Attaining Sustainable Security through Civic Space for Religious Actors

The troops’ national feeling (enthusiasm, fanatical zeal, faith, and general temper) is most apparent in mountain warfare where every man, down to the individual solider, is on his own.

— Carl von Clausewitz, On War[1]

 

Religion, security, and politics are increasingly intertwined in many of the small wars raging around the world, especially in what confronts the United States in Afghanistan.  These conflicts often orbit around the question of legitimacy.  At the state level, who has the right to govern and bear the predominance of force?  At the societal level, who can interpret religious tenants and set social mores?  Repeatedly, these questions come to a head in the form of church/state or mosque/state relations and often the most extreme voices dominate the conversation through volume or violence.  If these debates remain undecided or resolved in ways violative of fundamental freedoms, sustainable security will be elusive, rights will be repressed, and conflict will continue. 

Therefore, to ensure a stable and prosperous international order, this article argues that United States and other governments that value security and human rights must augment their strategic planning and their counterinsurgency and stability operations with a greater sensitivity to the role of religion and religious freedom standards.  In sum, this article contends that encouraging the creation of civic space for religious actors and protecting religious freedom must be a foreign policy priority, as doing so in a coordinated effort can help bring about long-term stability and security conditions in key countries of concern. 

To address these points, this article will argue that civic space for religious actors and protecting religious freedom needs to be addressed at the strategic level, outside the human rights paradigm and in the security realm.  In addition, it will analyze the leading thinking on counterinsurgency and relevant U.S. military field manuals to show how current military strategic planning has problematically omitted these considerations to the detriment of U.S. foreign policy goals.  A review of the current situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan will provide instructive examples of how religious freedom abuses have led to greater instability and less individual freedom.  Lastly, suggestions on how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted will be made.  Overall, smart engagement of the religious dynamic can positively shape tomorrow’s “strategic ecology” in ways that can maximize opportunities for both stability and human rights.[2]

Why Limitations on Religious Practice Matter

Religion plays an important and necessary role in every society. Individuals have the fundamental right to believe what they want and to act on those beliefs in peaceful and non-coercive ways.  Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is established in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[3] Through these and other international conventions, the global community has agreed that individuals have unlimited freedom to believe or not to believe, to change religion, as well as the freedom to worship, either alone or in community with others, subject to only the narrowest of limitations.[4] Religious freedom is also a unique fundamental freedom, as to be fully enjoyed it stands upon other rights, such as speech, assembly, and property rights.  Freedom of religion is considered a basic building block of a progressive nation. 

In contrast, religious repression damages societies, and recent studies have shown that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability. Foremost is Brian Grim and Roger Finke’s groundbreaking book The Price of Freedom Denied, which uses empirical evidence to show that attempts at “restricting religions perceived as dangerous frequently leads to violent religious persecution.”[5] They convincingly argue that “the higher degree to which governments and societies ensure religious freedoms for all, the less violent religious persecution and conflict along religious lines there will be.”[6]

Other studies have demonstrated the linkage between religious freedom and the socioeconomic conditions that typically go hand-in-hand with sustainable security, such as the recent work of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life and the Legatum Institute.  The Pew Forum’s quantitative study on “Global Restrictions on Religion” found that “64 nations – about one-third of the countries in the world – have high or very high restrictions on religion.”  Considering the population of those countries, “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion.” [7]  The impact of these restrictions is telling, when considering the lack of individual freedoms and poor economic performance of countries like Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan, countries with the highest overall levels of government and societal restrictions.  A separate study by the Legatum Institute found that societies prosper when religious freedoms are protected.  Their research documented a “high correlation between religious freedom protections and higher levels of citizen well-being, democratization, economic growth, and overall quality of life.”[8]  Other scholars have added to this debate, arguing that religious based terrorism and religious civil wars are more violent and engrossing than those with a secular motivation or cause.[9]

Taken together these studies provide solid evidence that limitations on religious practice are a driving factor of instability, and that respect for religious freedom and related rights leads to more stable and productive societies.  Yet, there is still a widespread failure to consider the religion-security nexus as inherently a matter of religious freedom.  Much of the national security establishment views religious freedom a “soft” right that gets in the way of more important work and a culture of resistance to religion and religious freedom is deep seeded. [10]  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written that she did not initially appreciate the importance of religion and religious actors for U.S. foreign policy due to the traditional secular-focused training of diplomats.[11]  In contrast, Thomas F. Farr, the first director of the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State, said it well that religious freedom protections can “stem the flow of future terrorists by facilitating the growth of liberal systems.”[12]  Policymakers at State and Defense need to understand the importance of protecting it as a way to avoid future conflict.

Doctrinal Gaps and Blind Spots

Religious based terrorism and irregular warfare conducted by religious extremists is, and will remain, one of the most vexing challenges facing the United States.[13]  In response, paradigmatic changes have occurred in how the U.S. military engages through counterinsurgency (COIN) and stability operations in war zones, conflict arenas, and under-governed or ungoverned areas. However, the military manuals discussed below regarding COIN and stability operations do not consider how a lack of civic space for religious actors and limitations on religious freedom can undermine efforts to bring about stability in areas where religion is a driver of conflict. Both wrongly assume that winning support of local religious actors, regardless of their theological and political views, will hasten the arrival of the desired strategic endstate.

In short, there is a religion-sized void in U.S. military planning and strategic thinking. Experts have noted that the “canon” of COIN literature does not address a religiously fueled insurgency,[14] and much of the current literature promotes engaging religious leaders without countenancing the impact of their religious and political influence on the host government.[15]  For instance, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute produced the “Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction,” which presented “strategic principles for all major activities in [stability and reconstruction] missions in one place.”  Laying out a strategic framework for how military and civilian agencies can work together towards an agreed goal, it identified rule of law as one of five end states to be pursued through coordinated efforts by government and non-governmental organizations.  Despite the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan serving as a catalyst for this effort, the Guiding Principles are silent on how to engage religion, saying the “international community does not fully understand [religious justice] systems, how they operate, what to do with regard to human rights issues.”   It flatly states that “empirical, comparative research is needed.”[16]

Religion matters, and in situations of instability, the weak (and often weakly secular) governments cannot withstand the pressure religious leaders bring to bear on social, political, and legal issues. Sustainable security can therefore be fostered by protecting religious freedom and creating civic space for a wider range of individuals to participate in peaceful religious discussion.  While physically securing people is key in combating an insurgency or in successful stability operations, securing space for people to debate ideas, both religious and political, is also critical. Douglas Johnston at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy has referred to this as “organic suasion,” where “‘Islamic’ terrorists” are disarmed by helping them “come to understand that their knowledge of the Qur’an is faulty.”[17]

When religion is a driver in asymmetrical conflicts, providing opportunities for religious debate, alternative views, and pluralism can be an asymmetrical response that displaces extremist influences from social networks and facilitates this disarming process. Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief would allow for the emergence of new voices.  These voices could hopefully provide alternative and less violent interpretations of religion, and leading to a loss of authority and legitimacy for extremists.

As will be argued below, the promotion and creation of civic space for religious actors fits well into COIN and stability ops, as it attacks the center of gravity of a religiously-based insurgency by allowing counter ideas to be freely and safely debated, thereby supplanting the violent religious views of extremists that have sway over populations of concern.  This helps lead to the marginalization of insurgents by denying them a popular base in the host religion. Understanding the religious dynamic can equip State Department and Defense Department officials to prevent or minimize the entrenchment of violent religious extremists who are opposed to the United States’ national security goals, as well as human rights and democracy.  Military planners and strategists must therefore understand the unique role religious freedom protections can play in helping achieve stability goals, and look to partner and support the engagement of civilian agencies in this response.

The Accidental Guerrilla

Leading thinking about counterinsurgency misses the relevance of religious freedom.  For instance, David Kilcullen in his book The Accidental Guerrilla acknowledges the role of religious actors and organizations in insurgencies, yet never discusses how an environment sensitive to religious freedom would impact insurgency dynamics. From his surveys of insurgencies worldwide, two of his four models involve religious actors.  Kilcullen’s thinking on how to engage the “globalized insurgency” model has direct inputs for sustainable security through religious freedom.

Kilcullen argues that the best conceptual framework in which to defeat al-Qaeda is not counterterrorism, but rather counterinsurgency focusing on population protection.[18] He states that the “key activities . . . to protecting the world’s Muslim population from [al-Qaeda’s] intimidation and manipulation, countering extremist propaganda . . . and meeting the Muslim population’s legitimate grievances [are] through a tailored, situation- and location-specific mix of initiatives that are mostly nonmilitary.”[19] He goes on to write that “countering [al-Qaeda] requires both the kill/capture of current terrorists and programs to counter their ideology and address the underlying conditions they exploit.”[20] In addition, he states that al-Qaeda “seeks to overthrow . . . the political order within the entire Muslim world and the relationship between the world’s Muslim population (the ummah) and the rest of world society.”[21]

Through his globalized insurgency framework, Kilcullen argues that “[f]undamental to counterinsurgency is an ability to undercut the insurgents’ appeal by discrediting their propaganda, exposing their motives, and convincing at-risk populations to voluntarily reject insurgent cooption and intimidation.”[22] An example cited is the Amman Message initiated by King Abdullah II of Jordan that brought together religious and political leaders to denounce religious based terrorism. He also recommends “working by, with, or through genuine alliances and local partnerships wherever possible” to devise “initiatives and apply diplomatic suasion (rather than force) to modify local government behavior.”[23]

Religious freedom promotion that creates civic space to empower other religious voices with a counter-narrative fit well into Kilcullen’s framework.  Yet Kilcullen never connects the dots to religious freedom, this despite later chapters on his practical application in Afghanistan and Iraq identifying religious actors as part of the problem. For instance, Kilcullen notes the work of the Taliban to use religion to engage Afghan society, but does not speak on how to engage religious actors to provide alternative views. This omission is not his alone, as the field of security studies has not considered ways to foster movements that respect civic space, allowing for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual

The gap can also be found in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual for the U.S. Army and Marines (FM 3-24),[24] which focuses on winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the citizenry through population-centric warfare. The Manual outlines tactics for pulling the “uncommitted middle” away from the irreconcilable insurgents into the orbit of the government.[25] In this effort, it highlights how religious leaders and communities should be targeted for outreach. [26] Since legitimacy is the main objective, bringing their influence alongside that of the government will bolster its standing in the eyes of their countrymen and further facilitate reconciliation.

The Manual highlights that “[m]any contemporary insurgencies are identity-based . . . often led by traditional authority figures, such as tribal sheikhs, local warlords, or religious leaders.” The proscription for defeating them is stated as either “co-opting the responsible traditional authority figure,” or discrediting or eliminating them.[27] It highlights the religious narrative offered by al Qaeda to attract recruits and supporters, noting that “violent religious extremists often brand those they consider insufficiently orthodox as enemies” and attack them. “Belief in an extremist ideology fortifies the will of believers” and justifies “using unlimited means . . . to achieve their often unlimited goals.”[28] FM 3-24 also notes the “effort by Islamic extremists, including those that advocate violence, to spread their influence” through nonviolent entities, such as “religious schools and mosques.”[29]

The Manual finds that “inconsistencies in the mobilization message” and the potential for “internal divisions” are two of several vulnerabilities of identity based insurgencies.[30] Effective information operations can debunk insurgent propaganda and highlight insurgent intimidation of or violence against the population. “Counterinsurgents may be able to ‘capture’ an insurgency’s cause,” such as one based in religion, “by appealing to a moderate interpretation.” It correctly states that “when a credible religious or other respected leader passes this kind of message, the counteraction is even more effective.”[31]

Despite the solid insights, they are a small portion of the 400 pages of guidance and advice. The Manual also places greater emphasis on reconciliation and does not contemplate the consequence of pulling religious leaders with a religious viewpoint akin to the Taliban into the fold of government. For instance, it supports the amnesty of insurgents who simply “support the government.”[32] The Manual provides virtually no guidance on how soldiers and military planners should engage the religious dynamic and find those individuals who support human rights and religious freedom.  It does not focus—conceptually, strategically, or tactically—on the factors necessary for an environment of freedom of thought, conscience and belief. And without this environment, “security” will always be fragile.

Stability Operations Planning

Similarly, the U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual (FM 3-07) provides guidance on how U.S. forces can maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment in an area at risk. These locations are generally ungoverned or under-governed states that often breed violent religious extremism.  The stability ops manual addresses the engagement of religious actors. However, it continues the blind spot on how a religious freedom vacuum can work against stability goals.

The Manual correctly identifies “religious fanaticism” as a driver of conflict, naming it first in a list of exacerbating issues.[33] The Manual also highlights the need to protect religious freedoms and to respect religious customs and organizations, consistent with security requirements.[34] However, when discussing stability in full spectrum operations, it notes that “other states have varying degrees of religious participation in their governments,” and that “[c]ountries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have codified versions of Shari’a (Islamic legislation).” It then declares that the form of government “must reflect the host-nation customs and culture rather than those of the intervening actors.”[35]

These are problematic assertions. Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the most repressive countries in the world, and not just against their religious minorities but also their majority religious groups.  In addition, both have fostered ideologies of violent religious extremism domestically and exported them abroad. The Manual’s declaration to “reflect the host-nation customs and culture” is too simplistic. Taken as a whole, the Manual fails to provide clear guidance about the relevance of religious freedom.  To respect the host nation’s culture eviscerates the U.S. commitment to religious freedom promotion and absolves the host government of its obligation to protect the human rights of its citizens.

When the Army is focused on defeating enemies and simultaneously shaping the civilian environment through stability operations, it must also understand how to engage with non-state or religious justice systems and ensure religious freedom is protected when religious law is applied.  If possible, it should address the need to partner with civilian agencies, like the State Department, who can lead this engagement and understand how to fulfill religious freedom as a policy objective.

Examples from South and Central Asia

To examine the implications of religious freedom abuses undermining security, South and Central Asia provides instructive examples. The countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan provide support for the dangers of governments either coming too close to religious actors or pushing them away too forcefully.  The following brief depictions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan highlight how these factors have led to greater instability and less individual freedom.

Pakistan as a forecast for others tomorrow

Pakistan is in the midst of an existential struggle to determine the balance of secular and religious law in government and society. The contest is not going well for progressive forces that want to protect human rights and religious freedoms for all Pakistanis, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as a rising tide of violent religious extremism is overtaking the country. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan has struggled to engage these conflicting forces.[36] Throughout its history, both civilian and military leaders have used religion to bolster their short-term political standing.  Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s secular Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977, banned alcohol and amended the constitution to outlaw the Ahmadi faith. Not considered particularly devout, he took these steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.[37]

Yet it was the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq (1978–1988), who overthrew and executed Bhutto that set the stage for violence and religious extremism.[38] He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. In addition, penal code changes criminalized the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith.[39] His Federal Shariat Court was empowered to review legislation that may conflict with Islam, but the parameters of Islamic law were not established.[40] In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.[41] With U.S. support, Zia built deep relations with extremist groups for the proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and made Pakistan’s army more welcoming to deeply religious Muslims.[42]

The impact of these decisions exists to this day. From the 30+ years of Zia’s Islamization emerged an explosive rise in violent religious extremism.  In 2009 an entire Christian village was razed when rumors of a Qur’an being defaced raced through the community; seven Christians were burned alive.[43] 2010 also saw two simultaneous assaults on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore by the Pakistani Taliban, which killed scores.[44] In January 2011, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards because of his criticism of the blasphemy law,[45] which was followed soon thereafter by the Pakistani Taliban’s killing in March of the one Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti.[46] The reaction to these murders was troubling. Instead of denouncing the assassins who killed unarmed individuals, lawyers showered Taseer’s killer with rose petals.[47] Instead of taking a stand after Bhatti’s killing, the political leadership of his party dropped Bhatti’s efforts to reform the flawed blasphemy law, which was the stated cause of the killing.[48] The June 2011 arrest of a Pakistani general linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir[49] adds evidence of a tilt emerging in Pakistan’s military establishment.[50]

By trading human rights protections for political legitimacy, past and present Pakistani governments have created an environment where religious violence is now considered normative and the political leadership is afraid to act against (or agrees with) the violence.  Even the moderate middle of Pakistan may have passed the tipping point, so the implications of these religious freedom violations for nuclear armed Pakistan are serious. It is more than a human rights issue, but also a security concern.

Afghanistan’s dangerous trajectory

The situation for religious freedom in Afghanistan has always been poor, and the repression of religious freedoms and human rights during the Taliban period (1996-2001) is well known. The Taliban forced women to wear the burqa, prevented the education of girls, and banned music and television and even kite flying. Taliban “justice” was swift and brutal.[51] The State Department designated the Taliban as a “particularly severe violator of religious freedom” in 1999 and 2000.[52]

Despite their removal in 2001, the effects of Taliban misrule continue. The most recent State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan stated that the “government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period [2010], particularly for Christian groups and individuals”.[53] It went on to say that, “[t]here were cases of harassment, occasional violence, and inflammatory public statements made by members of parliament and television programming against religious minorities, particularly Christians, and Muslims who were perceived as not respecting Islamic strictures.”[54]

This decline in respect for religious freedom is occurring despite an unprecedented program of nation building undertaken by the international community. These efforts are occurring in the most difficult of circumstances, trying to establish civilian rule and government competency while an insurgency rages across the country. The Taliban and other insurgents continue to use religion as a rallying point and framework for their actions.[55] The aforementioned stabilization and counterinsurgency theories are being applied by the United States and its partners, with religious actors being encouraged to join or affiliate with the fledgling Afghan government. The outcome is that the Afghan government is moving to accommodate their views, becoming more religious and less secular, more rigid and less accommodating.

For instance, in the early fall of 2010, the 350-member government-backed Ulema Council voted to demand that President Karzai implement shari’a law.[56] The Council is not independent, as the Afghan government reportedly pays members’ salaries, yet the Council’s policy positions have become increasingly extreme. If their demands were implemented, it would constitute a major reversal of progress made on human rights and democracy since the fall of the Taliban. In addition to the Ulema council statement, the government arrested converts to Christianity, demonstrating it is already moving away from the international standards set forth in the constitution.[57]

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre reported in 2010 that religious moderates in Afghanistan are being forced to the political margins or cowed into silence through violence.[58] These leaders cannot turn to the government for help, as their moderate views would risk prosecution, imprisonment, and possible execution for statements that could be considered blasphemous by government officials and semi-official bodies. Extremist religious leaders, backed by the Taliban, are able to gain influence and societal control at the cost of more moderate tribal and religious elders.[59] With this occurring, religious extremists dominate the discussion about religion and politics, further pulling Afghanistan towards the very groups the United States intervened against and following the negative path of its neighbor Pakistan.

In short, absent a real religious freedom strategy, there is a distinct possibility that current counterinsurgency efforts could ultimately result in the re-installment of neo-Taliban rule.[60] The Pakistan’s current situation may be the trajectory for Afghanistan.

Reactions to Tajikistan’s clampdown on religious practice

Tajikistan’s President, Emomali Rahmon, continues to restrict the free practice of Islam, and the religious freedom environment has deteriorated over the past several years. The U.S. State Department’s religious freedom reports between 2007-2010 stated that the Tajik government’s respect for religious freedom “remained poor,” “continued to decline,” and “eroded.” [61] High-level State Department officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have become vocal about religious freedom concerns.[62] The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom named Tajikistan to its Watch List due to concerns about the impact of legislation restricting the free practice of Islam and pressuring minority religious communities.[63]

The actions of the Rahmon regime come partially out of concern about violent religious extremism, but also to maximize Rahmon’s political advantage against his former adversaries.[64] Tajikistan is unique in Central Asia, as it was the only former Soviet republic to suffer a civil war upon independence. Raging from 1992-1997, former communists were pitted against democratic and Islamic political parties. The UN-brokered peace deal brought the Islamic Renaissance Party into the government with President Rahmon, making the IRP the only legalized Islamic political party in Central Asia.[65]

Since then, Rahmon has successfully pushed the IRP out of power and to the political margins. Rahmon and his cronies have manipulated presidential and parliamentary elections to expand their control.[66] Coming from a Soviet point of view, Rahmon has proven wary of religion generally and specifically of religion he cannot control. Tajikistan’s 2009 religion law set restrictive registration requirements severely limiting the ability of Muslims to freely practice their faith. Also concerned about non-Muslim groups, the law criminalized unregistered religious activity and proselytism. New legislation would ban most minors from receiving Islamic religious education and attending organized religious activity except funerals. Prohibitions on against women attending mosques or wearing headscarves in educational institutions have been established, along with bans on men having beards in public buildings.[67]

These repressive measures triggered a violent response.  On September 21, 2010, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) reportedly killed 25 Tajik soldiers and wounded a dozen more.[68]  The stated cause for the action was the religious freedom violations by the Tajik government against Muslims and the oppressive religion law that limited the free practice of Islam.[69]

The IMU attack was the most violent reaction to the regression in religious freedoms, and the heavy hand of the Rahmon government could spark an even larger conflagration.[70] The risks of this broad brush repression are grave, as if religious groups cannot operate openly and compete peacefully in the marketplace of ideas, they will be forced underground. Once out of the sunshine of public scrutiny, religious movements can turn violent and unleash forces difficult to contain. The aforementioned actions of the IMU were not altruistic, but religious freedom violations provided a popular grievance that could fuel prolonged conflict.  

A Way Forward

As argued earlier, part of the answer is to prevent religious extremists or extreme secularists from dominating the debate on religious matters by allowing and protecting a variety of peaceful religious perspectives. For instance, creating a civic space in Afghanistan and Pakistan where different Islamic interpretations can be shared and debated on a variety of critical issues, both religious and political, can undermine the religious center of gravity of insurgents and give politically moderate religious leaders the critical oxygen they need to survive. In Tajikistan and similar authoritarian states, allowing for religious pluralism to emerge from government domination and giving Muslims the freedom operate peacefully can counter the attractiveness of terrorism.

Religion will be the driving force of the 21st century, and as the title of the book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge states, “God is Back.”[71]  Religious freedom is a universal right, but the free participation of religious actors in motivating their flocks to act according to religious tenants must not lead to the forcible application of theological beliefs upon individuals and communities through government writ.  Rule of law must be evenly and neutrally applied to protect civic space. 

Consequently, the United States and other likeminded nations need to incorporate a greater awareness of the religious dynamic into their security strategy.  The United States needs to augment its counterinsurgency and stability operation efforts with a greater sensitivity to the role of religion and religious freedom standards. For this to work, a recalibration of U.S. policies would need to occur to prioritize the creation of civic space for religious groups. Ensuring that politically moderate religious leaders can successfully engage in the politico-religious scene could help create the counter narratives needed to delegitimize the worldview of violent religious extremists.[72]

For policy to have impact, two interconnected approaches are needed – empowering religious freedom locally and a whole of government effort.  While it would not be the answer to the challenges in of combating violent religious extremism and creating sustainable security, it would be part of the overall strategic effort that addresses core drivers of conflict.  The effort would be strategically tailored to specific dynamics in the country, with tactical adjustments at the provincial and village level, to have a coordinated effort to shape the environment.[73]  Some of the suggestions below are new, while others have been attempted, but not brought to scale.  To have success and move the needle, there needs to be a committed effort tied into an overarching strategy. 

 

  1. Empowering religious freedom locally

Bolstering the position of those who advocate respect for religious tolerance. Policies should amplify the voices of politically moderate religious leaders, political reformers, and human rights defenders. This could be done by privately encouraging governments to appoint these individuals to government positions, the country’s court system, ministerial positions, religious councils, the human rights commissions, and other places of influence. International pressure would be needed to ensure these individuals have sustained access to key government leaders, so they can participate in a significant way.

Security. For those willing to express divergent views, steps must be taken to ensure their safety. The international community should press governments to arrest and prosecute those threatening violence or who have perpetrated attacks, regardless of their popularity or size of their following. Also, the establishment of specialized security for these persons could be considered. In the context of Iraq, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the Iraqi government “fund, train, and deploy police units for vulnerable minority communities that are as representative as possible of those communities.”[74] Similar alternatives could be explored for religious leaders elsewhere and their communities.[75]

Exposing religious leaders to other models of mosque/state relations. The U.S. government can facilitate trips of religious leaders to the United States or Europe.  Also useful would be similar tours through Islamic countries like Indonesia and Turkey, where democracy and Islam are working well together. The U.S. military in Afghanistan, working with its Jordanian ISAF partners, experimented with the Voices of Moderate Islam project.  In this non-kinetic effort, Jordanian and American chaplains engaged Afghani imams in religious activity.  Through this process, the Jordanian government hosted imams from Afghanistan on visits to Jordan associated with the hajj, in an effort to bolster moderate Muslims.[76] In addition on the civilian side, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy has sponsored such trips for Pakistani religious leaders to visit Turkey, with positive results.[77]  A well State Department funded effort could see these positive examples replicated many times over. 

Increasing people-to-people and priest-to-priest exchanges. If it is difficult to bring religious leaders out, then the international community should bring religious leaders into countries where issues of religion, society, and law are in conflict.  For instance, the September 2010 visit of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain, to Afghanistan[78] was very successful, as he was able to “talk religion” with high-level Afghan Government officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives, and students. The State Department has also brought imams from the United States and other countries to Afghanistan for trips lasting two weeks, where they are able to share about their experience as a Muslim in their home country and often times share their theological views on Islam and modernity.[79]  These are good ideas and more of these trips are needed.  Further, such efforts could be undertaken with interfaith delegations of religious leaders across sectarian or religious lines.[80]

Education. Programs administered by USAID and other aid agencies should lead to the development of primary and secondary education, such as through printing textbooks, that incorporates religious tolerance and religious freedom. Curriculum for both secular and religious schools that are controlled or under the oversight of the government should have materials on international human rights standards.  Working with madrassas should also be pursued, to see that their curriculums are modernized to include English, math and science, as well as notions of religious tolerance and interfaith understanding are also key.[81]  The next generation needs to be taught about the importance of religious tolerance, rather than ignoring education systems that lay the mental ground work for future acts of violence against “the other.”

 

  1. Whole of government response

For these coordinated policies to have an impact, they must be coordinated at the highest levels across government and not approached piecemeal.[82] Key activities for how the United States should pursue these activities include:

High-level coordination. A whole of government response must be coordinated from the highest levels. Currently, the United States has an ad hoc array of offices and envoys working on religion issues.[83] Staffing a senior position could pull these disparate initiatives into a synchronized effort.  Since the work should have as wide a scope as possible, the National Security Council would be the obvious seat for an interagency coordinating position, preferably reporting directly to the National Security Adviser or his deputy. The authorities already exist – the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 authorized the creation of Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom to advise the President and to liaise with the State Department, USCIRF, Congress, and NGOs.[84] In addition, in July 2011, the White House announced the formation of the Interagency Working Group on Religion and Global Affairs to bring a “renewed focus on the intersection of religion and foreign policy across the United States Government.” [85] If a position at the NSC was specifically staffed to guide these issues, it could orchestrate the different elements towards an agreed goal, bringing together civilian and military efforts.

Increase the State Department’s ability to understand religion. Expand the staff of the Office of International Religious Freedom within the State Department to meet the needs of such an operation and have an expeditionary capacity. If the changes outlined in the State Department Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review are implemented, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom would report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, which would replace the Under Secretary for Global Affairs.[86]  Such a move would by default place religious freedom considerations closer to State Department efforts to promote stability and security in conflict zones.  In addition, an understanding about the role of religion, religious freedom, and stability needs to be a component of other State Department entities.  For instance, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications should bring a religious perspective to its efforts to coordinate government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against violent extremism. 

Build up the chaplaincy corps’ capacity to engage religious leaders. Chaplains have the potential to help commanders understand the needs of local communities on complex battlefields from a religious perspective while not violating their noncombatant status.  Towards this realization, in 2010 the Pentagon issued Joint Publication 1.05 for religious affairs in joint operations, which gave commanders the option of using chaplains to engage religious leaders in their area of responsibility.[87] Careful to maintain the noncombatant status of chaplains, this change in doctrine reflects the realization that chaplains “get” religion and are a deployable asset that can increase situational awareness in conflicts where religion is a driving factor. The initiative set forth in JP 1.05 is still in the early stages, and if properly resourced and if chaplains are properly trained for this new mission, could become a valuable asset. For instance, the military should devote focused resources on the training of chaplains on world religious and religious freedom at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, in addition to pastoral care and counseling, perhaps under a new subset field.

Better understanding the religious dynamics on the ground. The Foreign Service Institute and the various professional military education schools need to increase their teaching on religion and religious freedom before U.S. personnel are deployed.[88]  Some work has begun, as FSI recently offered a new course on religion and foreign affairs,[89] and the Army has established the Center for World Religions as part of the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center at Ft. Jackson.[90]  Through better trained State Department and military officials, the improved “religious IQ” of the U.S. government could lead to an enhanced understanding of the role specific religious leaders’ play. In places like Afghanistan, these officials could augment human terrain teams and provincial reconstruction teams to help evaluate whether the political statements and actions of religious leaders support international standards.  Cross pollinating and integrating the Center for World Religions and the work of chaplains by moving them up to Washington and incorporating into FSI training could jump start these efforts.

Engaging in theater. The U.S. should ensure that engagement or partnership with religious leaders is mindful of the religious dynamic and respectful of international standards of religious freedom. Initial steps are being taken in this direction, such as through the Af/Pak Center for Excellence at CENTCOM. Central Command has included chaplains in their human terrain work, which has provided a better understanding of the religious landscape.[91] However, it is uncertain how long that partnership will remain.[92] To have longevity and relevance, it needs to be expanded and more fully integrated. In addition, increased public diplomacy efforts and the strategic information operations through the use of U.S. international broadcasting, such as Voice of America, to cover discussions about religion in society, religious tolerance and freedom should also occur.

 

Conclusion

The examples of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan demonstrate how repressing religious freedoms leads to less stability, not more.  Pakistan provides a lesson in the perils of building legitimacy by pulling religious actors too closely into government and trading human rights for political support. This problem is one that may be repeated elsewhere, as Pakistan’s current situation appears to be the trajectory for Afghanistan, with unintended U.S. support.  Tajikistan shows the dangers of punishing the independent practice of Islam, which has is creating security problems and revived militant activity. 

In response to these and other situations, the United States needs to incorporate a greater awareness of the religious dynamic into their diplomatic efforts and defense planning. The United States and other likeminded governments must take efforts to augment their strategic planning with a greater sensitivity to the role of religion and religious freedom standards. They need to prioritize the creation of civic space for religious groups, ensuring that moderate religious leaders can successfully engage in the politico-religious scene, and simultaneously be protected from harm or repression.

The rise of religious politics throughout the Middle East and South Asia requires an expanded and new effort that wins hearts and minds to the value of religious diversity and religious freedom.  The United States has tools at its disposal to engage the religious dynamic, but it must shift from the traditional human rights paradigm.  Such changes could help create the counter-narratives needed to delegitimize the worldview of violent religious extremists. While it has been argued that the United States should not engage the balance of religion and state in Afghanistan,[93] ignoring it there (and elsewhere) allows America’s adversaries to shape societal contours in ways antithetical to long-term strategic goals.

Consequently, security policymakers need to do more than simply acknowledge a need to “engage religion.” What is needed is an effort that weaves international religious freedom promotion and religious engagement together into a larger strategy of top-down and bottom-up activity, promoting religious freedom in a way that purposefully bridges human rights and national security. It can be done, but will take dedicated action and specific intent.

Religion is the ideology that governments pander to or fight against, with serious implications for stability, human rights, and national security.  Radicalized religion is often a driver of violence and other activities subversive of international efforts to create conditions of stability.  In response, cultivating civic space can prevent or at least minimize violent religious extremism, and promoting an environment for freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief can foster the basic building blocks of progressive societies and sustainable security.  Consequently, policymakers need to incorporate considerations about religious freedom into their planning, taking into account the religious dynamic and how movements and groups impact national and regional stability. Responding to today’s asymmetrical security challenges with religious freedom promotion would be the ultimate asymmetrical answer to religious-based violence and conflict.


[1]               C. Clausewitz, On War, New York: Alfred A. Knopf , 1993, p. 218.

[2]               See Mr. Y, “A National Strategic Narrative,” Woodrow Wilson Center, p. 8.

[3]               Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

[4]               See OSCE/ODIHR Background Paper, Freedom of Religion or Belief: Laws Affecting the Structuring of Religious Communities,1999/4, p. 13.

[5]               B. Grim et al., The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010, p. 2. Also see Brian Grim and Roger Finke’s statistical analysis of the effect of regulation on religious freedom in causing social conflict in “Religious Persecution in Cross-National Context: Clashing Civilizations or Regulated Economics?,” American Sociological Review, 2007, Vol. 72, pp. 633-658. 

[6]               Ibid., p. 3.

[7]               Global Restrictions on Religion, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, December 2009, p. 1.

[8]               http://www.prosperity.com/summary.aspx

[9]               See M. Duffy Toft et al., God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics, New York: Norton, 2011, pp. 121-173.

[10]             See L. Dana et al., “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict Prone Settings,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007.

[11]             M. Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, New York, HarperCollins, 2006, p. 4-8. Also see the State Department’s 2010 “Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy,” which never refers to “religion,” and see a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report on Taliban strategy that does not mention the role of religion in Taliban thinking and actions.  “Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy,” Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, February 2010; Gilles Dorronsoro, “The Tliban’s Winning Strategy in Afghanistan,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2009.

[12]             T. Farr, World of Faith and Freedom: Why international religious liberty is vital to American national security, New York: Oxford, 2008, p. 263.

[13]             The Correlates of War documents that, since the end of the Napoleonic period, more than 80% of the conflicts fought have been civil wars or insurgencies.  http://www.correlatesofwar.org/datasets.htm

[14]             S. Gorka et al., “An Actor-centric Theory of War: Understanding the Difference Between COIN and Counterinsurgency,” Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 60, 1st quarter, 2011, p. 16. “Most importantly, none of the insurgents discussed within the canon of classic COIN studies was religiously motivated with the aim of initiating a global revolution, as is al Qaeda and its associated movements. As a result, any translation of classic COIN doctrine to the threat posed by a religiously informed and globally ambitious al Qaeda would seem forced, to say the least, and misguided at best.”

[15]             See J. Malevich et al., “The Afghan Balance of Power and the Culture of Jihad,” Military Review, May-June 2011, p. 39. While correctly observing that “each year young men fight for the Taliban—a group whose leadership is, essentially, religious,” they go on to declare as a strategic approach to “[r]ecognize the mullahs as nationwide influencers and bring them to our side.” Also see Mary Kaldor’s article “Human Security in Complex Operations,” which states as principles “The Primacy of Human Rights” and “Legitimate Political Authority,” but does not address the real concern if the derived political authority comes from religious interpretations that violate human rights.  PRISM 2, No. 2, NDU Press, March 2011, p. 6-7.

[16]             U.S. Institute of Peace, “Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction,” Washington, DC, 2009, p. 7.11.5.

[17]             D. Johnston, Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement, Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011, p. 151.

[18]             D. Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009, p. 13.

[19]             Ibid.

[20]             Ibid.

[21]             Ibid.

[22]             Ibid., p. 15.

[23]             Ibid. p. 15-16.

[24]             U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007.

[25]             Ibid., p. 35.

[26]             Ibid., p. 87.

[27]             Ibid., p. 24.

[28]             Ibid., p. 27.

[29]             Ibid., p. 30.

[30]             Ibid., pp. 31-32.

[31]             Ibid., p. 32.

[32]             Ibid., p. 51.

[33]             U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual, Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2009, p. 1-4.

[34]             Ibid., pp. 1-11, 5-14.

[35]             Ibid., p. 2-19.

[36]             L. Ziring, Pakistan in the Twentieth Century, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997, pp. 58-64.

[37]             O. Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the storm, New Haven: Yale UP, 2009, p. 19

[38]             Ziring, Pakistan in the Twentieth Century, pp. 434-440.

[39]             USCIRF 2011Annual Report, p. 112.

[40]             O. Jones, Pakistan, p. 20.

[41]             Ibid., pp. 20-21

[42]             Ibid., pp. 260-261.

[43]             A. Maqbool, “Sectarian violence hits Pakistani town,” BBC News, August 12, 2009.

[44]             “Pakistan mosque attacks in Lahore kill scores,” BBC News, May 28, 2010.

[45]             K. Brulliard, “Salman Taseer assassination points to Pakistani extremists' mounting power,” Washington Post Foreign Service, January 5, 2011.

[46]             K. Brulliard et al., “Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s sole Christian minister, is assassinated in Islamabad,” Washington Post Foreign Service, March 2, 2011.

[47]             A. Taseer, The Telegraph, January 8, 2011.

[48]             “Rehman Malik sees accord on blasphemy laws,” DAWN, March 11, 2011.

[49]             D. Walsh, “Pakistan army officer held over suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir links,” The Guardian, June 21, 2011.

[50]             The failed 1995 attempt by Major General Zahir ul-Islam Abbasi to overthrow the government and institute Shari’a law is shows how a leaning towards violent religious  extremism in the military ranks has been growing for some time.  See Pakistan, p. 261-262.

[51]             A. Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, New Haven: Yale UP, 2010, p. 2 and generally pp. 82-142.

[52]             USCIRF 2011 Annual Report, p. 207.

[53]             U.S. Department of State, “International Religious Freedom Report 2010,” November 17, 2010.

[54]             Ibid.

[55]             J. Collins, Understanding War in Afghanistan, Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2011, pp. 80-81.

[56]             USCIRF 2011 Annual Report, p. 208.

[57]             Ibid., pp. 210-211.

[58]             “Afghanistan’s religious landscape: Politicising the sacred,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre, Policy Brief No. 3, March 24, 2010, p. 1. Highlighted how “the role of religion, though often overlooked, is central to the attempt since the regime-change of late 2011 to build a viable Afghan state. . . . The result of this accomdation [by President Karzai of ex-Islamist jihadi factions] has been both to sustain the former jihadi leaders’ influence and contribute to the marginalization of more moderate Islamic forces.”

[59]             Kilkullen, The Accidental Guerilla, pp. 79-82.

[60] Some, however, are becoming sensitive to these concerns. American Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, chief spokesman for NATO forces, was quoted by the Washington Post in October 2010 saying that the Taliban has “co-opted the religious narrative” for several years.  In addition, Sebastian Gorka and David Kilcullen in their Joint Forces Quarterly article “An Actor-centric Theory of War: Understanding the Difference Between COIN and Counterinsurgency” recognize the role of religion, but offer no concrete proposals on how to engage. (JFQ, issue 60, 1st quarter 2011, p. 17).

[61]             See U.S. Department of State, “Annual Report on International Religious Freedom – Tajikistan,” 2010, 2009, and 2007.

[62]             A. Quinn, “Clinton warns Central Asian leaders on radical Islam,” Reuters, Oct. 22, 2011; Press Conference, Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, April 12, 2011.

[63]             USCIRF 2011 Annual Report, p. 301.

[64]             M. Schwirtz, “On the Rise in Tajikistan, Islam Worries an Authoritarian Government,” The New York Times, July 16, 2011.

[65]             International Crisis Group, “Tajikistan: An Uncertain Peace,” Asia Report No. 30, December 2001.

[66]             K. Parker et al., “Tajikistan’s Presidential Election Falls Short,” Helsinki Commission Digest, Vol. 39, Num. 6, December 2006.

[67]             USCIRF 2011 Annual Report, pp. 302-304.

[68]             “IMU claims responsibility for Rasht attack,” Asia-Plus, September 23, 2010.

[69]             Ibid. “According to [the IMU spokesman], the attack was response to Tajik government’s policy that ‘shut down a thousand of mosques in the country, arrests Muslims without any reason, and prohibits women from wearing Muslim clothes.’”

[70]             International Crisis Group, “The Changing Insurgent Threats,” Asia Report No. 205, May 2011.

[71]             J. Micklethwait et al, God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World, Penguin Press, 2009.

[72]             David Kilcullen speaks of “de-energizing” an insurgency to break its hold on a population by focusing on security, political (governance and institution-building), and economic measures built in parallel, but does not address how religious actors can play a positive or negative role.  The Accidental Guerilla, p. 60.

[73]             David Kilcullen refers to this type of effort as “political maneuver” to “separate insurgents from the people … connect the population to the government.”  The Accidental Guerilla, p. 71

[74]             U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2010 Annual Report, p. 75.

[75]             It is acknowledged that Salman Taseer was assassinated by his bodyguards, on issues concerning religious freedom and religious debate, the vast majority of killings have been by nonstate actors against unprotected targets.  Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated at the precise time his bodyguards were not with him.  Author’s note.

[76]             Author interview in spring 2011.

[77]             Author interview in fall 2011.

[78]             “U.S. Embassy reaffirms U.S. respect for Islam,” U.S. Embassy-Kabul, September 6, 2010.

[79]             “Status Report: Afghanistan and Pakistan Civilian Engagement,” Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, November 2011, p. 12.

[80]             The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had initiated a similar program, where prominent American imams were brought to the country to share about their experiences in the United States.  Its longevity and scope is uncertain.  Author interviews in December 2010 with U.S. personnel in Kabul. 

[81]             See “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” USCIRF, November 2011.

[82]             Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, referred to the “Comprehensive Approach” in warfare that pulls in all of society and “articulates the links along the spectrum from security to humanitarianism, illustrates the most appropriate roles for soldiers and civilians in this complex arena, appropriately resources government agencies crucial for success in the military and humanitarian nexus.”  PRISM 2, No. 2, NDU Press, March 2011, p. 66.

[83]             Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Special Representative to Muslim Communities; Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

[84]             International Religious Freedom Act, Sec. 301.

[85]             http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/07/11/white-house-religion-and-globa...

[86]             QDDR, p. 42.

[87]             “Religious Affairs in Joint Operations, Joint Publication l.05, November 2009.

[88]             http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/

[89]             L. Markoe, “State Department Embraces Religion,” Religion News Service, 2011.

[90]             Author interview in spring 2010.

[91]             Author interview in spring 2010.

[92]             Ibid.

[93]             A. Etzioni, “Whose COIN?,” Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 60, 1st quarter, 2011, p.21.

 

0
Your rating: None

Comments

Mr. Thames,

I have a question for you that is somewhat related to this article.

I may be wrong but It doesn’t appear that many experts consider the various uprisings, movements or rebellions that occurred in Soviet controlled areas during the Cold War as insurgencies or small wars. However, they were clearly efforts to undermine an oppressive Government.

I recently heard a discussion on Pope John Paul IIs nine-day trip to Poland in June of 1979, and why this visit was the turning point for defeating Communism in Eastern Europe. During the visit, “Pope John Paul II reminded the Polish people that nothing, not even the seemingly all-powerful Communist state, could stand between them and God. The Pope sparked a revolution of conscience in the Polish people that led to the success of Solidarity’s free-trade union movement.”

My family roots trace back to the Baltic region and I recall my relatives working with organizations in the US during the 1960s and 1970s to funnel money to the region to support underground Catholic communities.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this visit and if his visit was actually the trigger for a larger movement.

Thanks,
JG

Generally yes, Pope John Paul did play a catalytic role in energizing opposition to Communist rule. While not an expert in this historical area, I feel what you're suggesting is on point. It again shows the power of religious actors to move populations to engage their governments in new and significant ways.
Regards,
KT

I would posit that there seem to be two prevailing, popular myths in the West at the moment which serve both to both overestimate and underestimate the role of religion in society.

Myth 1: Religion is somehow above, beyond, and outside of other belief systems and ideologies and that there is a position of neutral unbelief from which religious actions can be analyzed and mitigated. First, like pure rationality, pure unbelief is not possible. Second, people adhere to belief systems and act on them. Marxism is more than an ideology, it possesses a naturalistic worldview that acts as a framework for its conclusions on how Mankind should be organized, governed, and for what purpose. The result of this myth is that the West both underestimates the power of religion because it fails to recognize the underlying reality and existence of belief systems (based on its assumed secular neutrality) while overestimating religious fanaticism by failing to understand that it is not inherently different from the fanaticism associated with other belief systems such as National Socialism, Marxism, agrarian socialism, etc.

Myth 2: There are wars of religion. This myth gains considerable power from the fact that there are, indeed, some examples of wars fought purely for religion. It is reinforced by a shallow of understanding of history which tends to assume that the "stated" reason for a conflict is the actual reason for the conflict. One could say that the Rwanda genocide was ethnically based. And while there is truth to that, the roots of the conflict demonstrate that it was based on resources (land primarily) and power (political) issues that happened to be associated with ethnic groups. In the same manner, one may speak of the Wars of the Reformation as being religious. Again, while there is truth to that, the conflicts again were more about the realignment of power and resources. The result of this myth is that the West tends to underestimate religion and belief systems as possible causes for conflict because belief is supposedly a trivial matter while overestimating their impact by superficially assigning causality based on appearance.

So, when looking at clashes across the world, it is important to recognize the existence of belief systems as motivators for conflict - because it informs us as to how the parties to conflict approach and understand the world around them (for example, people are inherently good versus people are inherently fallible). However, it is also equally important to fully understand the underlying issues behind the conflict, upon which belief is superimposed. Did the IRA fight because they didn't like Protestants, or because they didn't like British rule of Northern Ireland? Was the IRA truly Roman Catholic or merely culturally Roman?

These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked and understood.