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Revised 19 April 2006

Predator/victim and turf-war scenarios, so prevalent in nature, seem to carry over into civilizations living side by side. One would think that intelligent beings would realize the benefits that arise from cooperation and trade relations. The catch is that intelligent beings are also emotional beings, often with hang-ups (defenses) that are out of tune with the times.

Of the many good things we can say about ourselves, many lie in the realm of emotions such as love and inspiration. So, also, for many of the not-so-good things. Our evolutionary heritage includes fear, anger, and aggression and these did not disappear simply with increasing brain power. That is nature's way.

From an historical view, greed was an obvious driver for many wars of expansion. For example, native peoples of the Western hemisphere were scalped and pushed aside by the powers of Europe. With the Conquistadors came gold miners, to replenish European treasuries and missionaries, people of faith, to convert the indigenous peoples. Faith (monotheism really) and greed often worked hand in handif at cross purposes.

Ironic? Indeed! Each montheism proclaims that it is peaceful. So why is their history otherwise? Jews believe God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed according to the Laws of Moses. Jews believe that the Messiah will come and establish a kingdom of God here on earth. Christians claim that Christ was that Messiah; that he was God incarnate, the savior of humankind, and that his incarnation was proven by his resurrection. Muslims view Christ as a mere prophet and that it is blasphemy to call him God. Muslims believe that Mohammed was God's final prophet and received the word of God through Gabriel, and that the Qur'an is God's final and complete revelation.

Because of these differences, Jews, Muslims and Christians have fought and killed each other for centuries. The number of such bloody wars and the casualites taken by each side is truly staggering. These wars not only continue in our day, but have escalated and taken the more sinister historic form of terrorism, where the people suffer, not the leaders or clerics as the case may be.

Buddhism was the first religion to convert neighbors but it has long since lost its missionary ardor and desire for religious dominance. Judaism, and more especially, Christianity and Islam were born in civil wars. Christianity and Islam followed up with military expansions and conversions of faith in their own eras. Ironically, not until the 20th Century did Judaism become expansionistic militarily--and then only with the help of a superpower. Hinduism has always been among the most tolerant of religious cultures. However, like the Jews, Hindus recently began escalating violence against neighbors. While Christianity actively seeks to convert others, Islam tends more toward conversion by assimilation after military conquest, a Christian practice as well.

That it is Judaism and Islam that are in conflict over Palestine is a little ironic as it was Christians who were pushed aside or converted during the initial expansion of Islam into Palestine. Peoples of Egypt, Palestine, North Africa, and Syria were largely converted by assimilation. Today, less than 15% of all Muslims are Arabs.

A northward expansion of Islam was accomplished via the conversion of the Mongol hordes to Islam, leaving most of eastern Europe with a new faith. The Mongols temporarily won territory as Islam extended its reach. Much of what was lost in Russia was re-conquered by Christianity, but the southern lands remain essentially Muslim today.

At one time or another, Islam was the master of lands stretching from Spain across North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caspian Sea to India and China. Islam's thrust into Western Europe did not end in Spain until 1492, when Islam lost its last battle for the Iberian Peninsula. In one year Islam effectively ceded Europe and the New World to the European Christians.

Greed and faith were also accompanied by fear as a motivator, especially where Islam was concerned. The element of fear in Europe was extreme from the seventh century until the Turks finally withdrew from the second siege of Vienna in 1683. Until that event, Europe lived under the constant menace of Islam. Nevertheless, the Balkan nations have large Muslim populations to this day. Their very ethnicity came under fire from Christians during the Bosnian War. To be sure, the Bosnian War was not commonly presented as having cultural roots in religion, but it surely did in practice.

What we see today in Palestine is just the latest round in millennia-long conflict. The Jews and the Islamic Palestinians each want a homeon the same piece of real estate. And each has been quite hard-nosed in pressing their points. See Zionism for more on the less well-known roles faith and greed have played in the history of Israel.

There are many differences between Islam and the other two monotheisms. Observe the following conditions that have differed or reversed over the last millennium:

Feature Judeo-Christian Islam
Art Depth Flatness
Awareness of other cultures Relatively Broad and Deep Increasing
Creativity Extensive by all in all sectors of society Females excluded; males largely limited to permitted subjects
Culture Innovative Static
Diplomacy Developed methods and procedures Late to adopt; copied West
Economic development Exponential Static except for petroleum which fuels the western world
Education Full spectrum of subject matter Largely Islamic with strong bias toward males
Extremism Full spectrum Full spectrum emphasizing religion
Freedom - political and individual Generally high None or modest, but awakening
Gender Gradual progress to near equality Mostly static inequality. but stirring
Governance Largely democratic or moving in that direction;
Secular basis
Largely undemocratic;
Islamic basis, may be changinf
Gun powder, technology Early use in winning battles Lateness in using contributed to decline, late to embeace
Historians Many with world focus Few with focus on Islam
Literature Creators Leaders early on morphed to translators
Military Modest to Superpower Empire Weak, became victimized
Museums Broad in range of subjects Exclude Infidel sources
Music Innovators Legislates against
Nationalism Moderate to extremely high Moderate to extremely high
New Ideas Generally open to Generally resistive to
Non-petroleum tradeLeaders Exports less than Finland
(with ~ 1% of Islam's population)
Fossil fuel trade trade Net importers Net exporters:
Ruling classes primary beneficiaries
Political innovation Dynamic to static Static to reactionary
Pluralism Widespread and growing Rare and growing only slowly
Printing Widespread early Adopted
300 years late
Racism and cultural tolerance Mixed Mixed;
anti-Semitism seeds planted by Nazis
Religious extremism Growing:
Influence distorting US culture
Commanding effects on culture:
Regressing gradually in Turkey
SeafaringTraditionally strong Weak to non-existent
Science Innovators Leaders at first:
Morphed to reluctant imitators
Sports - international competition Commonplace Increasing gradually, including women on token basis
Technology Leaders Leaders at first:
Reluctantly became distant followers
Vocabulary generation Progressive with new concepts and descriptive words Adaptive and imitative

To be sure, not everyone would agree that all of the Judeo-Christian "advances" are improvements. Nevertheless, these trends exist and are meaningful in a practical sense. Islam is in decline even as it slowly adopts Western music, ideas and technologies. With so many growing disadvantages apparently arising from Islam itself, reversing the situation can only happen from within Islam. All the West can really do is encourage.

Religious extremism has arisen mostly to counter modernization. The confluent trends of terrorism and nuclear weapon developments in the Middle East are most serious -- for progressive and conservative alike.

For the ultimate consequence, see Nuclear Terror.

This gloomy picture, however, does have some bright sides. Members of all three faiths have learned to live in relative harmony in many parts of the world, Europe and North America being prominent examples. Al Qa'ida has strained this progress to the utmost, and our response hasn't been as diplomatic or sensible as it needs to be. It remains to be seen whether all people of faith can band together with those following Eastern philosophies or nothing in particular and put bigotry forever behind us.

Kofi Annan has this to say:
In every great religion and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur'an, for example, tells us that "We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other." Confucius urged his followers" "when the good way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly. In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to "love thy neighbor as thyself," is considered to be the the very essence of the Torah.

This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught the "truth is one, the sages give it various names." And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.

Annan goes on:
"...It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what -- and who -- we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.

We can only hope so. What Kofi says is right on the mark for today. And his wisdom is timeless. Think about it. Everyone agrees with his wisdom. So:

Why are the monotheisms still at war after fourteen centuries of preaching the good books?

See: Monotheism and Violence for more on this crucial question.


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