Religious wars to make a comeback in 2019
by Bernardo Cervellera

Celebrating Christmas and New Year are banned in Iraq, India and China because they are "foreign” festivities. Christianity is associated with the West. Religious opposition is politically motivated, in the West as well. The United States and the United Kingdom want to defend Christians in the Middle East but have provided weapons that have ended up in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria. In Italy, some politicians have warned against an "Islamic invasion" but have failed to adopt policies that help families and boost the birthrate. Building bridges and working for coexistence in mutual respect and witness should be the goal.


Rome (AsiaNews) – Based on how 2018 is ending, it appears likely that religious wars will make a comeback in 2019. Some of signs are there to be seen.

The latest is the fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti of Iraq Abdul-Mehdi al-Sumaidaie, who in a sermon on Friday, banned all Muslims from celebrating Christmas with Christians and the New Year because this means they "believe in the Christians' religious doctrine".

Apart from defining the New Year festivities as "Christian", the Mufti's attitude is not new. It follows indications coming from Saudi Arabia and spread by several imams in France that ban Muslims from wishing "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year" to Christians.

This attitude is echoed in India by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, a Goa-based organisation, which two days ago urged all Indians not to celebrate "the Christian New Year" because it leads to "perversion" among young people. Instead, the group calls on its compatriots to celebrate the New Year in April, during the Hindu festival of Gudhipadwa.

Samiti's attitude is only the tip of the iceberg of the fight Hindu fundamentalist groups have waged against Christian schools, churches, priests, seminarians, pastors as well as mosques and imams in order to put into practice Hindutva, the ideology according to which India can be only Hindu.

What can be said about a trend that is a throwback to the Boxer Revolution (1900) in China? Here, middle and elementary school students have been required to swear never to celebrate Christmas and New Year because they are “an aggression against Chinese culture".

To make the ban even more effective, Christmas decorations, Christmas trees and Christmas parties have been proscribed in various cities; churches have been closed and meetings of university students have been placed under close supervision.

In all these examples, grouping Christmas Mass and New Year shows that the struggle is above all against Western economic and cultural invasion. Using old clichés, Christianity is blamed for being "the religion of the West", overlooking the fact that Jesus was born in Asia and that Christians have done a lot in Iraq, India and China for those nations, paying the ultimate price in some cases.

It is important to note that, opposition is not based on economics or globalisation, but on religion without due consideration for history and differences. This is a clear case where religious antagonism is used for political reasons. All the talk about invasion serves to stir the deepest feelings of the masses and bring support to political elites, who are increasingly remote from the problems of ordinary people.

This is evident in Iraq, where people complain about the failure of redistributive policies; in India, where a fast-growing economy has left millions of poor people behind; and in China, where the economy is showing signs of weakness, with rising unemployment. Targeting an external enemy, a religious enemy, as the cause of all evil is very easy. It sets hearts ablaze favours attacks against individual Christians who are typically non-violent and easy prey.

It must be said that even in the West there is a danger that religion will be used for political ends. In the United States, top Trump administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spoken out in defence of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and China. In the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to draw up a map of the persecution of Christians and defend religious freedom in the world. Even in Italy, some politicians have tried to mobilise Christians in the defence of European civilisation against a "Muslim invasion".

To the former I would say that if they want to defend Christians in the Middle East, it would be better to stop supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, who in the past few years have supported fundamentalist groups in Syria against Christians (and all Syrians). To the latter, I would point out that "the Muslim invasion" (demographic trends indicate nothing of the sorts at least until 2100) can be simply countered with policies that favour families and children.

Thus, even in the West, political elites, increasingly distant from the people, have been exploiting religious sentiments to buttress their claim that they are "servants of the people" whilst in reality they have preparing for war to boost a faltering world economy.

All this shows that religion, deemed dead decades ago, is back in the limelight. However, to ensure that religious beliefs are not used for political reasons or war, it is necessary that religious believers in every culture build bridges – as Pope Francis always says – and work for coexistence to guarantee mutual respect and witness.

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