Written and photos by Farrin Khan
Religious tensions have intensified - there’s no doubt about that. Tensions reverberate in Kashmir, where the symbolic border between two religions now echoes gunshots instead of the clink of shared teas, as it did just a few decades ago. Tensions reverberate in the streets of Sri Lanka, where an Easter bombing shook a nation ripe with religious animosity. Tensions are apparent in classrooms in the U.S. and France, where the liquid cloth covering a woman’s head is the catalyst to scorns passed her way. Tensions are apparent when violence is committed in the name of God, leaving faces decorated with death in its wake.
Indeed, tensions have intensified, and it is this tension that will lead us hurtling into a world war. By “world war,” I do not just refer to the full-scale destruction that ravaged the Earth in the 20th century. I refer to many wars; the one within ourselves, the one between religions, the one that allows genocides, and the one that pulls and pushes at the meaning of humanity. I refer to a war that will redefine how we envision religion, force us to rethink our actions in the name of religion, and will open our eyes to how bloody religion has become in our world.
Religion is defined as “commitment or devotion to [a] religious faith or observance.” It has served as guidance for some, a beacon for many, and an impediment to others. Religion, by nature, is a deeply personal experience, because its complexities are directly in tune with each of our natures, molding itself to become what we need it to be, or what we are forced to make it be. And yet religion, an idea at its core, is intensifying in nature and becoming the root of atrocities committed. Four countries in particular illustrate this:
In Myanmar, a concerted effort has been made by the government to rid the nation of those who follow the Muslim faith. Around “740,000 Rohingya [as they are called] fled burning villages, bringing accounts of murder, rape and torture over the border to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh” (2). Witnesses tell horrifying tales of unimaginable torture, simply in the name of the religion they decided to follow. And this “ethnic cleansing” that the government of Myanmar is performing isn’t just aimed at Muslims— Buddhists are attacked as well. Below the looming gaze of medieval temples that number in the hundreds in the state of Rakhine, flying bullets blend into the surrounding milieu (3).
Within Egypt exists “the largest and oldest ethno-religious minority in the country,” the Coptic Christians. In a majority-Muslim country, the Coptic Christians have been the frequent subject of oppression and violence throughout history. Even today, the Coptic Christians face an unprecedented amount of violence that is religiously motivated. From the Palm Sunday church bombings in 2017, to the ambush of a bus carrying Coptic pilgrims traveling to St. Samuel the Confessor monastery in 2018, the religious minority is often a target for violence, especially when the government consistently fails to protect them (4).
The Chinese government has allegedly detained more than a million Muslims in “reeducation camps.” Despite many human rights organizations, UN officials, and foreign governments urging the nation to stop the crackdown, officials maintain that the camps do not infringe on human rights. However, officials have refused to share information about the detention centers and journalists are not allowed. Despite the apparent secrecy, information has revealed that “detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP and renounce Islam.”
The rise of the idea of the “Hindu Rashtra,” and the re-election of far-right politician Narendra Modhi within India reveals the nationalistic sentiments that are rooted in religion. In a recent UN report aimed at profiling countries with instances of persecution, “the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party [was found to be] linked to incidents of violence against members of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and Christian communities” (6). India has begun to target religious minorities in the name of creating a Hindhu statehood. There are even horrific instances of Muslims “being lynched by Hindu nationalists in the name of “cow protection” (7). The BJP, the ruling political party, remains silent on such instances, creating a hurricane of social discord with the winds of religion. The Kashmir border that separates India from Pakistan is no exception. The border was once a place where tea was shared, pleasantries were exchanged, and the rapport between human beings was absent of the religious divides (between Hindus and Muslims) that are so glaring today.
These four countries only reveal the beginnings of how problematic religious tension has become in the 21st century. With disparate media coverings and new corners that are reached, the world becomes even more susceptible to this tension snowballing itself. Genocides are occurring simultaneous to the reader who absorbs these words. Violence is being performed as this article is being written. Religion has magnified into a jumbled, tense and highly volcanic element.
As our eyes are opened to persecution, violence, and genocides, it becomes apparent, now more than ever, that the world has to pause and reevaluate religion’s place in this world.
It is this new, religiously-motivated, and unpredictable nature that the world exhibits that will cause us to war with the very idea of religion itself one day. As our eyes are opened to persecution, violence, and genocides, it becomes apparent, now more than ever, that the world has to pause and reevaluate religion’s place in this world. Perhaps it’ll blow up in our faces, and the global society will one day abandon religion because it actively pursued the extermination of one. Perhaps we will war over one religion in particular, identifying it as an evil and ravage the earth in seeking its death. Or perhaps we’ll learn from these globally intensified tensions, that religion is neither here nor there. It defines us no more than skin color does. Perhaps we will learn that treating anyone differently simply on the basis of their religion is inherently wrong. Perhaps we won’t hurtle into this war within ourselves, between religions, and ultimately between nations. Perhaps.