What We Know – and Don’t Know – about Religious Civil Wars

Image ‘Nigeria Unrest’ courtesy of Diariocritico de Venezuela/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 23 May 2018.

Ongoing civil wars in Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Uganda illustrate the need to better understand religious dimensions of armed conflicts. In a recent article published in Journal of Conflict Resolution, we provide new data on religion and conflict worldwide – during the time period 1975-2015 – which can help inform our understanding of the religious dimensions of armed conflicts. Drawing on the data and findings presented in that article, we shed light on three widely held beliefs concerning religious conflicts.


1 Malaysia No More?

Church in Malacca, Malaysia, photo: HKmPUA /flickr
Church in Malacca, Malaysia, photo: HKmPUA /flickr

After a tense weekend, the Malaysian online news media is teeming with commentaries on the controversy regarding the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians in Malaysia and the subsequent arson attacks against Christian churches in and around the capital.

The camps, quite predictably, are divided along the pro-Malay, pro-government camp, made up primarily of pious Malay Muslims, devoted to the concept of a Malay-dominated Malaysia and opposed to the use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim contexts, and Malaysians (Muslims, Christians and Hindus) who wish to see historically divisive Malay-dominance dismantled and genuine pluralism embraced in its place.

Although Prime Minister Najib Razak was quick to condemn the attacks, even twitteringIt’s been a difficult weekend for all. I share your outrage. We must stand united & not allow these incidents to break us,” outrage and dismay over the government’s pro-ban stance is boiling over. So far venting from the pluralist camp has been confined to cyberspace, although it is not so clear how long non-Malay calm will last if ethnic rifts continue to deepen.