Sects and violence

As worthy and beneficial as religion can be, it is nevertheless true that religion has also been behind some of the worst forms of violence.  We in the West tend to see religion as a nice thing to have although I think we are increasingly moving towards a post-religious society, at least in Canada.  Whatever the case, religion does not hold the centre stage as it once did.

But getting back to violence, we ignore the brutality that was once normal in Christianity.  Europe was rocked by religious wars for centuries and it was the Christian “Crusaders” that made the streets of Jerusalem run with blood.  More recently we saw the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland where religious difference played a role.  Violence often occurs when two different interpretations of the same faith can’t settle their differences any other way.

Nowadays, we often associate one particular religion – Islam – with violence.  And while it is true that Islam is not inherently violent anymore than Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or even – yes! – Buddhism (all religions are capable of calling for violence and have violence as part of their holy traditions), there is today a disproportionate percentage of violence carried out in the name of Islam.  Our newspapers carry stories on a daily basis showing how allegedly “pure” followers of Islam justify shootings, crucifixions, immolations and throwing people off buildings.

But there is an aspect of this violence that is often ignored.  We seem to worry only about the occasions where Western hostages are beheaded on video despite the indisputable fact that the vast majority of victims of violence are actually other Muslims.  I am not the first person to point this out: the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point alerted people to this years ago as it sought to undermine Al Qaeda’s claim to be fighting on behalf of Islam.

In all this Muslim on Muslim carnage, there is a particular group that suffers: the Shia.  Representing a minority within Islam (around 10%), the Shia have been persecuted by the majority Sunnis for just shy of 1,400 years.  A blog is no where near the place to talk about the differences between the two sects: suffice to say that the Shia have been getting the short end of the stick for a long time.

And it is the extremists who really hate the Shia.  In their mind, the only good Shiite is a dead one, and they are doing their utmost to fulfill this belief.  Yet another set of attacks have recently been carried out against Shia mosques by probable Sunni extremists (see article here), one in southwestern Iran (recall that Iran is one of the few countries where the Shia constitute the majority).

When we think of terrorism we tend to see Muslim on non-Muslim violence.  We need to shift this view to encompass as well those towards whom the bulk of the killing is directed: other Muslims.  Those on the receiving end of this brutality share the same goals as we do: the end of extremism.  We are on the same side.

I know that calling for an alliance with countries such as Iran will not be an easy sell, given the demonisation of that country over the past three and half decades, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t work with other victims of this heinous trend.  Groups such us the Islamic State make enemies wherever they go. Maybe it’s time for all those who want to see the end of this group to band together.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

One reply on “Sects and violence”

Valid points Phil however I’d have to say that whilst the Ireland troubles and other “Christian” violence appears as an extension of religion, we should remember that Faith is the personal (theological aspect) and religion is the man-made embodiment (the practice of the faith). It is therefore the ‘man’ that causes the violence and not the ‘religion’ itself. The same can be seen in opposing sports fans who act violently, political opponents, environmental activists among others. Territorial disputes, Politics, natural resource claims and good old capitalism are as much to blame for the recent wars and military conflicts (Korea, Falklands 1982, Gulf 2003).

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