Iraq, Islam, and Religion and Politics

An article in today’s NY Times calls attention to the largely economic–and not religious or ideological–motivation behind the Sunni insurgency in Iraq:

“In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to American officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.

Although many American military officials and politicians — and even the Iraqi public — use the term Al Qaeda as a synonym for the insurgency, some American and Iraqi experts say they believe that the number of committed religious ideologues remains small.”

So if it’s money, and not religion, then what of the West’s fear of Islam? What of the “New Atheist” argument that Iraq is just the latest exhibit of why religion should be purged from public life?

Of course, reality isn’t as simple as the article suggests. Just as war (or anything else) can’t be reduced to conflicting spiritual beliefs, nor can it be reduced to purely economic logic. The reduction to “beliefs” is the West’s error since the Thirty Years War, and the reduction to economics is the West’s error since Marx. In Iraq, Tibet, Washington, D.C., … in all politics we find irreducible, inseparable mixtures of beliefs about the way the cosmos works–“religion”–with the concerns of a near-sighted pragmatism–be it “economics” or whatever.



  1. 1

    Brilliant post, my friend.

    “So if it’s money, and not religion, then what of the West’s fear of Islam?” I think that fear is written even more clearly in economic terms: we fear not so much the loss of our lives, but the loss of our way of life, which is predominantly a lifestyle fueled by economic power. The Marxist reading is perhaps easier to apply. But as you say, no war is easily reducible. That continuing “Manifest Destiny” combination of faith and economics creates a frightening seedbed for self-righteous war.

  2. 2
    Martha Says:

    I think the West is fearful of a lot of things. Monetarily speaking, we are worried if the Sunnis are stealing oil and selling it on the black market, that money will buy dangerous things, such as weapons, bombs etc. I also think it makes us nervous to know there is a lot of money underground that could potentially place our fate in the hands of terrorists.

    Religion will play a role in why we are frightened by Middle Eastern cultures. We don’t understand and quite frankly don’t care to take the time to understand. We question their religion because we think a lot extremists are Islamic. What we don’t realize is when we have issues with poverty, many people fall back on religion and it so happens in their afterlife, Muslims will be given a rich prosperous life.

    Sadly, many fail to recognize the reasoning behind the Islamic faith; a faith, some would interpret, as a religion that began as a means of restoring peace out of the disorder from polytheistic rituals of war gods.

    But yes, we cannot categorize people simply by their religion when so many other factors are at play.

  3. 3
    elcaballo Says:


    Thanks for your comment. Your right, and this is sad, that we don’t take much time to understand Islam or the various cultures we demonize. This lack of understanding really undermined the early Iraq reconstruction efforts, and probably still has incalculable effects.

    I will express some caution with the phrase “people fall back on religion.” I’m not sure if you meant it like this, but sometimes people say that as if religion could be an added extra to human culture, something people only take refuge in when times are bad. Religion, in my opinion, is basic to human culture and shouldn’t be reduced to dealing with the tragic. But that’s not to undermine the validity of your insight, which I take to be that people do use religion for their own ends when times are bad, and this use is often quite pernicious.


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