Don’t be fooled: this is political power disguised as religious violence

2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt … Continued

2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.

Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt have killed dozens of Christian worshippers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is standing by the country’s controversial blasphemy law which critics say threatens religious minorities.

How should political and religious leaders deal with these challenges to interfaith relations?  

An aide to Winston Churchill once remarked that the German advance after Dunkirk was “a blessing in disguise.” Churchill replied, “I must say it is well disguised.” This series of attacks on Christians by Muslims in various parts of the world is politics disguised as religion, and it is, per Churchill, well disguised. Nonetheless, it is critical that political and religious leaders in America and abroad see through this strategy and call it out for what it is: a violent strategy designed to sow sectarian religious hatreds to gain power.

This is the assessment made by John Campbell, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. He wrote, “There is anecdotal evidence that rival candidates are appealing for support on the basis of shared ethnic and religious identities that is likely to foment tension.” He is correct, as usual.

As my colleague at the Center for American Progress, Brian Katulis, and I wrote recently , today “global religious identities are substituting for national identities, especially in weak or failing states.” In these kinds of states such as Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and unfortunately, too many other places around the world, “religious identity more and more substitutes for national identity as the government loses the people’s trust…” and more traditional political identities erode.

Religion’s role in forming and fomenting global power networks is rarely recognized, but it is crucial that we begin to do so. As Scott Thomas argues in his recent article in Foreign Affairs, “A Globalized God: Religion’s Growing Influence in International Politics,” “If the United States recognizes and utilizes the worldwide religious resurgence, it can harness its power to improve international security and better the lives of millions.” He also warns of the dangers of failing to do so.

Religion as a tool of global power networks: follow this thread through the collection of articles referenced for this question and you will begin to see the power calculations in the religious violence. In Egypt, for example, the horrific church attack “comes at a time of rising sectarian tension in Egypt and the broader region.” The Pakistani strike supporting the blasphemy law is similarly characterized, and helpfully analyzed. “I call it a natural result of religious extremism that is on the rise in Pakistani society,” said Mehdi Hasan, the chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights group, while commenting on the strike.

Dr. Hasan offers this trenchant analysis: “The liberal and democratic forces in the country have retreated so much that it has created an ideological vacuum that is now being filled by religious extremists.”

American and international religious and political leaders need to recognize that this new networked, globalized use of religious identities is a major source of political power manipulation in the world today. Our best response is first to not be distracted and conclude this is a problem of “interfaith relations.” It is not. It is a problem of national and international political conflict in a world where religious identity is being manipulated especially by sowing violence in the hope of reaping hatred.

This is not a blessing, and while it is disguised, it is not well disguised. It is the work of violent people trying to gain political power in the name of religion and it must be roundly rejected.

The faith challenge here is to recognize that this is an emerging pattern of brutal, violent political manipulation of religion, and reject it.

  • Kingofkings1

    I would like to point out the author missed an important political maneuver that was directed by religious calculations: the Iraqi sanctions over the decade prior to the Iraqi invasion and continued occupation

  • Chagasman

    Using religion to achieve political power: all the more reason to reject religion entirely. Religion must die so mankind can live.

  • FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER

    Susan writes “American and international religious and political leaders need to recognize that this new networked, globalized use of religious identities is a major source of political power manipulation in the world today”. Is it not too late NOW to recognize that? I read Robert Hutchison’s book “Their Kingdom Come” when it first reappeared in its censored from in the early 1990’s after its original version had been withdrawn from circulation (by order of the Catholic Church?) as soon as it had hit the shelves of bookstores. The back cover of the original edition had prophetically warned that the Catholic Church would not want the public to read that book. In his work, Robert Hutchison had denounced Opus Dei’s Millennial plan to wage a global war against Islam. Every reader can read the book review (still available for the original censored edition) of “Their Kingdom Come” at Amazon.com, including a review by the National Catholic Reporter. So, Susan: politicians and world statesmen and opinion leaders should have read the book long before 9/11 and the series of events that abomination and the most horrible war crimes, genocides and crimes against humanity that they triggered. Richard Cohen’s opinion column in this same edition of of WAPO informs readers what delayed catastrophe can be inflicted on humanity by the ignorance of political leaders concerning the real-life meaning of war. It is also no coincidence that some of the atrocities Susan mentions are occurring in Nigeria, with more certainly to come in the months ahead. Warmonger Dick Cheney is likely to be tried (in absentia?) in a Nigerian court, and Halliburton must have felt threatened enough to have offered the Nigerian authorities USD 250 million to scrap the case. The latest I heard was that the Nigerian authorities are still considering Halliburton’s offer.

  • ThishowIseeit

    Susan, you’ve hit the nail on its head! We must not be fooled by the word “Religion” as one in particular is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We must be not fooled by the trick: join me in interfaith peace or join me as we are worshipping the same God. Rember Susan in the Sermon on the Mount that the Prince of Peace said ” beware of false prophets” they come to you in sheep’s clothing. Susan, that prophecy came true forteen centuries ago and is getting stronger. Susan, someone said ” all that is necessary for the enemies of our Constitution to triumph is for us that value our Consitution to do nothing”. Susan, we must not be afraid to speak up.

  • AKafir

    Susan you are completely wrong. You are giving into a self-centered view. You could not even explain their motives clearly. You say: “It is a problem of national and international political conflict in a world where religious identity is being manipulated especially by sowing violence in the hope of reaping hatred. ” They are doing all this in the hope of reaping hatred? Whoever had a self image of just reaping hatred? Saying that their motive is to reap hatred is pure nonsense. The worst of humans will spin the worst of their actions into the best of motives. So try again and see what is their motive; the one they state for others and the one you think is their real motive and that is to gain power. Todays News from Pakistan:”Governor Punjab Salman Taseer has been gunned down by an Elite Force personnel who opened fire at his car in Kohsar Market of Sector F-6 in Islamabad, report said on Tuesday. Taseer received bullet shots in his chest and shifted to Poly Clinic in a Police van where he succumbed to his injuries. The Governor is said to have been shot at by a man of his own security squad. “He was gunned down by the Islamist, you can bet. Why? Not to reap hatred for sure. It was not a message to “us”. Why not take “them” at their word? They believe in their Islam and in that Islam the Kafirs must be oppressed and subjugated. Salman was a secular muslim and had been labeled as a Kafir.

  • AKafir

    Susan:[[The minister said the alleged killer had made confession statement of killing the Governor over late Taseer’s statement billing the Blasphemy Law as a “black law.The killer after attacking the governor with his weapon has surrendered to the security forces moments after shooting the governor dead.Qadri was immediately arrested and police were interrogating him”, he added.Late Salman Taseer, he said, have had lunch along with one of his friends at a cafe in Kohsar Market of Islamabad. When he came out to ride his waiting car, he was shot dead.]]Do you really think that the trained security guard who killed Taseer was killing Salman Taseer on the orders of those who want to “reap hatred”? Please go live in a muslim country for a year or so and see why the muslims would get so emotional to express their “sacred rage” over a few cartoons, or a book, or a statement, to come out into the streets by the thousands and burn and kill. Why would this man get so enraged just because Salman said the Blasphemy Law was a black law? Why would the Government of Pakistan, the ruling party PPP, known as close to a secular party as can exist in a muslim country, back away from even talking about repealing the blasphemy law? Try to understand that and then try to rationalise their hatred as only politics.

  • Bios

    Let’s say religion is the favourite fabric for political ambitions, doesn’t this post add more fuel to the fire?

  • WmarkW

    “The faith challenge here is to recognize that this is an emerging pattern of brutal, violent political manipulation of religion, and reject it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.Islam is a religion of peace, as everyone knows that all those passages about killing infidels aren’t meant literally.Too bad not everyone Muslim is required to study the Quran to such depth as to understand that.

  • areyousaying

    Don’t be fooled: this is political scapegoating disguised as religious self-righteousness.

  • WmarkW

    Susan B.T. has spent a lifetime talking about how wonderful it is that the world has all these beautiful religions, and hence that violence, discrimination and intolerance must be the product of culture or politics, because it can’t be faith, which is so inspiring.Look, “faith” means what one is willing to believe without the need for evidence. “Prejudice” has the same definition. There’s no epistimological difference between having “faith” that one’s supreme being of preference wants you to feed the poor and believing It wants you to subjugate the unbelievers. It is secularism that can provide a justification to do only the former. Specifically, that you have no more basis for thinking what the supreme being really wants than those unbelievers do.The Quran isn’t the worst book ever written. But it certainly reflects a much lower level of intelligent authorship than its believers attach to it.

  • edbyronadams

    “There is anecdotal evidence that rival candidates are appealing for support on the basis of shared ethnic and religious identities that is likely to foment tension.”Politics in Africa rooted in ethnic identities. I’m shocked at such a charge. 8)Get with reality. Human beings are a tribal species and tribal identity problems are at the root of most human conflict and not confined to Africa. Religion is just another tool to solidify tribal identity. Focusing on it alone misses the bigger picture.

  • mammyyel

    Whoa, boy! Wasn’t slavery in this country promoted in just that manner? Thomas Jackson and others felt it not wrong ’cause it was there in the Bible.

  • 5amefa91

    “Don’t be fooled: this is political power disguised as religious violence”Topic sentence nails the issue. Well said. That is very often true. Thus it ever is. For example, the Spanish Inquisition served the interests of the King of Spain more than the Church.

  • clearthinking1

    THE BAD NEWS: Christianity & Islam are the 2 religions always involved in religious violence on one side or both. Their supremacist beliefs bring out the worst in everyone as well. Not an impressive record of spiritual development for these religions.THE GOOD NEWS: The majority of the world is not Christian or Muslim. Most are Hindu, Buddhists, Sikh, Jain, Confucianist, Taoist, Atheist, etc. These other “religions” do not promote religiously motivated violence. Islam is impressive for a “religion” in terms of the violence and hatred. Just look at Pakistan today and the so-called moderate clerics celebrating the murder of an innocent. The killer is showered with rose petals, and the victim is blamed. The victim did not even commit blasphemy, which should be a capital crime anyway. He just spoke against blasphemy laws.Where are the usual apologists for the Islam as the religion o’ peace?