Saturday, August 29, 2009


29 August 2009

I attended a seminar today where Professor Camilleri (Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia) spoke on Religion and Violence. Here are some of the notes I took (I hope they represent what he said: they certainly are what I heard; he speaks very quietly, and was without a microphone).

* There have been 138-145 wars in the post-war period (ie. since 1945)

* There were over 1m deaths in the Korean and Vietnam wars, 800,000 in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands in Algeria

* The two 'world wars' were mainly between 'Christian' nations (main exception - Japan)

* In the last 10 years there were very few 'civil wars' unrelated to external influences

* Religion has increased its presence on the world stage. Note, for example the Vatican's key role in the demise of the Iron Curtain, the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, the conflict in Northern Ireland (hopefully now behind us), the resurgence of Hinduism in India, and of course, the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism

* Islam is back with a vengeance in Europe: More people in Europe worship on Fridays than on Sundays. Remember that the centre of Islam, population-wise, is not in the Middle East, but in S E Asia (Indonesia with the highest Muslim population in the world, followed by India)

* The sacred texts of all of the major religious traditions emphasize the sacredness of life, the dignity of human beings, the importance of 'the sacred', treating others as you wish to be treated, strong notions of justice etc.

* At their core all the conflicts with a 'religious' flavour actually have socio-cultural-political causes (including Northern Ireland)

* So the key questions are:

1. Is there anything about a particular religious faith-tradition which *leads* to violence?

2. Are there 'believers' acting contrary to their tradition?

3. Most important: what have the leaders of any particular religion done to *promote peace*? How many have said 'We have done a grievous wrong here'? What have they done to address the structural issues behind the war/s? For example: In Sri Lanka 80,000 lives have been lost in the 30-year war with the Tamils. What have Buddhists, Christians, Hindus done to end the conflict? (It is 'in pause' militarily at the moment, certainly not over yet). It is unusual for religious communities around the world to hold political leaders to account. The Pope opposed the Iraq war, but American Catholic bishops were mostly silent...

* Unfortunately the tendency is for religions to adopt a 'bunker' mentality, instinctively reinforcing the solidarity of their group

* We now have two means (nuclear weapons and climate change) to destroy our planet: just 10% of the world's nuclear bombs would destroy the earth 20 times over, and the mathematical probability of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons in the 11 (?) countries which currently possess them is very much greater (actually probably inevitable) than if only 2 or 3 countries possessed them. That would spell the end of the 'just war' doctrine. We must collectively sort this out or collectively perish

* In general, for the first three centuries of its existence the Christian Church opposed force under any/all circumstances

* The Americans pre-emptively invaded Iraq for the same reason Japan bombed Pearl Harbour - *because they could*

* Those in power making political decisions generally don't take kindly to others (like religious leaders or ethicists) telling them what ought to happen.

Note: see an article here on the last point:

Shalom/Salaam/Pax! Rowland Croucher
Justice for Dawn Rowan -

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