Prof. Dan Caspi

On brink of religious war?

Fanatic wave sweeping through region, both in Arab states and in Israel

The torching of the mosque in Yasuf, displays of insubordination by soldiers from hesder yeshivas, the rabbis’ revolt against the construction freeze policy, and Justice Minister Ne’eman’s endorsement of Torah law in Israel combine to create a worrying picture: Israel is radicalizing, and with a more religious IDF is confidently heading towards a regional religious war.


It was also no coincidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw fit to allay tensions around Temple Mount a few weeks ago. The words he uttered during the government session were meant for Israel’s Arab citizens, yet their true target must be wider – Arabs, Palestinians, and Jews alike.


Those terrified by the Iranian nuclear threat can relax. The State of Israel faces a greater threat in respect to the conflict vis-à-vis Palestinians and Arab states escalating into an all-out religious war. Since time immemorial religious wars were the cruelest and most destructive of all global wars.


The Middle East’s soil is drenched with the blood of the faithful who arrived here via long Crusades in order to save the Holy Land from infidels. After all, no monotheistic religion can bear the faithful of another religion. When faith is burning in one’s bones, logic and common sense grow silent.


This was the case in the past, and apparently this is happening right before our eyes at this time. For dozens of years, the conflict vis-à-vis Arab states, and particularly with the Palestinians, was managed in the pragmatic theater, mostly around the notion of partitioning the land. Religious values and birthrights supported other considerations.


While there was always a religious and fanatic minority, leaders always knew how to isolate it rather than be led by it. Each side realized that turning this historical conflict into a religious one is destructive and would lead to explosion. The centrifuges at the mosques and synagogues could fan the flames of religion and lead to disaster.


Ongoing leadership crisis

Yet it appears that the delicate status quo in managing this complex conflict has been distorted in recent years. A global wave of religious fundamentalism is sweeping through our region too; and not only in Islamic states, but rather, in Israel as well. Under the new circumstances, religious values are shifting to the center of the political spectrum and a fanatical religious minority is able to sweep the entire camp. A growing wave of “Messiah Now” has crossed the Green Line and is now threatening to sweep the entire Jewish public.


So why is it happening? First, religion had always provided a comprehensive response to the complexity of life and also to conflict with rivals. Just stick to your faith and you shall defeat the enemy. Secondly, the secular public and its leaders sank into the luxury of economic abundance, a sort of hedonistic escapism, while failing to come up with a convincing alternative for managing and resolving the conflict.


Finally, the limited ability to manage the conflict in a pragmatic and tolerable manner has to do with the ongoing crisis in our political leadership. Upon the departure of our founding fathers, the political arena became the default choice for mediocre people who failed to find their place in other systems.


Most prominent in this respect are the military leaders who shifted to politics, only to have their intellectual shallowness fully exposed. In order to be accepted into and survive in the political arena, these former army chiefs and senior officers adopted, for lack of other choice, traditional thinking patterns including religious values adhered to by the fanatic minority.


What’s more simplistic and convenient than enlisting public support via zealous and overly passionate rhetoric? This is the essence of the leadership crisis and the difference between a leader and a politician: A leader is capable of shaping the public’s views and leading it to new and unconventional paths, while a politician is led by the public and remains a captive of its urges.


The wretched conflict in our region has always been positioned on top of a powder keg about to blow up at any moment. The nuclear fuse is indeed new, yet the question was and remains as follows: How do we keep it, along with the religious fuse, away from reckless hands?


The real leadership test requires resourcefulness in order to restrain religious aspirations on both sides, isolate the fanatical and active minority, and shift the management of the conflict vis-à-vis the Arab world back to a pragmatic and rational approach.


Professor Dan Caspi, Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Communication Studies


פרסום ראשון: 12.15.09, 12:08
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