Invoking religion against one's enemies is a sure way to perpetuate resentment and war. It stretches from the Crusades to the internet where you are reading right now.
When calling the faithful to prayers begins to sound like calling up your reservists, war — of the most utterly useless kind — is often not far behind.
The rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as a resilient al-Qaeda and the fertile ground for other armed gangs around the idea of a "holy war" and a militaristic reading of the notion of Jihad, continue to threaten peace in our world. The mutation of the call to fortify your faith into a destructive political concept has found adepts among those who feel angry and excluded when different worlds come into contact.
Factors outside religion, like European imperialism, colonial exploitation of Third World nations, racial discrimination and increasing gaps in wealth around the world, have helped breed resentment that expresses itself in acts of savagery against ordinary people and the recruitment of "fighters' for a "final" confrontation with Western civilization in the name of Islam.
Wars fought for religious motives — whichever creed might be fomenting them for its own domination — aim to defeat the enemy in battle but ultimately strengthen conflicting convictions on all sides in the process. Such convictions reside in mental recesses that no army can penetrate — and entire peoples have survived for decades (or even centuries) under the domination of an imposed dogma, only to emerge with their hidden beliefs intact.
"Your violent god will never convince me," a Canadian Indian once told a French missionary. "He threatens me with hellfire and uses your weapons to try to make me abandon my god who is peaceful and benevolent." The frustrated missionary felt obliged to threaten him further, with punishments barely comprehensible to the native within his culture and spiritual beliefs. Private faith is a magical, mysterious place where brute force ultimately has little persuasive sway.
The Crusades raised the banner of Christendom's defense against the "aggression" of Islamic armies that had occupied Christian holy places, even though the Muslims followed a faith that shared Christianity's Biblical roots. Yet in the end, these holy wars became nothing more than adventures in the pursuit of power with the deaths of so many innocent victims.
The seeds of resentment sowed are still being reaped in conflicts that have yet to run out of steam or eager participants. Self-appointed defenders of the faith pick up the historical baton and strike at passers-by on a promenade in the south of France or Christmas market in Berlin.
A Republican president of the United States made the error in 2003 of qualifying his calamitous attack on Iraq as a "crusade." That adventure deepened not just political divisions, but those between the Christian and Islamic views of history. Nobody knows how the next U.S. president will meet the challenge of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other groups fighting in the Middle East and beyond. He might soon be teaming up with Russia's Vladimir Putin, the self-styled imposer of "peace" in Syria.
But to avoid a disastrous deviation by this trans-Atlantic duo, we should certainly look harder at how disparate civilizations and socio-political models might be able to help defuse the spirit of confrontation many insist on attributing to religion. We've seen how online social networking, which transcends borders and brings us together at the most day-to-day level, can deepen the existing conflicts. It can also be used to defuse them.