and priests could get on, the world’s problems would be resolved at a stroke.

No doubt, religion does play a part in many of the crises and conflicts raging around us. But more often than not, these problems take on a religious name and speak through the medium of religion, while having their roots in socio-political factors.

Examples are found in the Northern Ireland dispute as in the Middle East conflict. Though those at loggerheads happen to belong to divergent confessional communities, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims/Christians, they did not come to blows because of their religious affiliations. Their grievances are fundamentally political, even if they hide themselves in the guise of religion and communicate in its language.

Religion is often the mirror that reflects worldly tensions. To say that religion is divisive is to attempt no analysis of the problems at hand. It is to stop at the surface making no effort to dig deeper for the underlying problems seething underneath.

Take the orgy of sectarian bloodshed that has been raging in Iraq for over a decade, for instance. Sunnis and Shia have been killing each other by the tens on a daily basis. Do not venture into a Sunni dominated area if your name happens to be Hassan, and you have more chance of ending up with a slit throat on some street corner if you suddenly lost your way and found yourself in Sadr city and you were called Omar.

But let us not stop there, let us ask the difficult questions others would rather we left undisturbed. Why do Iraq’s Sunni and Shia kill each other today when they didn’t years ago? Why were they able to coexist before, but find that impossible to do today? Every Iraqi tribe and family numbers both Sunni and Shia. They intermingled, intermarried, lived not only side by side but under the same roof, often sharing the same bed. This was the case even under Saddam’s despotic rule. Then and before, for centuries Iraq was one of the world’s most diverse places, a veritable mosaic of religions, ethnicities, sects and denominations, Muslims, Christians, Sabians, Yazidis, Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Turkmen all peacefully shared the same space.

This was Iraq before. It isn’t Iraq today, since the American/British invasion and Bremer’s transitional authority, which destroyed Iraq’s political order, substituting it for one grounded in sectarianism and ethnic factionalism. National identity was broken asunder, the common torn apart, only narrow group affiliations remained. In the chaos that followed, every splinter group wanted to seize all, leaving the rest with nothing. Forming the security and police forces in the new Iraq along sectarian lines poured oil over fire, equipping one faction with the tools it would later use in its quest to exterminate its rivals.

Shiism and Sunnism are not to blame. Bush, Blair and Bremer are.

Neither are Judaism, Christianity, or Islam responsible for the Middle East conflict. Palestinians and Israelis invoke religious symbols and references in their rationalisation of the dispute, in a space laden with sacred meanings for both sides. But the truth is that this is not a conflict over a mosque, church, or temple, though it has come to be symbolised by such monuments. Primarily, and above all, it is over land, dispossession, settlement, occupation and will to liberation. The relationship is more between occupier and occupied than between Jew and Muslim/Christian. More than the Quran or the Old Testament, it is the Balfour Declaration and the great powers’ strategies in the region that have spawned and dictated the course of this long and painful drama.

Many more examples could be cited for the superficiality of explanations of socio-political movements and phenomena in exclusively religious terms, from the Reformation in 16th century Europe, to Islamic radicalism in the 21st. Religion is neither the root of all virtue, nor the cause of all evil. Good conditions spawn good religion, bad conditions bad religion. The evils of reality have a habit of metamorphosing into evil religion. It is the chaotic war-torn and crisis ridden Middle East today that fosters and nourishes the extreme violent ideology of al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Humans and societies are not blank pages, but the carriers of a profound cultural, symbolic, and historic heritage, through which they communicate and make sense of reality. This imbedded repository of values, images and references, is inevitably invoked in peace as in war, and more so in war and times of turmoil. Amidst tension, cultural, religious, and national identities are awakened, activated, and intensified.

This is not to say, as Marx had done, that religion is a superfluous illusion. It is an integral part of the collective memory and consciousness of groups and individuals. Through it they ascribe meaning to their experiences and justification to their actions. It functions silently unnoticed amidst stability and calm and becomes more vocal, more visible and sometimes more explosive through crisis and turbulence. There is no inherently peaceful religion, and no inherently aggressive religion. Take Christianity, for instance, it inspired asceticism and otherworldliness, just as it ignited the flames of conflict and schism, in the 16th century, wars of religion as in the Crusades. There is no religion per se.

In short, we would do well to avoid peering at reality through the prism of ideas and doctrines. Humans, you see, walk on their feet, not their heads.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soumaya-ghannoushi/religion-is-not-to-blame_b_8417720.html

Gaza explodes

 Palestine  Comments Off on Gaza explodes
Jan 232008
 

Gaza has exploded. After months of crushing siege, thousands marched to the Rafah border and, defying police bullets, batons, dogs, and water canons, tore the fences behind which they have been caged for months, crossing into Egypt out of the Gazan abyss. Continue reading »

Nov 272007
 

If Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is to be believed, the Annapolis peace conference “will be a historic opportunity to open a new page in the history of the Middle East based on the establishment of our independent Palestinian state”. But this seems more like wishful thinking. For aside from being more concerned with preparing the ground for the approaching attack on Iran than with resolving the Palestinian Israeli conflict, the conference is subject to a set of limitations that combine to lower its threshold and shrink its potential. Continue reading »

Oct 122007
 

One warm Sunday afternoon a few years back, I went with my scout group on a march against the Iraq war shortly after our weekly meeting. Dressed in our scout uniforms, we joined hundreds of protesters waving banners and flags, blowing whistles, and chanting anti-war slogans to the beat of drums. While enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere, I watched a photographer scouring the crowd with a large camera in his hand. Walking past one row of protesters after another, he suddenly stopped near us and aimed his lens. His target, mind you, was not the uniformed scouts with their sweet, colourful homemade placards, but two figures nearby, swathed in black from head to toe, with only their eyes showing, their foreheads covered with headbands which read “jihad now”. Continue reading »

The west has created fertile ground for al-Qaida’s growth

 Anti-War, Islamophobia, Palestine  Comments Off on The west has created fertile ground for al-Qaida’s growth
Jun 212007
 

It seems that al-Qaida’s dream is on its way to turning into reality. At last it has found a foothold on the Palestinian scene. Witness the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by the al-Qaida affiliated Jaish al-Islam 100 days ago yesterday, and the heated battles in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida sympathisers Fatah al-Islam over the past month. And with Gaza and the West Bank sliding further into anarchy, with Hamas and Fatah turning on each other after a year of crushing siege, this new presence can only grow stronger. Continue reading »

Dec 142006
 

Responses to Jimmy Carter’s bestselling book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid have varied between indifference and knee-jerk accusations of anti-semitism. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Carter said: “For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts … It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defence of justice or human rights for Palestinians.” Continue reading »