Yes, Religion Motivates Conflicts in the Middle East

One need not read very widely to encounter the theory—advanced by pundits, government officials, and scholars—that religion is irrelevant to the wars and disorders currently wracking the Middle East, or is merely used as a smokescreen to conceal other agendas. After marshaling much evidence against this line of reasoning, Oren Kessler explains why it has so much appeal:

[Many] post-religious Westerners have never felt the pull of faith. The prospect that mentally sound people—let alone billions of them—would let spiritual conviction guide their most consequential actions doesn’t quite add up. So, too, with the notion of religion as one’s primary identity marker. . . .

Addressing this-worldly motivations (money, land, grievance) is [also] far easier than confronting a person’s closest-held beliefs and the immutable scripture that underlies them. That’s particularly the case because scrutinizing specific religious doctrines remains one of the last great taboos, all the more so when the faith in question is the supposedly “non-white” creed of Islam.

That’s why even when religion is conceded to be at play, the assumption among right-thinking people is that faith is being “twisted” or “used” for some ulterior motive. Rarely considered is the possibility that billions of people take religion seriously and do their best to follow its precepts—precepts that can lead just as easily to charity and loving-kindness as to tribalism and terror.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Religion, Religion and politics


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict