The Clash of Religions

We are now living in a world where our leaders promote unity among all nations where countries and states give assistance to one another. Such assistance may come in the form of donations from rich countries to help feed the hungry ones, by way of lending technical expertise to nations which lack them, or through extension of military support to countries with internal or external conflicts. Equality among peers is similarly advocated where differences in gender, class, culture and race do not matter anymore.

An example of this is the widely campaigned gender sensitivity and cultural diversity awareness, among others. In the meantime, international trade of goods and services is broadly encouraged to promote globalization; a concept which experts say is the key to worldwide progress and development. However, despite all these efforts in maintaining good relationships with neighboring countries and speeding up economic growth worldwide we are still facing a lot of major risks and problems – whether seen as consequences of these efforts or lack thereof.

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Example of these difficulties are those concerning the state of our planet, the state of morals and values of humankind and the violent and destructive regional armed conflicts as mentioned in the essays of Vaclav Havel and Salman Rushdie entitled The Divine Revolution and November 2001: Not about Islam, respectively. Both articles, although different in approach and subject matter, show the important role religion plays in upholding peace among and within nations, and in preserving our environment.

So what does religion have to do with the above-mentioned issues? Furthermore, how come, in a world where men and women supposedly co-exist peacefully without any regard to whatever differences they have, religious diversity, or lack of spiritual faith, take the blame in all of these? In a growth-oriented globalize world, religion has indeed been a lead actor; in The Divine Revolution, Havel (1998) said that: In recent years the great religions have been playing an increasingly important role in global politics.

Since the fall of Communism, the world has become multipolar instead of bipolar, and many countries outside the hitherto dominant Euro-American cultural sphere have grown in self confidence and influence. But the more closely tied we are by the bonds of a single global civilization, the more the various religious groups emphasize all the ways in which they differ from each other… (638) The above passage suggests that religion has always been involved in global politics; that it has been used as a powerful tool by dominant cultures to influence and rule over other nations.

Differences in religious beliefs became more evident in that these distinctive qualities had been used to identify which cultures are strong (and which ones are weak). Moreover, religion has been also used not only to gather power but to pursue political interests and agendas, no matter how noble and “religious” our leaders’ intentions are. But as Havel (1988) further put it, “… [an important fact is] that the civilization within which this religious tension is taking place is, in essence, a deeply, atheistic one…” (Havel 637).

On the other hand, religions have not always been played against one another – worse yet are the contentions within a religious group. Examples of these are the often violent series of warfare among and against Muslim countries which have existed for years and have seemingly worsened after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America the World Trade Center Towers in New York City and The Pentagon in Washington.

To the some, this chain of wars following the 9/11 tragedy and even before that – whether these armed tensions are led by the United States against the Muslims or by Islamic societies against one of their own where the US’ involvement had merely been to assist – has always been a struggle for dominance by the US against oil-rich Islamic countries. On the other hand, ever since the 9/11 attack in the US, every terrorism act has, in turn, been connected to the Muslims which they have been strongly protesting against.

To them, this outright exhibition of prejudice is more than a power struggle; it has branched out to something even worse – an unjustly attack against Islamic beliefs and practices. But then as our global diplomatic leaders say, Islamism has nothing to do with it. However Salman Rushdie (2001) expresses his disagreement in one of his articles. In his essay on Islam versus Islamism, November 2001: Not about Islam, he advises all of us to throw away all pretentious bureaucratic lectures and admit once and for all that, “of course this is ‘about Islam’” (Rushdie 648).

Nevertheless, he challenges the world to further reflect on this admission and find out what this really means: Is it really is about a potent culture dominating over a weaker religious group by proving its power through warfare? Or is it an internal conflict that the Islamic societies fail to recognize or act on themselves? Rushdie (2001) further explores the latter question by saying that, “this paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, ‘infidels’, for all the ills of Muslim societies to the rival project of modernity is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world” (Rushdie 649).

With a misplaced pride in their religious beliefs, the Muslims have been failing to recognize and admit their own faults opting to blame a larger target, the US. With their attention focused on the blame game, came the consequence of failing to address the real and more pressing issues and problems they face. Reflecting on all of these, it could be concurred that the biggest problem facing the world today is our own lack of faith.

All the physical and apparent worries such as the environmental changes we experience, the vicious chain of warfare and the discrimination are borne out of political agendas, poorly disguised as pious intentions and have little (if not nothing) to do with religious faith. Therefore, maybe the most valuable solution is simply to actually apply what our religious beliefs teach us. Havel (1998) believes that

Perhaps the way out of our current bleak situation could be found by searching for what unites the various religions is a purposeful search for common principles. Then applying means adequate to the needs of our time, we could cultivate human coexistence while, at the same time, cultivating the planet on which it is our destiny to live, suffusing it with the spirit of this religious and ethical common ground with what a would call the common spiritual moral minimum (639).

Instead of efforts to promote unity and eliminate diversity among mankind, a more effective way to bring about prosperity and unity among nations is to accept and respect all of our differences; furthermore, we should all recognize that despite these dissimilarities we each have our own spiritual faith, which is in reality a common ground for all of us to start working on toward a world of progress, unity and peace.