Us vs. Them: The Root Of Conflict

Generally, definitions are used to distinguish the meaning of one word from another. They tell us what a word means and in so doing they should likely, by omission, tell us what a word doesn't mean. While a dictionary is an invaluable tool, sometimes the meaning of words cannot be understood by simply reading the definition. Occasionally it requires looking at the underlying differences or similarities with other words.

Such is the case in a current issue that may have more global significance than any we have witnessed in a number of decades. The backdrop to this issue is religious beliefs. The conflict is being played out across a huge theater that spans multiple continents and involves numerous countries. At the same time, the battle lines cannot be distinguished by continent or country...or for that matter by city or community. This issue can best be seen in two defining conflicts. They are the `war on terror' and the `culture war'. The following definitions are essential to defining the conflict, and more importantly, to begin exploring the solutions. I've gathered this information from Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster OnLine.


An educated Muslim trained in traditional religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post. Mullahs are seen to be able to give direction and make judgments based on their religious studies. Mullahs have frequently been involved in politics, but only recently have they actually taken power. Mullahs seized power in Iran in 1979, and later, in Afghanistan under the Taliban.


An evangelist is a person who preaches the Christian Gospel. Generally, evangelists are Protestants, and lead meetings known as revivals, harvest meetings or evangelistic crusades.


Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel or, by extension, any other form of preaching or proselytizing. Evangelicals generally hold that the Bible is uniquely the supreme revelation of God. The Protestant canon of the Bible is the primary, or only, source of religious authority, as God's revelation to humanity.


A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. Many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia. Although these institutions are academically assigned to provide general education, they also feel obliged to teach their students about the fundamentals of their religion.

Home Schooling:

In the United States, home schooling is the focus of a substantial movement among parents who wish to provide their children with a custom or more complete education, which they feel is unattainable in most private schools or the state governments' public schools systems. In many instances one motivation is to provide religious education along with education on traditional subjects; religious education would not be available in a public school setting, and the available private schools may be of different faiths than the family, thus making them unattractive. Some of those who home school are religious conservatives who see non-religious education as contrary to their moral or religious systems.


It is increasingly a modern phenomenon, characterized by a sense of embattled alienation in the midst of the surrounding culture, even where the culture may be nominally influenced by the adherents' religion. The term can also refer specifically to the belief that one's religious texts are infallible and historically accurate, despite possible contradiction of these claims by modern scholarship. Many groups described as fundamentalist often strongly object to this term because of the negative connotations it carries, or because it implies a similarity between themselves and other groups, which they find objectionable.


Islamism is defined as, "a political ideology that adherents would apply to contemporary governance and politics, and which they propagate through political and social activism. The `difference' between "Islam" and "Islamism" is not always distinct. For example, most followers of Islam would consider themselves "fundamentalists", insofar as believing in Islam means believing in its fundamental tenets and the authenticity of its truth claims. Similarly, Islam also promotes a vision of society and provides guidelines for social life (in much the same way as other religions).

As I view this information collectively, what strike me are the similarities rather than the differences. What is similar is the absolute nature of the beliefs and the assertion by both sides that their beliefs are indisputable. All that is different is the source of the beliefs and the conclusions made by both sides that their beliefs trump those of the opposition. From this point forward, little common ground can be found or negotiated. Both sides point out the transgressions of the other in a never ending battle to justify their actions and reach the expected, although not always logical, conclusion...the opposition must be stopped and to do so is righteous and good.

Fortunately, there is another word that exists to counteract this dilemma. Perhaps it is the only definition needed at this point. To accept this would require modifying the above definitions. It's a difficult obstacle to overcome but it may soon be our only viable alternative.


Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own. Tolerance is a social, cultural and religious term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which one may not approve. It is usually applied to non-violent, consensual behavior, often involving religion, sex, or politics. It rarely permits violent behavior.

more observations here:

Tags: fundamentalism, Islamism, religion, Tolerance (all tags)


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