WASHINGTON (CNS) – Religion, which has been blamed for being behind much of the violence in today’s world, might be a scapegoat, according to one Georgetown University scholar.
“The role of religion needs to clearly be determined,” said Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, a scholar at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.
Based on his eight years serving as the director of international justice and peace office for the U.S. bishops, plus 14 years of Vatican work in international affairs, Father Christiansen said things are not always what they seem to be.
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia is one example. “Serbians identified with Orthodoxy as their cause,” he said, but all ethnic groups in the nation were testing freedom’s waters after 50 years under communist control.
Even in protracted conflicts like that between Israel and Palestine, “ethnology and nationalism is the issue,” Father Christiansen asserted.
Another factor in violence is what the Jesuit called “religious tribalism.” “Yemen is a clear example,” he said. “Tribalism is a strong problem when you talk about ‘jihadism.’” And “when you look at Saudi Arabia, you see it’s informed by tribal culture,” he added.
Father Christiansen acknowledged that some violence can be attributed to religion. Some of the conflicts in the Middle East, he said, are “Sunni-Shiite religious conflicts for leadership of the Muslim world.” In these situations — such as Iran’s aid to the embattled Syrian government — adherents of one branch of Islam will cross borders to aid their like-minded brethren embroiled in conflict. If their aid proves helpful in winning the conflict, that patronage gives the helping country a leadership leg up. And some fights are even more fratricidal in nature, such as Islamic State’s bid to impose its brand of Sunni Islam in the region by waging war against other Sunnis. By the same token, he noted Saudi aid “informs how Islam is taught in Pakistan.”