A religious war or a war of religion, sometimes also known as a holy war, is a war that is primarily caused or justified by differences in religion and beliefs. But what if the war in question is only a “Quasi-Religious War?” Is a quasi-war less violent, or more secular? The larger question, which is not asked or answered in this blog, is how could any war be holy? Is religion itself a war or just a difference of opinion? This narrowly focused blog is an attempt to search for ethical imperatives when writers take to pen and ink, or digitally explore the religious aspects of modern wars—say like the one we’re now afflicted with—the Israeli-Hamas War.
Quasi is a useful word because we can minimize words, thoughts, or even reality by writing it with a hyphen and attaching it to some other word. The word itself is a combining form meaning “resembling.” Quasi has some, but not all of the convenience that “of” has. We can use it to combine almost anything; quasi-definition; quasi-monopoly; quasi-official; quasi-scientific. No one would question those uses, but when we hyphenate war, as in quasi-war, we slide onto slippery narratives.
War is hell, right? War is something only authoritarians like. Like Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn, Adolph Hitler, Vladimar Putin, and most recently the amorphous Hamas. All of them share a common worldview. War may be hell, but how else can you conquer and devastate your enemy? And why would any religion or religious sect or population go to war? “Although largely ignored by international relations scholars until the 21st century, religion has been and remains a pervasive social force both on and off the battlefield. It affects how combatants mobilize and prepare for war. It regulates how they fight, including unit organization and strategic decision-making. In addition, religious identities, beliefs, practices, and symbols shape how and when combatants pursue peace. The study of religion and war seeks to discover and understand these varied influences, even when religion is not the pretext for fighting.”
A cynical way to put it is that if war is hell, then a religious war is heaven. At least for the winning army, navy, air force, militia, or Bible-packing warriors. There are truckloads of books, pamphlets, articles, essays, prayers, and salutations about religious wars. “Some wars in history have been claimed to have happened for religious reasons. . . The Crusades were a series of brutal military campaigns from the 11th to the 13th centuries. They were fought by supposed Christians from Europe who wanted to take control of Jerusalem and other ‘holy’ places from Muslim occupation. These battles were supposedly fought for the cause of Christianity. . . They showed the world that religion and war are human history. . .”
The twentieth century was bloody as hell. “Two major world wars, which had nothing at all to do with religion. Korea, Vietnam, Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War, the Rwandan genocide and the Communist Revolutions in Russia, China, Southeast Asia, and Cuba. Together these have accounted for anywhere between 50-70 million deaths. None of these conflicts and genocides were caused by religion. Instead, they were caused by people’s ideology, desire for power/control/territory, greed, or sometimes even country leaders’ warped morals and ideals. So, we could easily make the case that way more people have died throughout human history due to poor ideals, rather than religion.”
So, is the Iseral-Hamas war about religion, territory, hatred, fear, power, or something more sinister? Bloomberg News reported on October 23, 2023. “The struggle between Arabs and Jews over ownership of the Holy Land dates back more than a century and has given rise to seven major wars. . . Arabs and Jews living in the Holy Land were ruled by the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, when the UK, one of the war’s victors, took over. During this period, Jewish immigration from Europe to what was then called Mandatory Palestine greatly increased, especially in the 1930s given the Nazi persecution of Jews. Resistance to Jewish immigration and rising nationalism among the Arabs led to a revolt in the late 1930s. In an effort to stop Arab-Jewish violence, a British commission in 1937 recommended partitioning Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. The United Nations embraced a different partition plan in 1947. The Arabs rejected both plans, leading to Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the first Arab-Israeli war.”
The Stimpson Center promotes international security and shared prosperity through applied research and independent analysis, global engagement, and policy innovation. It offers a thoughtful but debatable view. “Ideological and religious extremism underlie the War between Israel and Hamas. The Gaza war is likely to increase regional polarization and regime’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Iran. In the Middle East, a region perennially marked by intricate geopolitics and simmering tensions, recent events had hinted at a glimmer of hope for stability. Efforts appeared to succeed in mending relations between historical adversaries, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and negotiations for the normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel were also in progress. Yet, this fragile détente was abruptly shattered on the morning of October 7, 2023. Backed by a relentless barrage of rockets, Hamas militants launched an audacious assault from the blockaded Gaza Strip into Israeli towns nearby. This attack, carried out during a major Jewish holiday, resulted in the tragic loss of hundreds of Israeli civilian lives and the capture of more than 100 hostages, leaving Israel and the world in shock. Israel swiftly responded with airstrikes on Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinians and seemed certain to kill many more.”
So, the majority view seems to be this war is not religious per se, but many of the combatants are religious in their zeal to kill one another for historical reasons, including ownership of the land that seemingly cannot be shared for both political and religious reasons. Religious hatred is what it is.
There are scores of scholarly work defining just war theory and examining the notion that there is a morality of war. “Some deny that morality applies at all once the guns strike up; for others, no plausible moral theory could license the exceptional horrors of war. The first group are sometimes called realists. The second group are pacifists. The task of just war theory is to seek a middle path between them: to justify at least some wars, but also to limit them. Although realism undoubtedly has its adherents, few philosophers find it compelling. The challenge to just war theory comes from pacifism. And we should remember, from the outset, that this challenge is real. The justified war might well be a chimera.”
This falls into place when writers engage in explaining the whys and wherefores of the Iseral-Hamas War. There are well-established ethical imperatives that apply when writing about war. In fact, there is a genre known as War Journalism. Embedded in this genre is the core question. How can you resolve ethical conflicts in wartime? “Journalists face unprecedented ethical pressures during times of war. Popular patriotic passions, the demands and strategic interests of the government, cultural and national sensitivities and traditional journalistic responsibilities are often on a collision course.
The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists advises journalists to ‘Seek Truth and Report It’ and to ‘Minimize Harm’ — obligations that are frequently in conflict, as are the other two major obligations in the code: ‘Act Independently’ and ‘Be Accountable.’ . . . journalists [should] resolve ethical conflicts on issues ranging from disclosure of troop positions to publication of disturbing photos to evaluation of government demands to suppress ‘enemy propaganda.’ [They should also] assess motivation in publishing or suppressing information or graphics, assess the government’s motivation in seeking suppression, assessing the reliability of the information, balancing the importance and harm of publication, and considering alternatives, explore the middle path between realism and pacifism.”
For nonprofessional journalists and scribblers like me, the ethical challenge is momentous. Without upfront resources and on-the-ground information, we stand little chance of being independent, accountable, ethically motivated, or balancing the importance and harm of what we write. My approach is to cite what I believe to be reliable and trustworthy reporting by others.
 By Mohammad Mazhari, “In Middle East & North Africa.” October 11, 2023. See also, https://www.stimson.org/2023/ideological-and-religious-extremism-underlie-the-war-between-israel-and-hamas/
I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.
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