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Greed, Religion and Political Violence

By: Kishan Bhatia
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Theoretically, religion is for personal salvation and it is concerned with morality and ethics for believers. Standards of morality and ethics are not same for personal salvation and political management of the state. A prudent mature civil society develops a political process such as secular democracy to keep the two separated.

Courage is to recognize betrayal by those we had expected better from. Courage is to restrict religion to influence individuals seeking personal salvation and not allow misinterpreted scriptures to suit ambitions of politically motivated for power, both political and economic. Courage, in matters of faith, is not to insist on absolute conformity and accept that graveyards are full of clerics’ who were thought of infallible, who issued questionable interpretations of scriptures, who were declared saints in spite of their questionable political judgments and who insisted their interpretations of scriptures and literature (the Islamic trilogy, Christian New Testament, Jews Old Testament and Hindu commentaries, etc) were according to God. Courage is to accept that uncertainty is natural, that greed and other human desires are also natural, that humans are genetically driven to compete and excel to establish the ‘alpha’ quality – domination - by accumulating wealth and power, two elements of greed.

For a mature civil society, courage is to be open to updating and adopting change in policies to encourage individuals to reach their potential; for the state to build a power that is second to none; for the state not be intimidated by forces that are detrimental to progress, for the state to adopt policies to eliminate poverty through equality of opportunities for all, and above all to preserve freedoms, both individual and national.

Politics, secular not feudal, is for developing policies to encourage economic development with skilled human resources that employ modern science and technology to feed demands of consumers all over the globe for products made with raw materials available any where and using plentiful inexpensive labor force of developing nations. A paradigm shift in relocating manufacturing and technology supplies from developed to developing nations has accelerated poverty level reductions in developing nations.

The essay high lights interpretations of religion for violence and greed by Christian and Islamic clerics and by feudal warlords for extraterritorial expansion to build empires. Greed is the selfish desire for or pursuit of wealth, power, or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others. The ‘haves’ are considered greedy by “have-nots’ and it doesn’t follow that ‘haves’ enrich themselves by exploiting ‘have-nots’. The poverty levels in underdeveloped nations are many times more than that in developed nations. The secular democracies of modern world need developed human resources to generate wealth to empower the nation to build power (political, military and economic) that is second to none. In mature civil societies religion and clergy are allowed to contribute at personal, social and cultural levels but not at political and national economy level.

Poverty and Development

Poverty and Greed are two sides of a coin.

With a snapshot limited to history of 19th - 20th century one may, especially those of socialistic inclination conclude that greed of colonial powers was responsible for wars of past two centuries. The industrially developing Western nations had established in 19th century hegemony over regions dominated by non-believers by colonizing commodities rich nations and controlling global sea passages during last two centuries.

The strategy of wealth creation relied on development of mechanized mass scale manufacturing processes at home in the West using commodities from and exporting value added products to consumer nations. In such global environments the consumer nations lacked political and military strength to deny hegemony to the West and consequently lived in an adverse environment that reduced it to poverty.

Is regional hegemony of rich nations responsible for underdeveloped nations from developing its human resources needed for generating wealth? Although an answer may appear to be ‘yes,’ for competing with the West, the underdeveloped nations – Islamic and non-Islamic - lacked scientific orientation and education infrastructure needed for industrialization. Widespread poverty prevailed in absence of a progressive political environment needed for continuous human resources development; the poor nation lacked infrastructure for education and development, and equality of opportunities for all as incentives for wealth generation, etc.

The medieval feudal powers were dominated by Church and Ulema for state control. Feudal states of medieval period primarily benefited privileged ruling elites by politically suppressing and keeping in poverty the silent majority. The feudal politics is at odds with progressive governments of 21st century that promotes equality of opportunities for all citizens of any religious faith.

History of Politicization of Church and Ulema

Feudal warlords with extraterritorial ambitions and politically motivated clerics have used hate and intolerance to motivate soldiers to win wars and non-believers to convert. For nearly two millennium Catholics have used anti-Semitism to coerce Jews and pagans to convert; for nearly 14 centuries Muslims have promoted jihad (institutionalized terrorism, both physical and psychological) as a weapon to motivate non-believers to submit to Islam.

We have distortions of religion by combining religion with absolute conformity to any given belief system - Christianity, Islam, or Hindu. Religion is made complicated and politicized by insisting on infallibility of the clerics - Pope, Imam or Brahmin.

The politicization of Roman Catholic Church accelerated as converted Greco-Romans elevated Christianity to the state religion status in Roman Empire (4th century). In the process, Christianity of Jesus (1st century), a Jew who had perceived God of ‘love, mercy and forgiveness’ to counter the God of ‘laws, revenge, rewards and punishment’ of Jewish establishment (ancient times to present) was transformed into a politically powerful war machine by converted Greco-Roman warlords engaged in extraterritorial expansions for power. Power and political violence flowed through hate and intolerance of non-believers – enemy.

Warlords cum clerics like Augustine (4th and 5th centuries) were influential in developing theology of New Testament that taught anti-Semitism and it was embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. After Catholic Church came to dominate Roman Empire build by Constantine (3rd - 4th centuries), the Church got involved in several campaigns including Crusades (starting 1096) to coerce and force Jews to convert to Christianity. Conversos – Jews who converted to avoid being killed – (14th century) were followed by Jewish ghettos (16th century).

Religion and Violence

Church Domination to Age of Science:
With the state religion status, the ambitious clerics used doctrine of 'absolute conformity' for power. The doctrine of "infallibility of clerics and warlords” was instituted to facilitate political ambitions of clerics and feudal warlords. Clerics and feudal warlords with two doctrines were armed for a movement for global spread of a given faith. Roman Catholics and other Christians used cross to motivate believer to keep non-believers suppressed using whatever power was necessary. Anti-Semitic policies of Church denied Jewish citizens fundamental personal rights and at times movements of Jews were confined to ghettos in Christian majority nations.

A brief review of history of last two thousand years offers an understanding on how political ambitions of Church and Islamic Ulema promoted religious wars resulting in millions of deaths of non-believers all over globe at the hand of believers who were driven by the principle of ‘absolute conformity’ to a given faith. Both Church (4th century) and Ulema (7th century) were guided by a policy of ‘Universalist Totalitarianism.’ Only Christian dominated nations (18th century onwards) became inclined to exploit new scientific discoveries and rebelled against Church domination, giving birth to the doctrine of separation of state and Church.

Muslim occupation of parts of Roman Empire – Iberian Peninsula - was in retaliation for the atrocities committed (4th onward) by Roman warlords like Augustine against Semitics – Jews and Arabs. The Muslim Caliphate of Iberian Peninsula was known for progress through coexistence or convivencia of Muslims, Moors, Christians and Jews (8th to mid-12th century; see below, convivencia).

The renaissance (starting 15th century) in the West was followed by the age of science (17th century to present). Domination of the Roman Empire had provided Vatican three P’s of politics - pelf, power and privileges.

Discarding Vatican domination the British monarchy reformed the protestant Church of England and subordinated it to British throne (16th century). The French Revolution (18th century) declared the rights of man – ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights’ and vested sovereignty into people to set in place anti-monarchy and anti-clergy policies. The changed political environment catalyzed democratization of many European nations – France, Germany, Italy, etc - by discarding domination of the Church.

In 4th century the Christian icon – the Jesus on cross – was equated to the sword, a sadistic Roman execution device. The sword, a symbol of violence was made a religious symbol of suppression for non-believers. Anti-Semitic drive and religion were coupled in the Church. By over throwing domination of Church, the Western democracies replaced one sword under Church to two swords in secular democracies.

Development of marine chronometer – a navigation technology (18th century) perfected using calculus from India - vastly improved accuracy of navigation of the Western navies relative to that of Islamic Caliphates. It allowed the Western navies to dominate sea lanes, defeat Muslim navies and reach distant lands of non-believers.

Armed with scientific technologies entrepreneurs and businesses prospered by establishing manufacturing plants at home for products using commodities from and markets in the colonies - the lands of non-believers. Non-believers were subjected to two swords - the will of colonizers (political/economic sword) and a target for conversion by Church (sword of religion). Clerics and missionaries engaged in conversion of non-believers were called ‘Artillery of Heaven,’ suggesting they were sanctioned by God.

Ulema: Ulema are Islamic equivalent of Pope and other clerics of Church, except that Muslims do not have an equivalent of Vatican. The term Ulema (Plural of Ulama) denotes scholars of Islamic theology. Also known as Imam, Maulana, Mullah, and Maulawi, etc they claim to be custodians of Islam and guide Muslim masses in all matters for latter’s worldly life.

They maintain that ‘Islam is the complete way of life’ and an important ingredient of Islam is to establish a Caliphate for Islamic polity all over the world. Muslims are spread into 56 Arab and non-Arab member nations of the Um’mah. The concept of Islamic power revolves around Arab nationalism. Arabisation of Muslim masses is an agenda in the charter of duties of Ulema. The utopian vision of the Ulema is to establish a Caliphate for the Um’mah of all nations of the world under one Islamic command.

Church and Ulema: Both Church and Ulema strive for ‘absolute conformity’ to a given faith through the ‘universalist totalitarianism’ and authorities of both institutions maintain infallibility of clerics in interpretation of religion, scripture and literature, social and political practices. Islamic trilogy of scripture/literature – Quran, Hadeeths and Shariah - is enshrined with medieval Arab tribal norms. The renaissances in Christian lands lead to the separation of Church and state powers. The Ulema continue to resist renaissance for 1.5 billion population of the Um’mah.

After much bloodshed several Christians states turned secular, Christians adopted two swords practice; one for the use of Church and other for state to engage in extraterritorial conquests for the well being of its citizens and nation building. The states received Church’s and Ulema blessings to occupy lands of non-believers. Church and Ulema remained silent when political crimes were committed, as for example, silence of Vatican during Nazi period of holocaust (20th century) and that of Ulema after terrorist killed thousands of innocent citizens by attacking (21st century) New York’s World Trade Center and bombed trains and buses in Madrid and London.

Convivencia: The fundamentalist and orthodox abhor the religious diversity and they lack appreciation for the creative richness recorded in history of Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christian. For example, the inhabitants of Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) - Moors, Christians and Jews - were isolated by mountain ranges from northern European territories of Roman Empire. Muslims had established a Caliphate in the Iberian Peninsula starting 8th century. Under Islamic caliphate Muslims, Moors, Christians and Jews flourished in a period called convivencia (multicultural coexistence) from 8th to mid-12th century.

Intellectual freedom led to developments in science, architecture, medicine, arts and crafts, and literature that were the hallmark of Islamic civilization in this period. They grew because of an open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and multi-cultural character. Caliphs, such as Haroon-al-Rashid and Al-Mamoun, brought together scholars of diverse faiths and helped establish a flourishing culture. During the convivencia period Muslim, Jew and Christian cultures thrived to bring material and spiritual renaissance of three religions.

Convivencia was broken apart into violent imbalance by attacks from fundamentalist Muslims from North Africa in 1145 and also due to sustained campaigns called reconquista (8th to 15th century) that liberated Spain, Portugal and parts of Roman Empire occupied by Muslim Caliphs.

Fundamentalist Muslims: Today’s fundamentalist like Mullah Omar of Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri of al Qaeda hiding in safe houses east of the Durand Line and lesser known tribal leaders of Pakistani Taliban currently waging war against Pakistani army, American and NATO forces in Afghanistan belong to same class of fundamentalist as the North African Muslims who in 1145 beheaded scholars in Iberian peninsula for heresy and burned their books.

Fundamentalist believe that relative to liberal Islam of convivencia period, utopia could be more easily constructed in tribal societies that limit education and practices of believers to trilogy of Islam.

An America Institute for Islamic studies has determined that only 17% of words in the Islamic trilogy are attributed to God and balance is to Mohammed, a spiritual-political leader and to methods of and reasons for waging jihad and war, which is politics by any reasonable definition.

Islam teaches disobeying Mohammed and apostasy, both political crimes, are punishable by death. Disobeying Mohammed and switching faith or apostasy are politics, not religion. Islam denies fundamental freedoms to choose faith by declaring apostasy a crime punishable by death. I fail to see, how waging jihad and terrorism can improve morality and ethics of believers seeking personal salvation?

Terrorist are led to believe that they will receive 72 virgins to enjoy in heaven and after martyrdom instigators of terrorism deliver a sum of money to starving families of suicide bombers, who are in many cases mentally unstable or otherwise handicapped. A few terrorists like the groups responsible for destruction of World Trade Center, railway and bus attacks at Madrid and London and India's Parliament were educated political operatives seeking revenge against imagined enemies in search of political power comparable to the utopian past of Islamic Caliphates.

Jesus and Mohammad: Christ was also a spiritual-political leader. Unlike Christ, Mohammed took to violence to spread Islam. Roman Catholics were responsible for violence in the name of Christianity, not original teachings of Jesus who promoted God of 'love, mercy and forgiveness' to oppose then prevalent God of 'laws, revenge and punishment.' In many ways Mahatma Gandhi in 20th century was closer to Jesus as a spiritual-political leader cum social activist and reformer.

Indoctrination of Believers: Strictly speaking religion does not ask for killing of non-believers. But both Church and madrassah indoctrinates believers with hate and intolerance of non-believers and anti-Semitism. The Sunday school and Islamic prayer hall meetings are ostensibly for teaching religion. The study material is invariably complimented by material to promote anti-Semitism, anti-non-believers and other political actions.

Christian Churches routinely teach impressionable children and believers from the day they start attending Sunday school that Christ was hanged on the cross by Jews and that Christ died for sins of Christians, etc. This is essentially indoctrination of believers to the anti-Semitic policies of Church.

Same holds true of madrassah students. Those familiar with involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan in 1980s against occupying forces of USSR and since 2002 as an ally in the War on Terrorism know how jihadis were trained and used for political ambition of maintaining America’s regional hegemony (1979 to present) and also for an attempt to establish a strategic depth for Pakistan in Afghanistan through Taliban occupation of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

America and Terrorism: Overtly secular states profess non-interferences from Church but in practice, at a personal level, as has been the case with President Bush (the event of 9/11 to present) and was the case with instigators of the European tribal wars of 20th century (World Wars I and II), the leaders used their faith to motivate public opinion for the war policies and offered other justifications including 'economic benefits' for the nation. For example, in case of Iraq, access to Iraqi oil is the potential economic benefit. In Pakghanistan keeping the terrorist fighting in their home turf to destroy each other is the motivation to protect America's regional hegemony.

It costs plenty to America; America has spend an estimated three trillion dollars since it started the War on Terrorism and more than $12 billion over six years was paid to Pakistani army. America is ready to pay as long as Muslims are killing Muslims for blood money and not engaged in sending terrorist to America.

What did Pakistan do with $12 billion dollars? It promptly spent an estimated $8+ billion to buy from America “toys for boys” that are useless in fighting the tribal war. Most of the rental money returned to America and the balance was used for operating expenses for army leaving hardly any for human resources development. Such policies have contributed to increase in poverty levels in Pakistan at a rate of a few percentage points per year.

Kishan Bhatia

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