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New Atheism and its Claim on Religion and Violence

Discuss about the Religion is Violent for a New Atheist Perspective.

The fundamental idea of religion is that it is a medium or a dogma that connects human beings with divinity. The term ‘religion’ is derived from the Latin word “religio” which connotes a moral bond and self consciousness related to God. However, the literal meaning is to some extent differed from its practical trend (VanAernum 2014). It can be argued that in the 21st century there are a number of incidents that are directly related to religious atrocity (Blyth, Colgan and Edwards 2018). In fact, violence in religion is not a new phenomenon, ample of evidences derived from the past can prove a correlation between terror and religion. Since classical age Christianity and its followers are predominantly tried to suppress individual voice and the next popular religion in the world, Islam in its core believes possesses some kind of violent habits (Syed et al. 2016). In this context, atheism in terms of practicality and rational approach was developed side by side with the rise of religion. The term ‘new atheism’ gained popularity in Britain in 2006 through a number of scholarly articles and popular perception (McAnulla 2014). Based on a secular fundamentalism the ‘new atheist’ approach is solely puts emphasis on the adversity of religion (Gray 2015). Despite immense criticism from the religious side, the new approach of atheism became intensely popularised because of their rational approach and strive for knowledge. In addition to this, it can be argued that the increasing atrocities caused by religious institutions or individuals in the name of divinity makes people so much fearful and concerned at the same time about the consequences of belonging to a religion. The basic idea of religion itself creates a negative identity which further fosters people to lose their faith in religion. In response to that the purpose of this essay is to figure out the role of religion in society and the way it can spread animosity across the globe. In fact, the discussion extends its dimension by analysing the relevance of the new atheist claim of religion creates violence. Therefore, the essay puts focus on some religion endorsed violence and its past history. With this a prolong discussion on the religious violence in recent times has also been taken into the discussion.

It can be argued that new atheist claim on religion causing violence is facing a series of criticism. The fundamentalist approach of the atheists is going into speculation which damages the real motive of new atheism. Despite facing challenges in their course of understanding, the claim about religion that it is associated with terror, has gained appreciation from a number of secular person.

Historical Practice of Religious Violence

While analysing the role of religion in violence it is imperative to track the practice of religious violence from the past. Since the ancient age religion has been considered as an effective tool of aggression. In fact, during the reign of Roman emperors, the civilization had expanded its territory by converting people of other religion mercilessly and with an act of terror (Aslan and Hermansen 2017). It can also be asserted that during the medieval period, religious clash between Islam and Christianity in the name of Crusade was so intense and fierce that it ushered a communal clash across the world (Martin 2016). In the People’s Crusade, thousands of Jews were slaughtered for the sake of protecting religion. It was known as the Rhineland massacres (Buc 2015). In fact, there were nine times in the ancient age that communal clashes had been taking in place between Islam and Christianity. The spread of atrocities and violence due to the intention of expanding religion impacted very badly for the poor and common people. Moreover, killing of people in the name of cleansing witchcraft was also considered to be inhuman and never suits the very notion of religion (Geljon and Roukema 2014). It can also be stated that an essence of violence bestows in both Christianity and Islam. According to the law of Sharia beheading, stoning and flogging are considered to be legal as judicial and extrajudicial practise. It further makes the Islamic violence more specific by using the term Jihad and Mujahid (Cook 2015). The meaning of Jihad, to protect Islam by external threat, is now associated with the term terror in such a manner that jihad juxtaposes the term terror. In Christianity as well violence is lingered prominently with religion. It can be argued that the crucifixion of Jesus was a sheer example of violence which was against humanity (Salamati et al. 2015).

In order to understand the violent attitude of religion in recent times it is important to keep focus on the political conflicts of each country which are closely related to religion. According to Max Weber, there is a close affinity between politics and religion (Kaplan 2017). Moreover, religious outrages are often transformed into political conflicts. The religious dimension of political violence can easily be seen in case of the US occupation in Afghanistan. As famous American historian Samuel P. Huntington aptly remarked that the conflict between US and Islamic states was a ‘clash of civilisation’ which was broadly based on religion (Piri and Piri 2016). The US invasion in Afghanistan in 2001 has been regarded an instance of religious atrocity. In his comments about the military deployment in Afghanistan the then President of America Mr. George W. Bush Jr. remarked that it was an act of  retaliation against the terror manifested by Islam and as a protector of Christianity it is the responsibility of America to neutralise any kind of threat to religion (Saiya and Scime 2015). In fact, during the US occupation in Syria and Iraq, the inhabitants of those countries identified America as heathen and evil in the eyes of Allah.

Religious Violence and Political Conflicts

Terrorism as an act of protecting religion became a trend after the attack of 9/11 in the year 2001. Al- Qaeda, the terrorist organisation of Afghanistan admitted their direct involvement in that attack and justified this punitive measure by claiming it a Jihad against the Christian domination (Brubaker 2015). After the assassination of Al-Qaeda chief Osama-bin- Laden in 2011 most if the American people treated it as a victory over Islam. A petty idea of religious enmity circulated all over the world and even today the role of US and Israel in the Middle East region can be recognised is associated with a religious overtone. In response to this, it is imperative to understand the diverse culture of both the countries based on religion. In the name of religion the Middle East countries formulates radicalisation and hostile environment to practice other faiths unlike Islam. In order to provide the so called liberal approach of western civilisation the European countries and U.S. are trying to intervene in the regional politics of Middle East (Cammack and Muasher 2016). This political outlook of the Western domination was further indoctrinated with Christianity and perturbed the political and cultural environment of Middle East. In response to this the Islamic countries initiated a counter action plan to protect Islam which became furbish with terrorism.


In fact, the world is now perceived a sense of religious extremism which is in many senses similar to the militant nationalism which perverted the world before the advent of First World War. In recent times, most of the countries are arguably focusing on protecting their religion in a manner that instigated the sense of fundamentalism. Religion is resembled to simplicity and is supposed to create peace and prosperity for human beings. On the contrary, religion posed a serious threat to humanity. In order to understand the effect of religion in enhancing intolerance, it can be asserted that the African continent is facing a severe challenge originated by the religion. Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic group who are strongly active in Nigeria are being accused with the massacre of 5000 people since 2009 (Agbiboa and Maiangwa 2014). In fact, dethrone of the secular government and developed a religion and ethnic tension all over the country are straightforwardly put question about the role of religion. The Maitatsine movement in Nigeria was developed by an Islamic preacher named Muhammadu Marwa who was going to restore the tradition of Islam in the country which was according to him ravaged due to the introduction of modernisation (Perliger and Pedahzur 2016). Several numbers of people were murdered and butchered in the hand of the followers of Marwa which erected a trend of religious violence in Nigeria. In this context, Boko Haram came into existence in Nigeria from 2002 (Stone 2016). The name of this terrorist group personifies their hostility towards western education and in the name of Allah they are taking punitive measures like killing mercilessly, abduction, kidnapping and using suicide vests. In a interview with BBC journalists the leader Mohammed Yusuf asserted that the evil feature of modern education damages the idea of Islam. Hence they would strictly continue taking measures against Christianity. The militant group has a close link with Al-Qaeda and a top ranking spokesperson of Boko Haram in 2011 had corroborated the fact that they have a strong connection with the terrorist groups in Afghanistan who help them by providing training and financial support. It is in fact can be Argued that Boko Haram is going to control the entire terrorist activity in Nigeria. In this context, the radical extremist group is divided into a number of small group spread over the entire country. In this scenario it can also be argued that recent researches on the activity and structural framework of Boko Haram have reflected a growing trend of participation of Nigerian people specifically the Muslims in large number into the rebel groups. This is not because of frustration or lack of healthy lifestyle but the most evident reason behind this is the impact of religion. The Boko Haram group was founded on the principles of attacking modernisation and rendering a terrorist occupation by recruiting young Nigerians. Religion plays a major role in solidify the members of Boko Haram into a concept of brotherhood which is detrimental for Nigeria as well as for the rest of the world in preserving and maintaining peace.

Emergence of Religious Extremism in Nigeria


Besides the emerging tensions between Islam and Christianity violence can also be seen in other parts of the continent comprised with various types of religion. It will be better if the discussion is going to shift its focus from Islam versus Christianity to the East Asian perspective. The Asian continent is highly dominated by Buddhism and its principles. From Mongolia to the Philippines the whole East Asia is influenced by Buddhism (Le 2016). In respect to that the discussion is going to emphasise the relationship between violence and Buddhism. In many Buddhist countries people were fighting in the name of religion where as Buddhism in theory preaches the message of peace. However, in case of Sri Lanka, the country had a long history of battle between the Buddhist Sri Lankans and the Tamil minorities. In order to get a clear picture it is important to analyse the role of Buddhism in instigating the ethnic battle between Sinhalese and the Tamils. The head of the Sinhala Buddhist community Athuraliye Rathana ventilated his agitation towards the Tamils during the Sri Lankan Civil War (Cragun 2015). In due course the Buddhist community also put pressure on the government to crush the Tamil outbreak. In fact, the Sinhalese Buddhist followed a hard line while dealing with the Tamils of Sri Lanka. War against the Tamils was further supported by monk Rathana who wanted to create a country only for the Sinhalese. It is true that the LTTE, who fought for the rights of Tamil inhabitants of Sri Lanka, was a terrorist organisation and had to be suppressed. In addition to this, a significant fact was the role of a religious leader in this context. In the backdrop of the civil war in Sri Lanka the exponents of religion are supposed to keep peace in the region but in case of Sri Lanka, the situation had changed and continuous speaking against the Tamils created an impetus of violence which heightened the situation. Moreover, there was a tradition of participating in war among the Chinese Buddhist monks in the medieval period. The monks had also taken part in various punitive tasks in fighting against Dharma.

The Rohingya crisis added a new flavour into the discussion. This incident was the most recent activity staged in Myanmar in 2017 (Hasan 2017). At the start of 2017, the Rohingyas of Myanmar had fled their homes and started immigrating in neighbouring Bangladesh and India. The estimated number of 7 lakh Rohingyas entered into the border of Bangladesh and India as a state sponsored outraged had spread over the region. According to the UN report it was a perfect act of ethnic cleansing which was conducted by the Myanmar government. As the government report it was claimed that the Myanmar armed forces took a retaliatory action to suppress the Rohingya militants (Amin, Islam and Lopez-Claros 2016). It was also alleged that the minority Rohingyas of Myanmar have a close connection with international terrorist organisations like ISIS. Despite of the government claims, there is no doubt in claiming that religious underpinnings also a pivotal factor in the crisis.

Before going into the role of religion in ethnic violence, it is necessary to identify the different kind of religions that the conflicting parties have possessed. Traditionally Myanmar is considered to be a pre-dominantly Buddhist state where the Buddhist people enjoy most of the privileges. Rohingyas are primarily the ethnic minorities of Myanmar who practise the Islam as their core religion. Most of them did live in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. It was claimed by some scholars that the Rohingyas have an Arab lineage and descendants of the Arab traders. Therefore, it was obvious for the Rohingya people to build up their own religion and culture which was distinctive from the mainstream custom of Myanmar. In the light of this, in 2014 the Buddhist Myanmar government was refused to give the Rohingyas the citizenship rights and as a result of that they became the illegal occupants of Myanmar lands which the government did not want to entertain (Hasan 2017). In fact, the enmity between the two groups was not a recent event. It had its roots since the advent of the Arab traders. Historically, the Arabs were tried to grab the power in Myanmar and started a clash with the existed Buddhist institutions in that region. However, the initiatives of the Arabs got in vain but the essence of bitterness started to develop in return.


In response to this, the Buddhist government did not want to give the Rohingyas the right to citizenship and ushered a new phenomenon of ethnic violence. It was reported that at least 6700 Rohingyas are killed and their daughters and sisters got raped and abused by the Myanmar army. The attack was continued up to one month in which the Rohingyas lost their home and shelter (Hasan 2017).

It can be argued that the crisis was an act of political manoeuvrings but a strong impact of religion always perceived there.  The prolonged clash between the Rohingyas and the Buddhist followers perturbed the very nature of the political environment of Myanmar which further affected the socio-cultural condition of the country. The conflict was at first started in 2012 between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslims (Hasan 2017). A number of rape and sexual assault had been reported by both the community and lack of government initiatives escalated the tension intensely. Despite the absence of government intervention, tremendous threats and hostility professed by both the religion was also considered to be a grave threat for the Myanmar people. It can be seen during the Meiktila violence in 2013 where at least 10 Muslims and 20 Buddhist people were sentenced because of their link to the communal unrest. This religious overtone to the political outbreak proved the violent nature of religion and created a popular perception of the ungodly nature of religion.

In course of the discussion it can be argued that it was the to some extent the presence of Islam which can affect the stability of the world and not only this, in most of the cases there is a continuous hostility between Islam and the rest of the religions. It is in fact the presence of Jihad that widens the dimension of popular perception towards Islam. At present, the term connotes the similar tone of terrorism and using the word as an example of spreading atrocities. Therefore, it is important to understand the actual meaning of Islam and the role of religion in recent times. In response to this, it is also necessary to understand that the versatile nature of religion can be posed an obstacle for attaining peace and prosperity across the world. The new atheist perception is strongly aware of the fact that people are driven so vigorously by the impact of violence in religion that the aspect and concept of religion becomes shattered (Taira 2016).

It can be asserted that religion was constructed for the need of the people but the way religion is set to go for introducing violence, it poses a severe threat to humanity. Religion as a whole not in particular can create an adverse impression and is going towards this. It will lead towards the growing intolerance among people to create instability and chaos in the name of religion. On the contrary, a close relationship with rationality and pragmatism can foster development and progress in individual life. It is the responsibility of people to get proper education and enlightened by the liberal approach rather than bogged down into the core principles of religion. Religion is meant to be practised for inner peace and not to create atrocities and violence. It means religion is based on its followers and must have resembled a humanitarian approach. Therefore, it can be concluded that, violence in the name of religion must not be tolerated and in respect to the present scenario the role of religion about restoring the moral value is not working properly. The rational approach with more proneness towards humanity should be followed which can stop the religious violence and prevail a secular practical humanitarian approach because this world is full of men and there is no room for God.

Reference

Agbiboa, D.E. and Maiangwa, B., 2014. Nigeria united in grief; divided in response: Religious terrorism, Boko Haram, and the dynamics of state response. African journal on conflict resolution, 14(1), pp.63-97.

Amin, M., Islam, A. and Lopez-Claros, A., 2016. Absent laws and missing women: can domestic violence legislation reduce female mortality?.

Aslan, E. and Hermansen, M., 2017. Religion and Violence. Springer VS.

Blyth, C., Colgan, E. and Edwards, K.B. eds., 2018. Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion: Biblical Perspectives. Springer.

Brubaker, R., 2015. Religious dimensions of political conflict and violence. Sociological Theory, 33(1), pp.1-19.

Buc, P., 2015. Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cammack, P. and Muasher, M., 2016. Arab Voices on the Challenges of the New Middle East.

Cook, D., 2015. Understanding jihad. Univ of California Press.

Cragun, R.T., 2015. Who Are the “New Atheists”?. In Atheist identities-spaces and social contexts (pp. 195-211). Springer, Cham.

Geljon, A. and Roukema, R. eds., 2014. Violence in Ancient Christianity: Victims and Perpetrators. Brill.

Gray, J., 2015. What scares the new atheists. The Guardian, 3, p.2015.

Hasan, M.M., 2017. The Rohingya Crisis: Suu Kyi’s False Flag and Ethnic Cleansing in Arakan. Irish Marxist Review, 6(19), pp.50-61.

Kaplan, J., 2017. Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: Premodern Religious Terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, pp.1-26.

Le, N.B., 2016. Violence and Religion East Asian Perspectives-A Public Lecture by Dr. Jinhua Chen. Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies, (11), p.50.

Martin, D., 2016. The future of Christianity: Reflections on violence and democracy, religion and secularization. Routledge.

McAnulla, S., 2014. Secular fundamentalists? Characterising the new atheist approach to secularism, religion and politics. British Politics, 9(2), pp.124-145.

Perliger, A. and Pedahzur, A., 2016. Counter cultures, group dynamics and religious terrorism. Political Studies, 64(2), pp.297-314.

Piri, S. and Piri, A.Y., 2016. The Role of the US in Terrorism in the Middle East. J. Pol. & L., 9, p.31.

Saiya, N. and Scime, A., 2015. Explaining religious terrorism: A data-mined analysis. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 32(5), pp.487-512.

Salamati, P., Naji, Z., Koutlaki, S.A. and Rahimi-Movaghar, V., 2015. Both Islam and Christianity invite to tolerance: a commentary on Dirk Baier. Journal of interpersonal violence, 30(20), pp.3479-3485.

Stone, B., 2016. Religion and violence in popular film. Journal of Religion & Film, 3(1), p.5.

Syed, J., Pio, E., Kamran, T. and Zaidi, A. eds., 2016. Faith-based violence and Deobandi militancy in Pakistan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Taira, T., 2016. New atheism as identity politics. In Religion and Knowledge (pp. 113-130). Routledge.

VanAernum, Z., 2014. Violence in Religion. Verbum, 11(2), pp.63-69.

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