Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Are Religious Minorities More Militant Than Other Ethnic Minorities?

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Are Religious Minorities More Militant Than Other Ethnic Minorities?

Article excerpt

Since the Iranian Revolution and especially since the end of the Gold War, religion has come to be associated with militancy. Conflicts between groups of different religions are perceived by many as more intense. Similarly, religious groups involved in conflict are perceived as more militant. Ethnic conflicts that have fueled this perception include the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the ethnic rebellions in Chechnya, Sudan, Cyprus, India, and Indonesia and the civil wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia. Fundamentalist movements, especially Islamic movements, have also contributed to this perception. This article uses data from the Minorities at Risk dataset (MAR), as well as data collected independently, to ascertain whether this perception is correct for ethnic conflicts. That is, the article asks: are ethnoreligious minorities really more militant than other ethnic minorities?

The question is broken into two parts: First, are religious differences alone enough to make an ethnoreligious minority more militant? Second, does the fact that a conflict has religious overtones contribute to the militancy of an ethnic minority? These two questions highlight an important distinction in how religion can potentially influence a conflict. Whether the groups involved belong to different religions may, by itself, be enough; or it may be necessary that the conflict involve religious issues. There are trends within the literature that support both of these arguments, though only the latter is supported by the results of this study.

Rather than develop a full model of the influence of religion on militancy, the goal of this study is to find an answer to those two questions: To develop and test a model is beyond what could be accomplished in an article. (1) Furthermore, no previous study using the same controls, compares the impact of these two potential religious influences on conflict. Thus, this study can clarify a basic and important aspect of the influence of religion on conflict: What type and level of religious involvement is necessary to influence that conflict?

The empirical portion of this study focuses on ethnic conflict as depicted by the MAR data. Thus, ethnic conflict means political tensions between a politically active ethnic minority and a state government controlled by another ethnic group or political competition between multiple ethnic groups for control of a state. While such conflict is often violent, this is not always the case, and conflicts can take place within the political arena. The variable used for militancy in the empirical portion of this study is active rebellion by an ethnic group. (2) However, the theoretical portion of this study draws on a much broader literature, much of which does not focus on ethnic conflict. Consequently, the concepts of conflict and militancy are treated more broadly in the theoretical section in order to discuss the diverse literature relevant to this study coherently.

Religious Differences or Different Religions?

For the most part, the literature on religion and conflict does not directly address whether an ethnic minority's being of a different religion than the majority group is enough to cause increased militancy--that is, whether, on the other hand, the presence of religious issues in the conflict is necessary. However, the literature does indirectly address this question. There are two trends: one posits that being of different religions is enough; the other posits that the conflict must have some particularly religious element.

Perhaps the most prominent of those who imply that being of different religions is enough to cause increased militancy is Huntington. (3) His "clash of civilizations" theory posits that, in the post--Cold War era, most conflict will be between major cultural groupings that he calls civilizations. In practice, these civilizations are defined mostly along religious lines. Of his eight civilizations, all but one include specific mention of religion in their definitions. …

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