Love Thine Enemy: Interdenominational Violence in Christian Communities. (World in Review)

By Thornton, Ryan | Harvard International Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Love Thine Enemy: Interdenominational Violence in Christian Communities. (World in Review)


Thornton, Ryan, Harvard International Review


From Pope John Paul II to US President George Bush, from liberal political theorists to conservative journalists, many have warned of a world divided along religious lines in a "clash of civilizations." Following the argument of political scientist Samuel Huntington book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, they have adopted the view of a West defined by its Christian tradition and heritage, established and conducting itself as a single, coherent Christian entity. Moreover, many have begun to speak of a war pitting 21st century Christendom against a league of Muslim states as inevitable.

Yet such a worldview is an exceedingly narrow one, failing to acknowledge that Christianity is no more a united religion than the West is a united continent. Rather, 500 years of interdenominational discord and disunity have bred religious hatred among Christians as potent as that toward Muslims. One need only look at the violence that has ravaged Northern Ireland and the former republics of Yugoslavia in the last century to see that religious hate among Christians has not subsided in many corners of the world.

Tough Talk

On the whole, the fierce rhetoric describing a world war between Christians and Muslims began in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 as US citizens sought to express their anger while others attempted to divine the future in a world turned upside-down. Ann Coulter penned one of the most noted responses in her syndicated column, asserting, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." While Coulter may be an example of the far right's response, even those who have tried to walk a middle ground, such as Bush, have made similar statements. In remarks to the press on September 16, 2001, Bush referred to the war on terrorism as a "crusade," a single word which, although overanalyzed in the media, nonetheless conveys at least the unconscious pervasiveness of religious war imagery.

Perhaps surprisingly, in the months following the attacks, there was only a slight increase in crimes against Muslims; in fact, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hate Crime Statistics for 2001, anti-Jewish bias was the cause of more than twice as many crimes as anti-Islamic bias. Nonetheless, some media outlets portrayed even slight insensitivities toward Muslims as gross injustices. Yet in this era of what one British journalist called "rampant Islamophobia," for every printed word that criticized the response of Muslim clerics and states, there were two articles decrying it as bigotry the next day.

The generally restrained reaction of the mainstream public, however, was overshadowed by inflammatory statements from isolated extremists, further provoking fear of a civilizational war. In September 2002, the Reverend Jerry Falwell called the Prophet Mohammed "a terrorist" on the US television show 60 Minutes, provoking severe rioting in India that killed five people and injured dozens. Additionally, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Reverend Billy Graham, called Islam "a wicked and evil religion," while fellow conservative Reverend Pat Robertson denounced Muslims as "worse than the Nazis."

In turn, Muslim extremists have fanned the flames of civilizational conflict by propagating acts of violence and fanaticism throughout the world. Slightly over a year after the September 11 attacks, Muslim extremists with ties to Al Qaeda placed a bomb in a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, killing nearly 200 people. Even the Miss World beauty pageant in Nigeria last year sparked deadly attacks by Muslims against Christians. Consequently, this duel between inflammatory Christian rhetoric and violent Muslim extremism has produced the perception of an imminent clash of civilizations throughout much of the world.

As a result, the media has increasingly portrayed world events under a dualistic framework of Christians versus Muslims. …

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