One may think that in the 21st century religious wars do not happen. Gone are the days of crusades that consumed fanatics who were ready to die in defense of their beliefs. Toleration has become the religion of modern times. But not everywhere.
Only in November over 380 Christians and Muslims were killed in religious upheaval in central Nigeria. Some 10,000 people were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in the jungle or in safer regions of the country. According to the media, the clashes erupted after a predominantly Christian party won the local elections, defeating its arch-rival supported by the Muslim community. Each camp accused the other of rigging the results; religious differences soon ensued. Fire was set to churches and mosques alike as politicians of both parties hoped to build their position through the conflict.
Religious clashes in Nigeria are nothing new. The country’s population of almost 150 million people is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. Of the latter, Catholics and Protestants constitute majority: 14.3 percent and 14.7 percent respectively. Although they are less inclined to resort to force, Islamic attacks are often answered by the same level of violence. Figures provided by various domestic and foreign agencies differ but it is approximated that as many as 2,000 people have been killed in religious clashes in Nigeria since 2001.
Neither has India escaped religious wars. Dubbed the greatest democracy in the world, India has been slowly drifting towards anarchy for many years now. Over 80 percent of the country’s 1.14 billion people are Hindus with 13 percent of Muslims and only a little more than two percent of Christians. But it is those two groups that often fall victims to Hindu extremism that regards all other religions as foreign influence. In August, a politically driven wave of violence left around 100 Christians murdered and over 140 churches burned to the ground. Some 100,000 people were made homeless.
What is the most outrageous is the reaction of western nations to the August massacres. While America and the European Union are usually quick to condemn violence in Nigeria and other countries of second importance, they have yet to address the slaughter of Indian Christians. The reason of such impotency is simple: India is too important an ally in the war on terror to risk losing its support. During his visit to New Delhi last year, George W. Bush said: “Separated by half the globe, the United States and India are closer than ever before.” The president even went as far as stating that “both our nations were created on the foundation that all people are equal.” Washington is ready to pay any price to keep India in its camp.
Religious animosities are by no means limited to Africa or Asia. Even in affluent Europe clashes between Muslims and Christians are getting on severity and begin to resemble the conflicts from poorer regions. According to a poll published by British newspapers in July, one in three Muslim students in Great Britain find it justifiable to kill in the name of religion. The poll only confirmed what had been known for a long time – which the uncontrolled influx of immigrants from Islamic countries has produced homegrown extremism. In 2004, a Muslim fanatic shot a Dutch director who dared to criticize Islam in his movie. Two years earlier a right-wing politician was slain by another Islamist. Both murders met with a wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam protests.
In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against Muslims in the Holy Land to divert attention from his mediocre pontificate. Modern day politicians – either Muslim or Christian – adopt the same tactic whenever they want to shore up their position, especially in countries strongly divided along religious lines. The recent attacks on Mumbai, reportedly orchestrated by Islamists, have proved that it can easily fire back. The age of religious wars is not over yet.