Remembering History: Violence in the Name of Religion

Throughout history, acts of hate and violence have been committed against humans on the basis of religion. If we really believe that religion is about the promotion of peace, why do we allow the behaviors of our societies to prove otherwise?  All religions of the world have had their moments of compassion and they have also had their moments of hate.  It was true before the era of Christ and it is true today.

In 2011 the U.S finally achieved justice for the attacks of September 11, 2001 by capturing and killing Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The decision to invade Al Qaeda was widely popular, as it avenged the murders of almost 3,000 American people on 9/11. From an American perspective, this seemed like the only reasonable option, to kill the ones responsible for the killing thousands of American citizens and causing national and international terror. The events of September 11th had profound effects on not only America, but the entire globe. It seems that a majority of nations agree the attacks were evil and tragic, but some contention may remain as to whether or not there was justification in how the U.S retaliated.

The U.S has historically been a peaceful and fair nation.  It is why every year we have an influx of immigrants seeking better lifestyles and opportunities here in the states. It is also why many nations around the world request the presence of our nation in order to intervene on foreign soil on behalf of social justice, human rights, and democracy.  Over time, the U.S has even been nicknamed as the “world’s cop”, due to our various interventions overseas.

In many cases, intervening and aiding our neighboring nations can be beneficial and may even be necessary, but this view is not shared by all. There exists many groups, terrorist or not, that believe that American intervention is the root of all evil. Civilians and organized groups believe that we commit crimes against other nations by spreading Western ideals and democratization. Objectively, this mindset isn’t entirely wrong. Since the development of democracy in North America, and further, when the U.S became a global superpower, we have tried to impress our morals and values onto other nations on the basis of humanitarianism. From the other side of the spectrum, however, it appears our efforts haven’t been as popular as we previously hoped and believed. For instance, if we take an objective look at terrorist organizations or terrorism altogether, we can make educated assumptions for the reasoning behind committing such atrocities. ISIS, for example, has been identified as an Islamic extremist group, whose primary goal is to put an end to westernization. Although ISIS claims to be working on behalf of the Muslim religion, is it truly religion that permits their crimes?

So far this year, ISIS has taken responsibility for numerous global terrorist attacks. This past June, ISIS claimed responsibility for the Orlando night club shooting. The attack that took the lives of over 49 people and injured 53 others, became the deadliest public mass shooting in U.S history according to CNN.  The shooter pledged allegiance to the Islamic terrorist group. Only a couple months later, ISIS once again made international news following an attack in Nice, France, that killed 85 people. The shooter himself did not claim direct allegiance to ISIS, but it was later uncovered that the Islamic state’s media group, Amaq Agency, instructed one of their “soldiers” to carry out the attack.

This is not the first time in history we have seen evidence of terrorist groups committing crimes against humanity claiming to be done on behalf of religion. ISIS believes their crimes are justifiable due to either the Quran or their religious beliefs altogether, but it is not only this extremist sect that wreaks international havoc as a type of “sacrifice” for religion. Since the establishment of religion, people all over the globe have used their beliefs to justify their behavior.

The Spanish Inquisition, for instance, is only one of many historical examples of unjust persecution due to religious differences. The Inquisition, led by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1478, was only the beginning of a very long history of global religious violence. The Inquisition was truly a platform for Catholic Monarchs to commit crimes against humanity disguised as religious cleansing in Spain during the 15th Century. As the Inquisition progressed, however, it became less about Catholicism or religious and political unity, and more about the control the Spanish Monarchy held over its people. Eventually The Grand Inquisitor began targeting people for reasons entirely unrelated to religious opposition. Over the course of the Inquisition, an estimated 150,000 people were charged with crimes such as, heresy, offenses against morals as well as crimes against nature including: homosexuality and beastiality. Additionally, thousands were charged, tortured, and executed for their alleged crimes against the Spanish Monarchy and their threats to Christian moral values. The disenfranchisement of non-Catholics in Spain paved the way for future religious crimes all over the world.

Hitler’s persecution of the jews during WWII exemplifies the nature of  power systems and the role religion plays in politics and war.  Hitler’s rise to power can be attributed very largely to his denuciation of Jews, primarily, but also all others who opposed the authority of the Third Reich. Similar to the Spanish Inquisition, people were persecuted for reasons that went far beyond religious intolerance. Both power systems also quickly gained popularity as they were intended to “weed out” only certain minorities of the population. This mentality shifted over time, as people were eventually targeted for any slight indifference or opposition to the system. For example, Nazi Germany persecuted any persons who they deemed suspicious or those who did not exemplify the “good German citizen” model.

These type of violent acts against humanity in the name of religion may be compared to the religious violence that we are experiencing today.  More recently, historical events between the church and state have taken national interest. Modern religious persecution appears to take a very different form here in the U.S. The present rhetoric and acceptance by sectors of our society regarding the persecution and expulsion of entire religious minorities seems to have resonance. Religious repression continues to exist and exhibit itself by what we can identify as hate crimes. A major example of this phenomenon is the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church.  This “church” functions off the notion that contrary to popular belief, God is unaccepting of those who commit sin. Like previous historical religious crimes, the Westboro Baptist Church acts on behalf of their individual adaptation of religion and God’s intention for humanity. They have most recently taken the national stage for picketing in front of abortion clinics, or gay pride rallies, encouraging hate and publicly shaming their fellow citizens for their personal beliefs. Although this is a modern form of religious repression, and mass genocide is more than frowned upon in our culture, these sort of hate crimes exhibit the ideals created by the church more than three centuries ago.

As we become engulfed in our own daily lives we are unable to reflect for a moment and question whether or not we are in the middle of a historic moment, a new era of religious repression and violence.  Is this the reemergence of the violent collision between the Western and non-Western worlds?  Are the threats against Muslims in Europe and the United States a reflection of this reality.  The nationalist rhetoric coming out of Europe and the widely known position of presidential candidate Donald Trump in favor of the persecution of Muslims is evidence that the world is setting itself up for a new religious confrontation.

All religious groups are guilty of the disenfranchisement of their own people. Violence due to religion is and has always been subjective of each religious belief system that exists. The main question that needs to be addressed is, what do we gain out of violence, especially through violence whose justification has been manipulated to be considered religious expression? Religion and religious beliefs are entirely subjective and personal.  They may not again transcend into the political realm and force humanity into the repetition of history.  All religious extremism must be contained and not just Muslim extremism.  The fire started by ISIS must be put down but the effort to Westernize the Middle East must also come to an end.

“Remembering History: Violence in the Name of Religion” was written by Nina Mahaleris, undergraduate student in journalism, communications and international affairs at the University of Maine.


Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth. These are my personal views, and they do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine.