Editor’s Note: Some of us have lived long enough to remember the many sectarian wars in the past decades that had shattered millions of lives. In this posting, Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest of Syrian origin living in London, shares his views on the manipulation of religion by politics.
After being in cahoots with unscrupulous religious leaders for decades, some politicians are perfecting the art of manipulating religion for their own ends. They have used the reawakening of religious fanaticism in the final decades of the twentieth century to gain bigger ground, get wider attention and reach more people through connecting their political agendas strongly with religious ones.
Exploiting religion for politics
A perfect example of this is the Lebanese Civil War, which started in 1974. This was the first war in the modern Middle East that had a religious and sectarian nature mixed with ideology and politics. This war demonstrated that religion could still be a rich and fertile ground for exploitation and manipulation. During the Lebanese Civil War, religions – and the religious – were widely exploited and horribly abused. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives senselessly as the different religious militias clashed and set about massacring those communities who belonged to a different faith. This often took place with the blessing of the clergy. I vividly remember tanks and heavy artillery festooned with posters of Christ or the Virgin Mary, and the clergy sprinkling the weapons of war with Holy Water!
The horrors of Iraq followed the example of Lebanon with a similar religious involvement in the political struggle. People in Iraq had not forgotten that Saddam Husain was Sunni, while the majority of his population were Shia. The Sunni-Shia conflict continues to tear the country apart, costing Iraq thousands and thousands of dead and the bloodshed is going on, spreading throughout the whole region. Pakistan and Afghanistan are examples of the awful result of religion and politics going hand-in-hand, and Kosovo and Northern Ireland are powerful European examples. Of course, now Syria is the latest victim of this evil marriage between religion and politics. Many of these conflicts have been influenced by international powers such as US, Europe, Iran, the Gulf and Russia.
We need new breed of leaders
The world needs a new breed of religious leaders who can stop this manipulation of religion by politics; they need to put an end to sectarian politics and deny politicians the camouflage of faith. These leaders will need to be strong enough to resist the temptations of worldly power and focus instead on serving their people, helping them all to have a better life. They should be an inspiration, challenging the politicians to work for the sake of others rather than serving their own interest.