Wednesday, November 14, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 60



Religion a major aspect of war, professor says

Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

Despite the pronouncements of President Bush and others to the contrary, the United States and its allies are engaged in a "religious war" against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

Johnny Kow/The Daily Cougar

Business professor Basheer Khumawala, sociology professor Helen Rose Ebaugh and economics professor Thomas DeGregori discuss "Religion, Politics and the New World Order" at Farish Hall on Tuesday.

So stated UH professor Helen Rose Ebaugh, a specialist in the sociology of religion, at the second of three symposiums addressing issues arising from the East Coast terrorist attacks.

The forum, titled "Religion, Politics and the New World Order," was held Tuesday in the Kiva Room of Farish Hall. The other panelists were Bauer College of
Business professor Basheer Khumawala and economics professor Thomas DeGregori.

"On Sept. 11, President Bush, from the very beginning, proclaimed that this is not a religious war, and he hasn't backed off from that position since," Ebaugh said.

"I think he's politically smart and correct to keep reiterating that phrase. We cannot afford to alienate Muslim states, and lose their inclusion in the global alliance
against terrorism.

"Likewise, it is crucial in the days and weeks following Sept. 11, and still is today, to embrace the Muslim Americans who are struggling to disengage themselves
and their religion from the Islamic radicals who became suicide bombers in the attack."

But, Ebaugh said, because Osama bin Laden, in his videotaped messages, has actively portrayed the battle as one between the world's Muslims and the West,
Americans and their allies must reconcile themselves to thinking about the war in religious terms.

"I think it behooves us not to hide our heads in the sand and shrink from confronting the fact that Osama bin Laden is defining the war in this religious context," she
said. "By acknowledging that religion is integrally involved in the conflict, and then figuring out how and why, we gain a better understanding of the tactics Osama
bin Laden is using."

Bin Laden, through his videotaped appeals, is employing fundamentalist Muslim ideals which are winning "the hearts and minds" of great numbers of Muslims, she
said. This accounts for the fact that many Arab and other Muslim nations have been ambivalent in their support of the U.S.-led military campaign.

Ebaugh said religious fundamentalism, which is found in all faiths but is particularly strong among the monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), often
finds great appeal among "the down and out" people who have lost hope in their lives.

DeGregori, who has traveled and worked extensively in Central Asia, put the conflict in a geopolitical context.

He noted that the region, which includes modern-day Afghanistan, has a millennia-long tradition of high civilization. The Indus Valley in nearby India, the "Fertile
Crescent" of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the Silk Route which connected Europe with Asia are examples of this history, he said.

"Afghanistan has been a crossroads of culture. It also became a crossroads of the big powers," DeGregori said. Beginning in the 18th century, however, it became a
pawn of what was once called "the Great Game," the geopolitical struggle between the world's superpowers. Originally, those powers were the British Empire and
Czarist Russia. In the 20th century, they were the United States and the Soviet Union.

"The Afghans have been the victims of power politics," he said.

DeGregori said the Islamic fanaticism found in Afghanistan and the surrounding region is not the result of one single cause, as the media often portrays it, but a
multiplicity of influences, especially since the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the 10-year war that followed. In fact, he said, it is an offshoot of the extreme branch of
fundamentalist Islam called Wahhabism, which was imported by Saudi Arabians who went there to fight with the mujahadeen.

Khumawala, a lay Muslim, said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, American Muslims "have a great responsibility. We have been negligent in doing our fair
share of teaching what Islam is all about."

In a post-Taliban Afghanistan, he said, it is critical that America and its allies help the country's population achieve two things: education and economic stability.

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