Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East

By Avruch, Kevin | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East


Avruch, Kevin, The Middle East Journal


Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East, by Marc Gopin. Oxford, UK and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. viii + 228 pages. Notes to p. 254. Bibl. Index to p. 269. $29.95.

This volume follows closely on the heels of Gopin's first Oxford University Press book, Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence, and Peacemaking (2000), revisiting some of the themes covered there, but now focused on the three Abrahamic religions and their relevance to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Anything on the relevance of religion to conflict, the "holy war" of the title, is not exactly news. More newsworthy is the second part of the title, and Gopin's contention that the three religious traditions (particularly Islam and Judaism) are also relevant to conflict reso- lution and peacemaking.

In many respects Gopin is hardheaded and pragmatic. He never denies religion's historical role in conflict, and its proven ability to rationalize (that is, sacralize) extreme and sometimes mass violence. He does not claim (in the manner of so much writing on these matters) that religious peacemaking can rely solely on interfaith dialogues and the spirit of ecumenicism. Indeed, he writes, the "clarion call" of Western liberal pluralism - religion privatized and subordinated to individual rights and liberties - "is fundamentally jarring and even loathsome to the ears and hearts of those Abrahamic faithful who are in search of the good society" (p. 61). It is these faithful who must be engaged. How to engage them forms the core of the book.

First, Gopin asserts, it is important to recognize that most conflict resolution processes (especially official, "track one" efforts such as diplomacy) privilege rational, cost-benefit, interest-base thinking, and fail to address the consequential affectively charged roots of deep religious or identity based conflicts. Such matters need to be addressed in their own terms - religious terms - and not reduced to ciphers of Machiavellian or neo-realist realpolitik, ready for bargaining.

Secondly, when emotion, identity, or meaning in their religious senses have been introduced in peacemaking efforts, there is often a not-so-subtle Christian bias to the proceedings. This bias reveals itself in several ways, for instance in the freighted parsing of "forgiveness" and "repentance" (say, over "justice"); or in the privileging of words and talk, as in dialogue encounters, over ritual and symbolic action, that is, over deeds - which may well be more powerful agents of transformation in other, non-Christian traditions. Privileging Christian discourse makes the whole invocation of religious sentiments highly problematic when the parties are not all Christians.

Third, the hard work of engaging the orthodox believers cannot proceed by ignoring or suppressing those aspects of their religious beliefs that are in fact and practice conflict generating. …

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