Monday, August 13, 2007

David versus Goliath

I wrote this paper (originally called “David versus Goliath: Logical approach to analyzing religious conflict of the 90s”) in 2005 (finishing August 12th), it is presented below largely unmodified. The only changes are a new formatting (no double spacing) and a break down into sections. The rest of the text and citation is still the original.

It seems that conflict is rooted in human nature. No matter how close the world gets, conflict still emerges. No matter how hard leaders try to promote peace, at times those conflicts still escalate to violence. During the Cold War people had a relatively easy time defining themselves, they were either part of the Soviet bloc, the West, or non-aligned. This made a stage for ideological conflicts between capitalism and communism. However, the days of the Cold War are behind us and this stage of ideological conflict is well dismantled. The conflicts that plagued the world from the fall of Rome until the Enlightenment are re-emerging to the spotlight. Religious conflict has taken over as the dominating source of violence in the post-Cold War world. The words of Josef Kuschel (Kuschel in Robinson 2), from the Bosnian conflict, sum up the current state of events: “there can be no peace among nations without peace among the religions!” With the Berlin wall having fallen only sixteen years ago, that post-Cold War era is indeed short, but important in the study of modern religious conflict. The 90s present us with a clear pattern to observe in the rise of religious violence. Communal religious violence in the 90s follows a clear four step pattern.

Looking at the religious conflicts of the 90s, a four-step recipe for religious violence can be derived. First, an organized religion surfaces to fill in the power vacuum left by a collapsed or weakened government. In religiously heterogeneous states the emerging religious powers start to clash. A spark pushes the conflict to minor violence. The violence, unchecked by outside forces, quickly escalates to communal religious violence. The procedure used focuses on the political science aspect of religious violence.

Political Science scholarship offers insightful theories to explain the complex interrelationships between religious violence and politics. For instance, during the Cold War period geo-political relations were often defined as bipolar, meaning there were two dominant superpowers in the world, and some neutral states in between (Huntington, 1999 35). After the fall of the U.S.S.R in 1991 experts expected the world to become unipolar led by the United States, but it became what Samuel Huntington dubs a uni-multipolar world (36). Basically it is a world where there is one super power, several major powers, several regional powers, and the other nations (37). The United States is the only superpower and can enter a conflict against any other power as long as it has the backing of at least some major powers (37). This is well displayed by the United States' recent action in Iraq where it went it with the backing of only some major powers, namely United Kingdom and regional powers like Turkey. In "The Clash of Civilizations" and later in the book The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order Professor Huntington establishes that modern conflicts appear at fault lines between different cultures (Huntington, 1996). Huntington (1996), and experts such as Jonathan Fox (Fox, 2003) agree that religion is one of the main, if not the main difference between cultures, and therefore is one of the major causes of conflict in the world. Thus religious violence can occur in regions split between different major religions, such as the Balkans and South East Asia, without major intervention from the hegemonic actors of the world. Communal violence can emerge at the boarders or religiously different regions and have time to escalate while the major powers try to organize themselves into coalitions. Such violence is seen through out the world and can be shown with examples from the 90s.

To get the full scope of large-scale religious violence in the 90s, several examples have to be looked at. Conflicts that make good case studies are ones where different religious bodies succumb to violence and some sort of ‘religious cleansing’ policy is followed. In South Asia the Indian provinces of Kashmir and Punjab and the southern country of Sri Lanka make good examples. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is the most religiously troubled state (Searle 1), and can serve as case study from that region. Sudan will serve as an example of an African conflict. Lastly, the former Yugoslavia makes a good European example. The six major conflicts mentioned cover all major religions. Christianity is seen in Indonesia, Sudan and Yugoslavia and its cousin Orthodox Christianity present it Yugoslavia. The Islamic faith is present in all the listed conflicts but Punjab and Sri Lanka. Hinduism displays itself in Punjab, Kashmir and Sri Lanka, and its descendant Sikhism in Punjab. Even Buddhism finds a place in those six examples, showing itself during the violence in Sri Lanka. These case studies not only encompass the world’s hotspots and major religions, but also cover the major religious violence of the 90s.

Individuals might notice that some conflicts of the 90s that are publicly known and attributed to religious violence are not listed as good case studies, and that is because they are not true religious conflicts. In the Israel-Palestine conflict the cause is territorial, not cultural or religious (Haught 137). From when the conflict started, until the emergence of Hamas in 1993 there were no religiously fanatical groups playing large parts in the conflict (137). This was because Israel was not fanatical and neither was the Palestine Liberalization Organization (137). Although the two parties in the Israel-Palestine conflict are of different religions, the conflict itself is not religious in its nature. The same can be said for the violence in Ireland, if looked into historically. The dispute between England and Ireland started in the 1100s, while the Catholic and Anglican Churches split in the 1500s (63). Today, even though the participant’s religion does often decide what side they are on, the conflict is still a liberation conflicts and neither side pursues a 'religious cleansing' agenda (63). Of course, not all conflicts can boast a record of no ‘religious cleansing’.

India: Kashmir

Plagued by conflict before and through the 90s the Kashmir province of India has been a good example of communal religious violence. Even while most of India was under British rule, the Kashmir province was having problems. The province was relatively autonomous due to the British practice of ‘indirect rule’, but the Hindu monarchy was incompetent, self absorbed and did not have good relationship with the poor Muslim majority of the province (Bose 16). The only reason the province did not succumb to chaos was the strong British influence in the area. When the British pulled out of Indian peninsula, and two independent states of Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan were created on 14-15 August 1947, Kashmir was given a choice of which of the new dominions to join (36). The Hindu monarchy forced the mostly Muslim province to join Hindu India, ever since then the Muslim people of Kashmir pushed for separation (36). Before the 90s, three wars were fought over the Kashmir province between India and Pakistan (Haught 55). In 1989 Muslim militants pushed for separation of the province, with up to 800,000 Muslims marching at one time with cries of “God is great” (pg. 56). Indian troops were unable to quell the rebellion and the bloody ‘religious cleansing’ and separation movements of Kashmir began (56).

‘Religious cleansing’ and violence stormed throughout 90s Kashmir. By 1994 9,000 people were recorded dead in the conflict by Indian authorities and 20,000 by Kashmir reporters (58). During 1996 to 1998, the rebellion calmed with all but one guerrilla group disbanded and the remaining one under heavy government scrutiny (Bose 107-136). In 1998, the year known as “South Asia’s nuclear summer”, India and Pakistan tested a total of 11 nuclear devices, hoping to bring deterrence and peace to the Kashmir region (140). However, violence escalated (140). Pakistani religious fundamentalists from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba raided non-Muslims in the Kashmir region (140-141). The violence was not brought under control until Bill Clinton actively intervened in the affairs on 4 July 1999 (142). Sadly, in the 90s religious conflict is not confined to only one part of India.

India: Punjab

The Punjab province of India has been overcome by religious violence between the Hindus and Sikhs. Although the conflict reached its peak right after the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, it caused major bloodshed in the 1990s (Axel 5). Around 8,000 people were killed for religious reasons in 1991 and 1992 alone (Haught 53). The Sikh’s quest for Khalistan, or ‘land of the pure’, might have received little media coverage in the 90s, but it did not subside (52). With over ¾ of India’s Sikhs living in the province of Punjab, the province bore the brunt of the religious hatred against Sikhs and Sikh militant groups throughout the 90s (Purewal 2). As random as they seem, the events of Kashmir and Punjab in the 90s follow a clear pattern of religious-based violence.

The Kashmir and Punjab regions display the four criterions clearly. In 1998 the Indian government was lulled into a false sense of security by its nuclear weapons, and started to lose power in Kashmir, only to have a religious body spring up. In 1984, the government lost power due to the assassination of the prime minister only to have the Hindu and Sikh communities take matters into their own hands. The rise of tension was caused by Muslims and Sikhs rising to clash with the dominant Hindu community. The spark in Kashmir was a dormant one; the disregard of Muslim people by the pre-1947 monarchy. In Punjab the spark was the disregard for cultural differences. India attempted to control the violence, but was not powerful enough until the intervention of the United States in 1999. Today violence continues in Punjab, although the Indian government is doing a better job of containing it than the Kashmir conflict. The religious violence of South Asia is not only confined to the northern borders but is also present in its southern heart.

Sri Lanka

The teardrop nation below India, Sri Lanka, had a 30 year build up to the break out of religious violence. The Buddhist majority of the country believes that Buddha gave the Island of Lanka to create a “citadel of pure Buddhism” (Fox, 2002 449). The Hindu Tamils resented the religious discrimination against them (Austin 68). In 1948 the British left Ceylon after leaving India and a Buddhist-dominated government was established (Haught 108). In the late 1950s a Buddhist prime minister declared Sinhalese to be the only official language (108). Finally in the 1980s Sri Lanka was declared a ‘Buddhist Republic’ to avoid conflict with a Buddhist terrorist group (Austin 75). The drastic move enraged the Hindu Tamils, who formed the Liberation Tigers and rebelled (75).

Violence between the Liberation Tigers and Buddhists raged throughout the late 80s and 90s (Haught 108-110). In 1983, the Tigers ambushed an army patrol, Buddhist retaliated with the massacre of hundreds of Hindus; in response Hindus attacked Buddhist holy spots; a full civil war erupted (109). At first the largely Hindu India supported the Tigers and sent supplies until Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi switched to a state of neutrality (109). In 1987, India decided to send peacekeepers to separate the Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka (Austin 69). However, India’s peacekeepers did little and the 70,000 man taskforce was withdrawn in 1990 after taking 2,000 casualties (Haught 109). After India withdrew its forces, religious murder, violence and cleansing snowballed (110). By 2001 a total of about 62,000 people were killed for religious reasons (Austin 75). The loss in Sri Lanka is devastating, but still predictable.

Sri Lanka’s religious violence follows a clear pattern. When the governing body lost power in 1948, from the loss of British rule, Hindu and Buddhist religions filled the vacuum. The Buddhist and Hindu religions started to clash from the beginning. In 1983 a fundamentalist spark from the Liberation Tigers sprung and started the fire of religious violence in Sri Lanka. After India’s failed peacekeeping in the 1987 to 1990 period the violence continued to escalate, leaving thousands dead in its wake. Through out the 90s the religious violence of Sri Lanka went unnoticed and unchecked by the rest of the world and only worsened.

Indonesia: East Timor

Another unpublicized religious conflict of the 90s is the situation in South-East Asia, mainly Indonesia. Religious conflict in South-East Asia largely depends on the violence in the world’s largest Muslim state; Indonesia (Searle, 1). The Island country boasts a population of 238 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim (CIA). The presence of religious conflict in Indonesia is caused by the weakening of the state (Searle 1). Violence in Indonesia today is mostly between Christians and the Muslim majority (Haught 169). In 1974 the United Nations granted independence to the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, only to have it invaded and annexed by Indonesia a year later (169). In 2000, a Muslim terrorist group, partially supported by the government moved into the province of Maluku (Searle 5). Christians in the area formed a counter-organization called Laskar Kristus: ‘Army of Christ’ (5). In 2 years the religious violence and cleansing between Christians and Muslims in the Indonesian province of Maluku and Kulimantan has left 5,000 dead and 500,000 displaced (4). Like the previous examples, Indonesia’s conflict was devastating, but predictable.

Like the previous conflicts a pattern is present in Indonesia. Religious powers emerged to fill the hole the lack of state power left. With Indonesia’s loss of power and control of its people, the Islamic and Christian communities took over. Fundamentalists then attacked, as seen by a terrorist group’s invasion of Maluku. Without the intervention of the Indonesian, or any other, government, religious violence escalated. The logical pattern leading to violence is not only present in Asia.


The African country of Sudan was the site of another deadly Muslim and Christian conflict of the 90s. The first rebellions started in 1955 a year before the pre-scheduled leave of Britain (Haught 77). The Christians were afraid of Muslim oppression (77). However, the British still pulled out and a civil war erupted between the Muslims and Christians that lasted until 1972 and claimed 500,000 casualties (77). In 1983, a new Muslim president decreed Sharia for all of Sudan (78). Sharia is the Muslim law which justifies such things as amputation of limbs for theft (Allie). Christian’s were outraged by the government’s neglect of their rights and rebelled (78). In 1989, the government promised to stop the application of Muslim law in the south, but the government was not stable enough to do so and was overthrown by Muslim fundamentalists who established an Islamic theocracy (78). The fundamentalist government established close ties with the theocracy of Iran and imposed Islam on all the citizens of Sudan (78). In 1992 the United States finally recognized Sudan as a religiously extremist terrorist state (79). By 1994, around 1.5 million lives were lost in the 2nd Sudan war and around 6 million were refugees in neighboring states (79). The turmoil in Sudan has been described as the deadliest religious conflict of the 90s (77).

Even the deadliest conflict of the 90s, however, followed a pattern. The government lost power in 1955 and 1989, the first due to British readiness to pull out and the second due to the loss of Muslim support and in both cases religions emerged to fill the power vacuum. The second case even formed a government. The Christian and Muslim communities began to clash. Without any intervention the tension quickly escalated leaving millions without their lives or lively-hood. However, this was a conflict between only two religious groups and was largely overlooked by the West because a three way conflict was already occurring in their own backyard.


Another deadly conflict in recent history is the collapse of Yugoslavia and the wars of its former provinces. Croatia and Slovenia were the first states to break free in 1991, triggering a war with Yugoslavia (Haught 28). The Catholic Church of Croatia displays the power compensation of religion and state very well. When the former Yugoslavia was in the Soviet Bloc, and state power high, the church was suppressed (Ramet 146). When Tito took Yugoslavia out of the Soviet Bloc in 1953, state power decreased and the Church was able to take more liberties (146). The Church gained more power as Tito began negotiations with the Vatican in 1965-1971 (146). In the 1970s however, Tito’s government saw stability and an increase in power, and the Church saw a loss of its liberties (147-148). When Tito’s government collapsed and another regime took its place, a power vacuum emerged and the Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox and Muslim communities rose up (Haught 29). Tension quickly built between the three sides and led to violence (29).

The bloody conflict of the 90s that is always associated with the former Yugoslavia was in a state of religious hatred and violence. As Haught wrote, “the only actual difference between Croats, Serbs and Bosnians is their religion” (Haught 26). The communists of former Yugoslavia managed to suppress religious violence for decades but with the communist collapse it reemerged (29). In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence based on religious reasons (Robinson 2), but started a non-religious conflict that took the lives of 10,000 people (Haught 29). In 1992 Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina voted for independence (Robinson 2), and instantly faced armed resistance from the Orthodox Christians who were, “still fighting to keep Islam from spreading”, as Dusan Simic voiced (Simic in Haught 30). Serbia came to aid the Orthodox Christians of Bosnia, and under president Slobodan Milosevic called for the “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia (31). The Serbians wanted to eradicate Muslim and Catholics in Bosnia (31). Croatia came to help their fellow Catholics and after a while turned on the Muslims, causing a three way conflict (31-33). The same “religious cleansing” was seen in 1998 against the Muslims and Catholics of Kosovo (Robinson 3). The conflicts of former Yugoslavia were very much caused by the clash of religious groups (Tovy 41). Although the devastation of former Yugoslavia is often attributed to the Serbs, it could be argued that the major world powers are also culpable for not acknowledging the logical and sequential line of events that lead to religious violence.

The Yugoslavian conflict displays all four hypotheses clearly. The loss of state power and rise of religious power is displayed well in the Croatian example. It is also seen when Yugoslavia falls apart and the state loses all power in 1992, and has to resort to religious power. The rising religious bodies in the Yugoslavian conflict were the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim communities (Robinson 3). The catalyst was a dormant one, carrying over from before communist times (Haught 25). The violence went unchecked while the major powers disputed between themselves and death overtook Yugoslavia. Sadly, something as unexpected as Yugoslavia followed a precise pattern.


All the major conflicts of the 90s supported the four hypotheses set out earlier. The rise of religious bodies to fill the power vacuum left by governments that have lost power or collapsed is well shown. The best examples are when the British left Sudan and the Christians united, and when the communist regime of Yugoslavia collapsed and the country split in three. The clash of different churches is best seen in Kashmir, Punjab and Sri Lanka. The three South Asian territories clearly display the clash between the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist communities. The sparks that pushed normal tension to violence are varied in the 90s. In Punjab the spark is displayed as cultural disregard. In Sudan the same spark goes as far as a fundamentalist coup and imposition of Islamic law. Unchecked religious violence and its drastic escalation is seen throughout Kashmir, Indonesia and Yugoslavia. In Kashmir the violence raged for a while without being contained. In Indonesia that same violence still rages. In the former Yugoslavia the violence was contained in pathetic ways and countless people died. Religious violence developed a strong noticeable pattern.

Throughout the 90s communal religious violence appears to have followed a distinguishable pattern. This pattern is evident in the examples illustrated above, but what world leaders will do with it is not. As humans settle into the second millennium the application of this pattern still remains unanswered; as does the haunting proverb: “those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it”. The world remains in the hands of its people and leaders. It is humanity’s choice what to do with the world and the planet can only hope that the new generation will find the right decisions.


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2005. Law and Sharia Consultants. 12 April, 2005

Austin, Dennis. “Terrorism, Sri Lanka and a Letter From President Kumaratunga”, The

Round Table, pg. 67-75, 2002.

Axel, Brian K. The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the

Formation of a Sikh “Diaspora”. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

Bose, Sumantra. Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003.

CIA. “Indonesia”, The World Factbook. 10 February, 2005. Central Intelligence Agency.

12 April, 2005

Fox, Jonathan. “In the Name of God and Nation : The Overlapping Influence of

Separatism and Religion on Ethnic Conflict”, Social Identities, pg. 434-455, 2002.

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Anherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995.

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Purewal, Shinder. Sikh Ethnonationalism and the Political Economy of Punjab.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ramet, Sabrina P. Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito

To Ethnic War. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc., 1996.

Robinson, B. “Religious aspects of the Yugoslavia-Kosovo conflict”, Religious 26 June, 2002. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

12 April 2005

Searle, Peter. “Ethno-Religious Conflict: Rise or Decline? Recent Developments in

Southeast Asia”, Contemporary Southeast Asia, pg 1-11, April 2002.

Tovy, Tal. “The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central Bosnia – A Military History, 1992-

1994. Reviewed by Tal Tovy”, Religion in Eastern Europe, pg 40-42, Dec. 2004.

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Blogger OnHech said...

Good work!

I enjoyed it, very insightful.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very well-written and detailed essay which I enjoyed reading. Many insights showed but the title might be a little misleading.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Onhech said...

I think you should start blogging again :P

7:15 PM  

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