Religious tribalism - What's the cure?
(The Charleston Gazette, Oct. 18, 2000)

MILLIONS of words are pouring forth about the renewed Mideast violence, but few address the root of this horror, and many similar horrors.

The phenomenon called "religious tribalism" causes tragedy around the globe.

For example, children born in Ulster acquire a family identity of either Catholic or Protestant, which imposes a label on them throughout their lives. They live in separate neighborhoods, suspicious of the dreaded "other," always fearful of an attack, always primed to retaliate.

The same principle applies in the former Yugoslavia, where Muslim-Catholic-Orthodox atrocities occurred - and Sudan, where Christian-Muslim war has been roiling since the 1950s - and India, where Hindu-Sikh-Muslim murders never stop - and Sri Lanka, where Buddhist-Hindu conflict has killed nearly 100,000 people - and Lebanon, which was nearly destroyed by religio-ethnic warfare in the 1980s - etc.

Actually, religion is rather incidental to these tragedies. It merely divides people into alien ethnic groups who mistrust each other. Then they grow paranoid over political power, economic inequality and other social antagonisms - and fear that the other side is arming against them. In Sri Lanka, for example, the minority Hindu Tamils are bitter because the majority Buddhist Sinhalese impose their language and religious holidays on the whole society.

The current Mideast nightmare is another sad example of this tribalism. Nobody knows a cure. But the United Nations - supposedly the planet's peacemaker - should get busy seeking a solution.