Yes, Religion Motivates Conflicts in the Middle East

February 16, 2016 | Oren Kessler
About the author: Oren Kessler is a Tel Aviv-based journalist. He was previously deputy director for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and is currently writing a book about the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt.

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.

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