Sunday, January 04, 2009

Don't blame "Religion"

I haven't blogged in a bit because I've been sick. I didn't realize how sick, but it turns out I have pneumonia. It is unpleasant.

I thought about complaining about my condition, but considering what's going on in the world, my pneumonia seems a bit paltry.

Then I received an email today from someone on one of the various Obama list-serves I got onto during the election, claiming that the situation was intractable, but simple to understand. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all want to live in Isreal and won't move away, so they will fight about it forever because, this person claimed, religion causes all the wars in the world. Moreover, without religion this person said there would be no war.

That, I felt, demanded a response.

I'm sorry, but that's just one of the most patently ridiculous things I've ever heard. Without religion there would be no war? Really? You know, Stalin was an atheist. Hitler specifically wrote that his issues with Jews did not have to do with their religion but with what he considered to be something deficient in them as detected by the rational science of his day. I'm not going to defend all world religions, or any of them, for that matter. Many are expressly violent, and many others are used as a pretext by powerful people to motivate followers to carry out violence. But people find lots of reasons to fight; scarcity of land, of water, of goods, old-fashioned human rage. It's insulting when religious people condescend to non-religious people, judging their behavior based on religious schema the non-religious person does not hold. But it's also insulting when non-religious people condescend to religious people, treating them all as ignorant yahoos or worse, responsible for all the wars in the world. So let's avoid both kinds of ignorant rhetoric, if possible.

The situation between Palestine and Israel is incredibly complex. The countries aren't religiously homogeneous. The people of both countries do not have universal feelings about their governments' actions. These Muslims, Christians, and Jews the writer mentioned already all do live in Israel, and already all do live in Palestine. This is not a clear-cut religious war. The internal political realities inside both Israel and Palestine should not be ignored by our media, who like to talk about the conflict as though it's a two-sided sports match. There are wheels within wheels here. One interesting example: I heard a tidbit that the rockets Hamas has been launching were nearing the range to hit Israel's nuclear reactor where they have been making their nukes (unofficially) for decades. To what degree is the defense of civilians a pretext to defend a military instillation against future attack should those rockets gain greater range and accuracy? We'll never know, nor will the parents of the people who die on both sides of the conflict. So if the war is so complicated the Israelis and Palestinians don't fully know why they are fighting, we shouldn't try to dismiss the whole explanation with a single word: "Religion."

We oversimplify at our own expense.


@bdul muHib said...

Pneumonia? No! How did you get it? I hope you're getting better? Is it Walking Pneumonia at least?

Israel grows in greater and greater danger, from enemies within, thus able to strike deep inside. It's so sad to see how many are her mistakes, to see with Sunday Morning Quarterbacking step-by-step, that Israel should have done things different, to resolve the situation, to create a truly just state for all involved, and yet, she always seems to make the wrong choice. C'est la vie- we become that which we hate.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Oh, I'm certainly not walking. But it's bacterial, so with some super-duper anti-biotics I should be back to school by Wednesday.

As to the mistakes of Israel, I think that really goes to the heart of it. Even if they'd done the right things in many of those cases, the Palestinians wouldn't have. Or the Jordanians. Or Syrians. Or Egyptians. And let's not take ourselves off the hook. Our policies in the area have been ham-fisted at best, downright evil at times. It's a cluster of mistakes. I agree; it is so sad. I just get frustrated when people try to make it sound simple.

@bdul muHib said...

I'm actually going to disagree with you on this one a bit. Certainly many make mistakes, but the Israelis, as the oppressors, are far more culpable, and have had far more power to change the situation than have the Palestinians. Had Israel at any time decided to start treating the Palestinians as equal citizens with equal rights, or started to work on massive development, or even started an equal distribution of water and land, I have no doubt at all that the Palestinians would have joyfully responded in like manner, and we wouldn't be in this situation today.

Bummer, that you're not even walking! I'm glad it's responding to antibiotics.

Anonymous said...

I gotta' chime in a bit...(Bill here). I think Ben is right in that most conflicts are far more complicated than either "side" gives credit for. I believe this is true and my experience in my marriage tells me that "if you'd only do X, I know I'd be a better husband" never gets a peaceful resolution. All parties need to take responsibility for what they've done AND for what they will do to bring peace to the situation. Anything else too quickly devolves into self-righteous finger pointing.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

I would agree with you in principle that the political dimensions of many of these long standing fights indicates we can label religion as the source of all evil and horror in the world.

That being said, we have a tough road to convince the ever more snide secularists of this.

Thus for example Mao and Stalin's horrors are cast aside as "cults of personality", whereas religion is to blame for the Crusades. Period.

Or so we're told.

Or course, there were political dimensions to that also.

But while you've correctly noted that not everyone sees the fines shades of grey here that certainly exist, we need to do better in the explanitory filter about faith.

After the 911 attacks, Salmon Rushdie said in an interview that "if the leveling of two buildings was not about religion, then what was it about--the rules of chess?"

He's wrong for such a flip, all encompassing statement. Unfortunately I don't immediately know of a quick retort to such flippance.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

indicates we can label religion as the source of all evil and horror in the world.


Meant to say we CAN'T label.....

..for the love of mike.....

Benjamin Gorman said...

I have to agree with you, Wakefield. The crusades were political, and 9/11 was far more political than we, or Rushdie, would like to admit. Abdul, I just read that Amnesty International has printed its report (which, I admit, I haven't yet) which accuses ALL parties of possible war crimes and even crimes against humanity. When we talk about the parties, the US is included, especially since the missiles that killed some of the aid workers and unarmed children were sold (or given) to the Isrealis by... you guessed it. Also, the report says white phosphorous was used. That breaks my heart and turns my stomach at the same time. Oh, and who gave that to Israel? Yep. I'm not sure that, in this case, we can measure the guilt only in the death toll, though, and I think it's overly simplistic to say the Israelis are the oppressors. I mean, how do we know that Hamas, if well treated, would not have attacked Israel? They are an organization committed to Israel's destruction. They're pretty outspoken about that. That doesn't make them very easy to negotiate with. That certainly doesn't excuse any Israeli war crimes (or our complicity in them), but Hamas is complicit in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children, too, and MLK's point about the silence of good people being more dangerous than the words of evil people applies to any Palestinian who abides Hamas' behavior, don't you think?

@bdul muHib said...

Yeah, I've been following the reports about the white phosphorous for the past three weeks now. A good place to read up-to-date first-person information from within Ghaza is

Benjamin Gorman said...

I'm not sure which parts of her accounts are more harrowing. but you're right; that's a great blog. I didn't realize the use of white phosphorus was considered legal as long as it isn't used on civilians. That will only make it harder for Americans to get the truth here: If Israel used white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza, I'd be willing to bet we used it on civilians in Iraq, too. The pentagon admitted we used it on insurgents. Does anyone really think we could target a chemical weapon that specifically in an urban warfare situation?

@bdul muHib said...

Especially when our vaunted Predators really aren't that specific. I am greatly saddened that one of Obama's first acts as President was authorizing bombing runs in Pakistan, killing both militants and civilians.