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Are modern wars not holy wars?

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The politico-economic interests of states – behind the contemporary combats – to topple unfavorable governments abroad, to seek easy trade deals, to utilize natural resources across the world and to establish a desired world order make the modern wars, not the holy wars. Holy wars are fought to propagate or suppress a religion against those are considered as “Enemies of God”.

The existence of wars can be traced back to the point when competition and conflict emerged as social concepts running parallel with cooperation. Human societies and nations have fought wars on various grounds i.e. religious, political and economic. The wars fought on religious basis were termed as Holy Wars which are quite different from the Modern Wars being witnessed today. Unlike the Holy Wars, Modern Wars remain considerably political and economic in nature. These are not derived by any pure religious rivalry or agenda. According to the Encyclopedia of War, out of all known/recorded historical conflicts, only about 7% had religion as their primary cause, and of that percentage, 4% were related to Islam. In several conflicts including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, religious arguments are overtly present but variously described as fundamentalism or religious extremism depending upon the observer’s sympathies.

In Classical Antiquity develops the notion of a pantheon with a divine “division of labor”. Now, Ares was “war personified”, but while Ares received occasional sacrifice from armies going to war, there was only a very limited “cult of Ares”.

While early empires could be described as henotheistic, i.e. dominated by a single god of the ruling elite or more directly by deifying the ruler in an imperial cult, the concept of “Holy War” enters a new phase with the development of monotheism.

In early Christianity, St. Augustine’s concept of just war (Bellum custom) was widely accepted, but warfare was not regarded as a virtuous activity. According to historian Edward Peters, before the 11th century, Christians had not developed a concept of “Holy War”. During the 9th and 10th centuries, multiple invasions occurred which lead some regions to make their own armies to defend themselves and this slowly leads to the emergence of the Crusades, the concept of “holy war”, and terminology such as “enemies of God” in the 11th century.

While technically, the millennium of Muslim conquests could be classified as “religious war”, the applicability of the term has been questioned. This happened many times throughout history, beginning with Muhammad’s battles against the polytheist Arabs including the Battle of Badr (624), and battles in Uhud(625), Khandaq (627), Mecca (630) and Hunayn (630).

Religion is one of the most sensitive issues and, although every religion encourages the idea of peace and tolerance, almost no one remains in peace or tolerates anything when it comes to their religion. History is full of religious wars and some of them have continued for years and killed many. The Battle of Badar fought on 17 Ramadan, 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz region of western Arabia, was pure of religious based. Muslims fought against non-believers for the sake of Islam. 14 Muslims were martyred in this battle. Battle of Uhad and Battle of Hind were also of religious-based and were fought by Muslims against non-believers.

The Second War of Keppel was fought in 1531, in the land of Switzerland as a result of religious conflicts between Catholic cantons and Protestants. It was a rough estimate at that time that 7,000 Protestants and 2,000 Catholics fought this war and in the end, more than 700 people died including a majority of civilians.

Lebanese civil war was very particular and different from other religious wars, as it was fought between Sunnis and Shiites at the land of Lebanon. Both sides belong to different ethnic groups of Islam and they both wanted the government control of Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War started in 1975 and ended and the end of 1990 and it was estimated that more than 150,000 people were killed in these inter-country conflicts.

The Crusades is just a catch-all title for the multiple religious wars and fights that were fought between Muslims and Christians. These wars were due to the religious disputes and controls over land in Jerusalem. The first war started in 1095 and lasted until 1097, whereas the second war was started in 1097 and continued till 1127. Along with many other wars, it all stopped in 1303 when both war soldiers shed blood of more than half a million civilians in the fight and the control of that land was given to the Christians.

Thirty Years’ War is a series of religious wars, that was fought in between 1618 to 1648 in Europe, and at that time, most of the European countries participated in these wars. This period of wars is the longest and most demolishing period of fighting in the history of the world that left more than 800,000 deaths including soldiers and civilians. These short-period wars were also fought between the religious conflicts in between the Holy Roman Empire, France, Sweden, and Spain.

Wars being fought today are very different from religious wars. “Holy” wars were waged with the objective of achieving religious goals like conquering holy cities, expanding “holy” empires, etc. But, modern wars are waged by nations to secure their Geo-political interests. Most nations who have been involved in modern wars are Secular. The war in modern times has been the inclusion of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying the enemy’s ability to engage in war. Modern warfare uses the concepts, methods, and military technology that have come into use during and after World Wars I and II.

Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history. I have heard this text recited like a mantra by American commentators and psychiatrists, London taxi drivers and Oxford academics. It is an odd remark. Obviously, the two World Wars were not fought on account of religion”. (Karen Armstrong)

Nation states are indulged in fighting these wars to secure their politico-strategic interests, to protect their investments, to seek maximum benefits out of other countries’ governments and the trade opportunities available. Besides that, the combat against terrorism is another idea that overwhelms the Modern Wars thus making them apart from the Holy Wars.

Starting with the politico-strategic interests lying behind the modern wars, it can be clearly noted that the holy wars are totally a different thing. This is the world of nation-states. Each of these states maintains specific political interests attached to the developments across the globe. There are strategic interests nourished by the modern nations to have a conducive political environment in different regions. Amid these complexities, these nations cooperate when required but also fight wars when desired. Examples of such modern wars driven by politico-strategic interests are apparent.

Take U.S-led wars being fought in the Middle Eastern nations of Syria and Iraq. These wars are not against the religion prevailing in the said region but to secure strategic leverage and political hold there. The U.S. desires a pro-American Middle Eastern regime. That’s why it topples and installs governments in the name of democracy. All this makes its modern wars different from the traditional concept of Holy Wars which used to be purely religious like Crusades.

Another example is the presence of Russia, Turkey, and Iran in the Syrian civil war. These states are present and actively engaged in Syrian war to secure their political interest of regional influence, hold, and dominance against the United States of America.

Thirdly, Saudi Arabia’s fighting against the Houti rebels in Yemen is not purely of religious causes. Its primary objective is to secure its strategic interests and to contain the expansion of Iran. The Saudis believe the Houthis (which are Shia ) are backed by Iran and the Saudis do not want another Iranian proxy army on their southern border controlling most of Yemen.

The second thing that renders modern wars separate from the holy wars is economic and commercial arenas of interests. States are engaged in trade within and outside its borders. Powerful nations tend to secure their economic interests abroad through the Pacific tools of concessions and aid. But they also revert to combative measures sometimes for this purpose. For instance, U.S. is still ensuring its military presence in Iraq not because of fighting any holy combat but to hold the country’s natural resources and exploit the maximum economic benefit from them. Former president Barak Obama’s statement proves it true;

“Terrorists were being allowed to overrun part of Iraq’s territory This poses a danger to Iraq and its people are given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.”

Experts on the region question whether oil, terrorism or anything else justifies U.S. military action in Iraq.

Similarly, China and the United States of America are contesting in an undeclared and informal combat in Africa to control the region’s natural resources for the future use and excessive economic value. Africa has long been torn by conflicts driven by sectarian enmities, power struggles, and disputes over colonial borders. With the exception of Egypt, the entire continent falls under the purview of the US Africa Command, or AFRICOM. Established in 2007, AFRICOM was responsible for the 2011 intervention in Libya that backed the rebellion against the government of Col. Moammar al-Gaddafi. AFRICOM troops have also been involved in fighting Islamist insurgencies in Libya, Mali, and Chad in subsequent years. While China is present there for African diamonds, uranium deposits, rare metals, and fossil fuels. Chinese investors have made substantial inroads into the continent in recent decades, negotiating numerous construction projects, mining rights, and oil and gas exploration deals. Being the economic rivals, both states are at war in Africa. This clearly makes these modern wars differentiated from the holy wars which are fought for a religious purpose.

In another aspect, modern wars are being fought to have access to the free trade deals and to establish economic hegemony. That is what has been witnessed in South-East Asia in the recent months. US and China have come at daggers drawn to maintain an economic hegemony in the said region. Southeast Asia, being the home of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the hub of economic activity. This brings U.S. and China – the two top world powers – in a contention of modern nature which is not holy in any way.

Lastly, the modern war against terrorism makes the contemporary combats different from the holy wars. The latter were fought for propagation or suppression of a religion. This is not the case with the modern fight on terrorism that is not against any religion or religious ideology. In fact, these are against the thinking of terror-spreading through excessive use of violence. Modern wars on terrorism being fought in Afghanistan, Middle East and to some extent in Europe and Africa are completely different from what is called as a holy war. In such wars, the enemy is murdering humanity. Thus, it makes no sense whether he is a Muslim or a Christian. Further, it gives him a new identity of a terrorist. This justifies a modern war against him which works not on a religious basis but on the grounds of saving humanity from terror. Operation Zarb-e-Azab, Operation Al-Mizan, Operation Rah-Haq in Pakistan are the examples of battles being fought against terrorism but not to suppress or propagate any religion.

In conclusion, wars are a reality. But they vary in their very nature defined by the agenda being pursued behind them. When the agenda is religious, they are termed as holy wars and when the agenda became economic, political and strategic; they are called Modern Wars. Today, the world is experiencing the modern wars which rarely have anything to do with the religious mindset. Nation states are devising and fighting these wars to ensure the maximum economic benefits for them in the form of favorable trade deals and free trade regimes. Further, the political interests of maintaining strategic leverages in various regions enable them to shape their wars with a modern mission which would not reflect the spirit of any religious or holy cause in them but purely material. All these obvious material approaches of fighting wars today make them modern without becoming holy.

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