Arguing that the current war is not a religious war would be denying history, from the Crusades onwards, and recant the sacred texts of the monotheistic religions. Certainly, the Pope does his job and uses religion to preach peace. Moreover, there is no doubt that other interests hide behind religion: economic, geopolitical and power interests.
But can we can say that religion is alien to power struggles? It is not and it never has been, throughout history, a perverse interweaving of political struggle and religion has always existed. The clash in the Middle East between the Sunni (led by Saudi Wahhabis) and Shia (led by Iran) branches of Islam is not just about religion. It is not a coincidence that even the oil prices are used in this confrontation. But ignoring it does not help resolve the conflict.
Islamic terrorism refers to a category within Islam: jihad. Jihad has many meanings: from the effort to improve oneself to the war in the name of God, called generically the “holy war.” In the Qur’an it says: “Fight, therefore, for the cause of God” (Sura II, 244), and “those who sell the life of this world to buy the afterlife and fight in the cause of God, a grand prize will be given, whether they win or die, to those who fight for the cause of God” (Sura IV, 74).
The Bible also contains references to the holy war (Deuteronomy) and it is a fundamental category in apocalyptic writings. In the “Rules of War” that book, in fact, it lists guidelines for making holy war, which will end with the confrontation between “the sons of light” and the “sons of darkness” and God will become the exclusive supporter of victory. In Christian history, there is no lack of religious wars and the violence of the Inquisition that burned, plagued and tortured millions of heretics.
What stopped this religious violence? The ideals embodied by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which laid the foundations of modern society by introducing the concept of secularism and universal values, which are still valid. Although the echo of the French Revolution was felt around the world, its principles only spread through Europe, and later, reduced to a synonym for terror, have become the subject of a demonization campaign.
In the rest of the world, meanwhile, traditional religion has maintained a dominant role. Even in the United States, where the president-elect still swears the oath with one hand on the Bible. Religious and political topics mix in the terms used to define the enemy: “evil empire” and “axis of evil.” While Khomeini calls the United States the “Great Satan.”
The Arab-Muslim world experienced a period of secularism and even socialist compliance (under the Soviet model) with the end of colonization, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and defeat in the wars against Israel destroyed the dream of an Arab nation and encouraged the emergence of Islamist movements.
The role of the West, especially the United States, in favor of Islamists and jihad began during the Cold War in the fight against communism. How? By funding and training the jihadists who were fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the name of Wahhabi Islam. Osama bin Laden led these fighters. Before that, in 1979, fearing the interference by the Soviets in Iran after the fall of the Shah, the U.S. supported the seizure of power by Khomeini. Soon after, they suffered the consequences.
More recently, the Western neo-colonial expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq have certainly helped to expand and strengthen those movements that have chosen the path of terrorism, but the armed Islamic groups had already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Algeria. There was no invasion in Algeria, although the Algerians who had fought in Afghanistan imported the holy war there. And the clash was not between occupiers and occupied, but between supporters of two visions of society: one theocratic and the other secular. Of course the seculars were considered infidels. Just 20 years ago in Algeria, seven Tibhirine monks and the bishop of Oran, Bishop Claverie, much appreciated by the Muslims, were killed. Before Jacques Hamel was slain recently, hundreds of Christians were killed and kidnapped, like Father Dall’Oglio, whose fate is unknown.
The daily massacres by ISIS are atrocious, and their fanaticism reaches goals never achieved before by Islamic terrorism: the destabilization of the West. This was also made possible with the help of the press — particularly the TV networks — that amplifies their propaganda with endless direct broadcasts just after news of an attack or a shootout. Everything is immediately blamed on ISIS, which incidentally claims every successful bloody action. Everyone has now heard the words “Allah Akbar” and registers as danger. The constant messaging feeds the psychosis and trivializes terrorism.
Does this mean that we are hostages of Islamic terrorism? No, because the first victims are Muslims. Some Muslim intellectuals are aware of the fact that the origin of fanaticism is religion, and they are promoting the separation of religion from politics, of Islam from the state, to dissolve the power node that covers both. The process of secularization is long and bloody, and the current one in the Middle East is definitely so.
For the West, secularization was not enough to break free from religion. Or rather, the crisis of political legitimacy leads to the misuse of religion, a thesis presented by Lebanese historian George Corm. He adds: “Similarly, it is possible that the crisis of religion exploits the crisis of political legitimacy.” In any case, the exploitation takes place on the most fundamentalist religious values.
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