Religion Causes Wars, It Doesn't Solve Them

As religious warfare rages around the world a high-power group of politicians and clerics say that religion has a role in “conflict resolution”.

The inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York was attended by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Rabbi Michael Melchior, Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, and David Smock, director of the religion and peacemaking initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

“You can’t exclude religion if you are interested in solving problems,” said Albright reflecting on her conflict-resolution experience, admitting she came from a generation of diplomats who didn’t believe religion and foreign policy went together. However, after her experiences with the Balkans, and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Albright said, “I think it would have helped if we tried to get religious leaders involved in the process.” Many people base their identity on religion, said Albright. Therefore, political leaders needed to make understanding religion a priority in the same way that they study missiles and munitions. Additionally, religious leaders had a role in conflicted societies, which political leaders could not fill, said Smock.

Religious leaders needed to work toward peace with their colleagues of other faiths and, Melchior said, to address the “clash inside of civilizations,” the totalitarianism present in every religious community. Moderate religious leaders had the responsibility to rein in extremists, and all leaders should educate themselves about the religious “other”, said Smock.

Compassion, Mr Melchior claimed, was “endemic to most religions” and offered religious leaders a common stage to facilitate conflict resolution. “We always empower extremists. We give them the headlines, we talk about them, analyse them,” he said, and, as a result, religious leaders are expected to hate.

When asked what ordinary citizens can do, Albright said everyone should commit themselves to learning more about other nations, cultures and creeds.

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, said: “When religion causes conflict it is obvious that the participants will have to talk to each other before the conflict can end. But if we are going to wait for religious leaders to get together to end sectarian wars, we are going to be waiting a long time. Some religious wars have been raging for centuries and the hatreds that they spawn are so profound that although the original cause of the conflict may have been forgotten, the hatred persists and becomes an end in itself. So, Catholics hate proddies in Northern Ireland because – well, that’s the way it has always been. We see the same effect in Iraq between Sunnis and Shias, and in Palestine between Muslims and Jews. Religious leaders are often fully engaged in the conflict, and the idea of looking to them to resolve the conflict seems ridiculous. How many conflicts has the Rev Ian Paisley resolved? Or Osama bin Laden? How many do they want to resolve?”

See also:
A Catholic town watches as Protestant rancour grows