Getting Religion? The Puzzling Case of Islam and Civil War

Toft, Monica Duffy



In 42 religious civil wars from 1940 to 2000, incumbent governments and rebels who identified with Islam were involved in 34 (81 percent), far more than those identifying with other religions, such as Christianity (21, or 50 percent) or Hinduism (7, or 16 percent). In addition, civil wars in which key actors identify as Islamic are more likely to escalate into religious civil wars than civil wars in which key actors identify with other religions.
In this article I argue that overlapping historical, geographical, and, in particular, structural factors account for Islam’s higher representation in religious civil wars. Together, the historical absence of an internecine religious war similar to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618–48), the geographic proximity of Islam’s holiest sites to Israel and large petroleum reserves, and jihad—a structural feature of Islam—explain why so many civil wars include Islamic participants. When political elites come under immediate threat, they will work to reframe issues of contention as religious issues, essentially attempting to out-bid each other in an effort to establish religious credibility and thus attract domestic and external support.
A recent empirical survey of civil wars from 1940 to 2000 revealed two fndings. First, the percentage of civil wars in which religion has become a central issue has increased over time. Second, these religious civil wars are much more destructive than wars fought over other issues: they result in more casualties and more noncombatant deaths, and they last longer. I begin by introducing the subject of religion in civil wars and then offer a definition of religion. Next I put forth a theory of religious outbidding to help explain why religion becomes a central issue in some civil wars but not in others.
I then offer three hypotheses on the role of religion in civil wars and examine
the problem of Islam’s disproportionate representation in religious civil wars from 1940 to 2000. After testing these hypotheses against a statistical data set of civil wars, I examine the case of Sudan’s two civil wars. I conclude with a discussion of some of the theoretical and foreign policy implications of religion and civil war that follow from this analysis.
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Entry Type : Uncategorized
Uploaded By : International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF)
Upload date : Saturday, 3 May 2014

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