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Religious peace, violence, & genocide

Religiously-based civil unrest and warfare

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bullet"The war changed everything in my life and I was one of thousands forced to leave during the ethnic cleansing in my city. But they did not manage to change me. I have NOT learned to hate my neighbors and I never will." Lana Obradovic, a student from Bosnia Herzegovina who lost many relatives in the religious conflict there during the 1990s.
bullet"Intolerance breeds injustice. Injustice invariably leads to rebellion and retaliation, and these will lead to escalation on the part of both making reconciliation almost impossible. It would appear that during times of stress, despair and frustration, people become increasingly irrational, and they do things which they never think they are capable of. And so we see hideous brutality perpetrated by the most gentle people."

"Once started, religious strife has a tendency to go on and on, to become permanent feuds. Today we see such intractable inter-religious wars in Northern Ireland, between Jews and Muslims and Christians in Palestine, Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and in many other places. Attempts to bring about peace have failed again and again. Always the extremist elements invoking past injustices, imagined or real, will succeed in torpedoing the peace efforts and bringing about another bout of hostility." Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, addressing the World Evangelical Fellowship on 2001-MAY-4. 4

The role of religion in civil unrest and war:

Often, the media does not identify the precise causes of some of the conflicts around the world. Clashes are frequently described as being ethnic in origin, even though religion may have been a main cause.

The true causes of unrest are sometimes difficult to determine. Frequently, there are a mixture of political alliances, economic differences, ethnic feuds, religious differences, and others: 1

bullet In Northern Ireland, "the troubles" refer to about three decades of violence, largely between the Roman Catholics nationalist community who sought union with Ireland and the primarily Protestant unionist community who want to remain part of the UK. It was largely rooted in discrimination by the Protestant majority against the Catholic minority. Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed by Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups and by British and Irish security forces. An uneasy peace was attained by the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and has endured.
bullet The Rwanda genocide was mainly an ethnic conflict between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. The religious split in the country (75% Christian, mostly Roman Catholic, and 25% indigenous) appears to not have been a significant factor. On the order of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered, between 1994-APR to July, mostly by being hacked to death.
bullet The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was among three faith groups, (Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Serbian Orthodox). The Serbian Orthodox Christian attacks on Muslims were considered sufficiently serious to rise to the level of a genocide.
bullet The horrendous civil war in Sudan, called the Second Sudanese Civil War, lasted from 1983 to 2005, It had a significant religious component among Muslims, Christians and Animists. But inter-tribal warfare, racial and language conflicts are also involved. About two million died directly or indirectly during the war. Conflict has eased. A peace agreement of 2011 led to a referendum and independence for southern Sudan, which is known as the Republic of South Sudan.
bullet The Second Congo War (a.k.a. Africa's World War and the Great War of Africa) started in 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By 2008, 5.4 million persons had been killed, largely from disease and starvation. Hostilities continue to the present.

A group of world religious leaders from the Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim and many other faiths met in Geneva Switzerland during 1999-OCT. They issued a document, The Geneva Spiritual Appeal, asking  political and religious leaders and organizations to ensure that religions are not used to justify violence in the future. Delegates believed that many of the then-current 56 conflicts have religious elements. 

Conflicts and wars in the recent past:

It is important to realize that most of the world's current "hot spots" have a complex interaction of economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and other factors. We list below some conflicts which have as their base at least some degree of religious intolerance:

Country Main religious groups involved Type of conflict
Afghanistan Extreme, radical Fundamentalist Muslim terrorist groups & non-Muslims Osama bin Laden headed a terrorist group called Al Quada (The Source) headquartered in Afghanistan. They were protected by, and integrated with, the Taliban dictatorship in the country. The Northern Alliance of rebel Afghans, Britain and the U.S. attacked the Taliban and Al Quada, establishing a new regime in part of the country. The fighting continues.

Bosnia Serbian Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic), Muslims Peace is holding, due to the presence of peacekeepers. 2
Côte d'Ivoire Muslims, Indigenous, Christian Following the elections in late 2000, government security forces "began targeting civilians solely and explicitly on the basis of their religion, ethnic group, or national origin. The overwhelming majority of victims come from the largely Muslim north of the country, or are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants..." 5 A military uprising continued the slaughter in 2002. It split the nation into two segments. Periods of peace and violence have alternated as the country struggles towards stability.

Cyprus Christians & Muslims The island is partitioned, creating enclaves for ethnic Greeks (Christians) and Turks (Muslims). A UN peace keeping force is maintaining stability. 9

East Timor Christians & Muslims A Roman Catholic country. About 30% of the  population died by murder, starvation or disease after they were forcibly annexed by Indonesia (mainly Muslim). After voting for independence, many Christians were exterminated or exiled by the Indonesian army and army-funded militias in a carefully planned program of genocide and religious cleansing. East Timore won its independence from Indonesia in 2002. The situation there is now stable.

India Animists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims & Sikhs Various conflicts that heat up periodically producing loss of life. Christians are regularly attacked in Orissa province by militant Hindu extremists.

Indonesia, Maluku Islands Christians & Muslims After centuries of relative peace, conflicts between Christians and Muslims started during 1999. About 6,000 were killed; over a half million people were internally displaced; thousands were forced to convert to another religion. Peace talks were initiated by the government in early 2002., the situation appears to be stable.

Iraq Kurds, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yazidi This is a country with three main ethnic and religious groups: Shiites, Sunnis & Kurds. For decades, one group has controlled the government, and the other two groups have suffered. In 2014, a new group invaded the country: ISIS. Its goal is to create a caliphate in the region and are now controlling large areas of Iraq and Syrai.

Kashmir Hindus & Muslims A chronically unstable region of the world, claimed by both Pakistan and India. The availability of nuclear weapons stockpiles are destabilizing the region further. More details Thirty to sixty thousand people have died since 1989. A plebescite would be the obvious solution, except that either Pakistan or India -- whichever country polls show wold lose the plebiscite -- refuses to allow one.

Kosovo Serbian Orthodox Christians & Muslims Peace enforced by NATO peacekeepers. There is convincing evidence of past mass murder by Yugoslavian government (mainly Serbian Orthodox Christians) against ethnic Albanians (mostly Muslim) Full story
Kurdistan Primarily Alevis, Muslim, with Christian, Jews, Yarsan, and Yazidis This is a country with a tenouous existence in parts of Iran, Iraq, Syraia, and Turkey. It is involved heavily in a war with ISIS. Parts of northeast Syria are under Kurdish control and set up a government there. Some Kurds have autonomy in those areas where hey form a majority. Others are attempting to establish Kurdistan as a separate company.

Macedonia Macedonian Orthodox Christians & Muslims Muslims (often referred to as ethnic Albanians) engaged in a civil war with the rest of the country who are primarily Macedonian Orthodox Christians during the 1990s. A peace treaty has been signed. Disarmament by NATO is complete.

Gaza Jews, Muslims, & Christians Israel and Gaza have experienced repeated cycles of a tenous peace followed full scale warfare. This has resulted in the deaths of thousands, mainly in Gaza.  Major strife broke out in 2000-SEP and again in 2014. Flareups continue. No resolution appears possible. Women and children in particular suffer

Myanmar (formerly called Burma) Buddhist & Muslims The Burmese public had experienced massive human rights abuses under a military dictatorship that was replaced in 2011 with a nominally civilian government. The Muslim Rohingya a 4% to 10% minority (estimates differ) is suffering major oppression by the 80% Buddhist majority. Even though some of the Rohingya have lived in the country for three or more generations, the government witholds citizenship from them. About 700,000 -- most of the total population of Rohingyas -- have been expelled -- largely to Bangladesh. See: The genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar: Part 1Part 2.

Nigeria Christians, Animists, & Muslims The country is divided between Yourubas and Christians in the south who live in an uneasy peace with Muslims in the north. Meanwhile, a terrorist group called Boko Haram (roughly translated as "western edication is forbidden." The country is struggling towards democracy after decades of Muslim military dictatorships. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is attempting to esstablish an Islamic State in the northern states. More details

Northern Ireland Protestants, Catholics After 3,600 killings and assassinations over 30 years. A ceasefire is holding.
Pakistan Suni & Shi'ite Muslims Low level mutual attacks, overshadowed by Taliban insurrectionists.

Philippines Christians & Muslims A low level conflict between the mainly Christian central government and Muslims in the south of the country has continued for centuries. More details

Somalia Wahhabi and Sufi Muslims Sufi Muslims -- a tolerant moderate tradition of Islam are fighting the Shabab who follow the Wahhabi tradition of Islam in a continuing conflict.

South Africa Animists & "Witches" Hundreds of persons, believed to be witches practicing black magic, are murdered each year.

Sri Lanka Buddhists & Hindus Tamils (a mainly Hindu 18% minority) are involved in a war aimed at dividing the island and creating a homeland for themselves. Conflict had been underway since 1983 with the Sinhalese Buddhist majority (70%). Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. The conflict took a sudden change for the better in 2002-SEP, when the Tamils dropped their demand for complete independence. The South Asian Tsunami in 2004-DEC induced some cooperation. By 2009 the Tamil uprising was crushed by the government.

Sudan Animists, Christians & Muslims Complex ethnic, racial, religious conflict in which the Muslim regime committed genocide against both Animists and Christians in the south of the country. Slavery and near slavery were practiced. A ceasefire was signed in 2006-MAY between some of the combatants. 3 Warfare continues in the Darfur region, primarily between a Muslim militia and Muslim inhabitants. 8

Thailand Buddhists & Muslims Muslim rebels have been involved in a bloody insurgency in southern Thailand -- a country that is 95% Buddhist.

Tibet Buddhists & Communists Country was annexed by Chinese Communists in late 1950's. Brutal suppression of Buddhism continues. *

Uganda Animists, Christians, & Muslims Christian rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army are conducting a civil war in the north of Uganda. Their goal is a Christian theocracy whose laws are based on the Ten Commandments. They abduct, enslave and/or raped about 2,000 children a year. 6

* We are defining "religion" rather loosely here to include Communism.

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1999-JUN: NATO/U.N. forces occupied Kosovo and ended the genocide by Serbian Orthodox against ethnic Albanians (mostly Muslims). Most Serbians left Kosovo. Those remaining are being harassed; some have been murdered in retaliation for past crimes.


1999-JUL: Nigeria added to list.


1999-SEP: Ambon added to the list.


1999-OCT: Chechnya added to the list.


2001-MAR: Macedonia added to the list. The conflict has since cooled, and a political solution reached.


2001-AUG: Côte d'Ivoire added to the list.


2001-SEP: Radical, extremist Fundamentalist Muslims centered in Afghanistan attack New York City and Washington. U.S. and Britain invade the country. The extreme Fundamentalist Muslim government, the Taliban, were later overthrown and a new government installed.


2002-FEB: Muslim - Hindu conflict heats up in India, focused on Kashmir.


2002-SEP: Conservative Christians continue civil war in Uganda.


2002-SEP: Hope emerged in the Hindu-Buddhist conflict in Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon. The Tamil Tigers dropped their goal of independence when peace talks resumed during 2002-SEP after an absence of seven years. They are now willing to establish a homeland within the country.


2003-JAN: A coalition, largely made up of American and British forces attacks Iraq. This eventually triggers a civil war, mainly between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.


2004 & 2005: Little change occurs, as existing conflicts continue.


2006-MAY: A ceasefire was signed in Sudan between most of the warring factions. If it holds, the genocide there will probably downscale into mass murder.


2006-AUG: The situation in Sri Lanka appears to be degenerating.


2006-OCT: Thailand added.


2009-MAY: The Sri Lanka civil war concluded with the defeat of the Tamils.


2011-JAN: 99.6% of voters in the South of Sudan voted to separate from the North. There is hope that decades of civil war among Muslims, Christians and Animists may end. Unfortunately, attacks by the Sudan on border areas continued.

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Books about links between religion & violence:

bullet Richard Abanes, "American militias: Rebellion, racism & religion," Intervarsity Press, (1996) You can read reviews and/or order this book savely from online book store

bullet G. Scott Davis, Ed., "Religion and Justice in the War over Bosnia," Routledge, (1996). Read reviews and/or order this book

bullet Jack D. Eller, "Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History," Prometheus Books, (2010). Highly rated by reviewers. Read reviews and/or order this book

bullet Marc H. Ellis, "Unholy alliance: Religion and atrocity in our time," Fortress Press, (1997). Read reviews and/or order this book

bullet Mark Juergensmeyer, "Terror in the mind of God: The global rise in religious violence," University of California Press, (2003). Read reviews and/or order this book


  1. "HUMANs and (in)HUMANITY," is an overview of many of the world's conflicts from a Native American perspective. See:

  2. book cover G. Scott Davis, Ed., "Religion and Justice in the War over Bosnia," Routeledge, (1996). You can order this book safely from online book store
  3. Mark O'Keefe, "Religion inflames Sudan war," The Oregonian, 1998-OCT-27, at:
  4. "Prime minister of Malaysia calls for end to inter-religious strife," 2001-MAY-5, at: (This is expected to be a temporary link.)
  5. "The New Racism: The Political Manipulation of Ethnicity in Côte d'Ivoire." This is a 70 page report by the Human Rights watch which describe atrocities committed during presidential and parliamentary elections in 2000-OCT & DEC.
  6. "Christian militants seize teen girls in raid," Independent News & Media, at:
  7. "Russia," The Voice of the Martyrs, at:
  8. "Darfur conflict," Wikipedia, at:
  9. "The Cyprus Conflict," at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written 1999-MAR-12
Last update: 2015-JUL-07
Complied by: B.A. Robinson

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