Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

How Ethnic Civil War Transforms into Religious Civil War: Evidence from Chechnya

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

How Ethnic Civil War Transforms into Religious Civil War: Evidence from Chechnya

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many scholars have tried to examine the relation between religion and civil war, particularly since religious-based civil wars have been increasingly common throughout the world. Overall, between 1940 and 2000, there were 133 civil wars out of which one-third can be classified as religious-based civil wars. (1) After 2000, 50% (7 out of 14) of the on-going civil wars can be classified as religious-based civil wars (2).

Another thing that should be noted in the relationship between religion and the dynamic of civil war is the disproportionate role of Islam and Christianity in civil wars. From all thirty two cases of interreligious civil wars, Islam was involved in 25 wars (78%) and Christianity was involved in 22 civil wars (69%). Moreover, half of the interreligious civil wars occurring from 1940 to 2000 were wars between groups which identified themselves with either Islam or Christianity. Civil war is twice more likely to occur when the rebels identify themselves as Muslim and the dominant state religion is Christianity. (3)

Though religious-based civil wars have increased in number over time, many civil war literatures have found that religion does provoke civil war. (4) Explanatory variables such as ethnicity along with socio-economic factors are still better in explaining the cause of civil war. (5) It is widely accepted that religion does not cause civil war. Yet many studies have found that in ethnic civil war with religious divides between the conflicting parties, religion has an effect on the dynamic of the civil war, either in intensifying the war or prolonging the duration of the war. (6) Furthermore, the civil war becomes deadlier and longer if the civil war has transformed into condition where religion is a central issue. (7)

Therefore, it is clear that religion is unlikely to cause civil war with religious divides; rather, factors such as ethnic differences along with socio-economic factors are still better in explaining the causes of a particular civil war. However, by the time that the civil war is in the progress, religion has an effect on the dynamic of civil war by transforming the civil war in which religion is the peripheral issue into the civil war in which religion is central issue.

The above discussion leads us to the question of how separatist or ethnic civil wars in which religion is peripheral issue, can be transform into religious civil wars in which religion becomes a central issue. For instance why did civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo stay as ethnic civil wars while civil wars in Chechnya, Kashmir, and Ethiopia were transformed into religious civil wars? Moreover, given the fact that civil war is twice more likely to occur when the rebels identify themselves as Muslim, it is important to understand how ethnic civil war with Muslims as a rebel group tends to transform into religious civil war. Therefore the key question is: how does religion become a central issue in ethnic civil wars with religious divides whereas in others it does not, especially when the rebels identify themselves as Muslims? By answering this question, the paper seeks to address a gap in the civil war literature regarding the factors transforming ethnic civil war into religious civil war which remanis underdeveloped. It is a necessary for scholars to provide an explanation for a causal mechanism on how non-religious civil wars can evolve into religious civil war and understanding this transformation would be the first step for policy makers to deal with this kind of problem in the near future.

Using the Chechen civil wars as a case study, this paper argues that both the structural and mobilization explanations fail in explaining how civil war with religious divides transforms into religious civil war. Furthermore, it is argued that the spread of Salafi-jihadist ideology via the involvement of transnational actors is the main factor that transforms civil war with religious divides into religious civil war. …

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