Religion a major aspect
of war, professor says
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
"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.