Thursday, September 4, 2008

Religion is more than just the 'opium of a nation'

Marx called religion the "opium of a nation", he left out how religion is equally potent as an instrument of war and belligerence.

Here's a comparison of 2 articles from The Economist on how religious sites have been the source of conflict:

Note: some parts of the original article have been omitted here. Click on link for the full article.

Places apart

Aug 28th 2008
From The Economist print edition
A plan to turn sites of conflict into beacons of peace

WHEN an army wants to dishearten a defeated foe, few things are more effective than desecrating his holiest shrines. And when a demagogue or warlord wants to make peaceful folk take up arms, nothing works better than telling them that their faith’s holiest site needs reclaiming.

And in modern times, fighting over holy places—from India to Jerusalem to the Balkans—seems almost as common as it was in the Middle Ages. During the Bosnian war, over 3,000 religious buildings were destroyed or damaged, including Catholic and Orthodox churches, and above all mosques. In Kosovo, the minority Serbs say scores of Orthodox churches or monasteries have been wrecked by ethnic-Albanian nationalists.

But holy places, even those that are claimed by more than one religion, are not always a source of conflict; there are plenty of cases where a shared holy place has led to a bond between people of different faiths who have divergent beliefs about the site but still rub along.

Hence a plan that was unveiled in Norway this summer to establish a code of conduct for holy sites on which all governments could agree. The code would protect the right of one or more communities to worship at a sacred site and the right of individuals and groups to manifest their faith at holy places.

Temple temptations

Aug 14th 2008 JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition
The issue of Jerusalem’s holiest site may again be dividing Jews

After the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s then defence minister, ruled that the Temple Mount where the golden Dome of the Rock has stood since the seventh century after Christ, would remain an exclusively Muslim place of worship, administered by the Waqf, or Muslim religious trust. Jews and Christians could visit but not worship there. Rabbis of all religious and political stripes agreed.

This arrangement broadly endured, between periodic bursts of violence. But it never allayed Arab fears that the Jews had designs on the mount.

In 1984, the Israeli authorities arrested a group of fanatical Jewish settlers for plotting to fire rockets into the mosque. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, infuriated Bill Clinton and Israeli negotiators by repeatedly denying there ever was a Jewish temple on the site and rejecting proposals to share sovereignty over it.

In September 2000, a walk on the mount by Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, prompted bloody clashes which turned into a six-year Palestinian intifada (uprising).

The negotiation of Jerusalem has also split the Jews. The Nationalist-orthodox close to Jews who have settled on the Palestinian West Bank are permitting—even encouraging—their followers to visit the mount.

The larger, ultra-Orthodox community remains ostensibly unaffected. Its rabbis still forbid even walking on the mount and are content to wait for the Messiah without spurring him on.

But between the two groups there is a theological overlap that translates into a tough brand of politics. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a pivotal part of the government’s coalition, has given notice that it will walk out if there is any negotiation over Jerusalem. Sure enough, in leaked draft proposals put by Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, the question of Jerusalem is postponed indefinitely. Or until the Messiah comes?

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