Recommended Readings for Oct 21st Event: Religion: Friend or Foe? R2P and the Syrian Dilemma

Our events this season focused on changing state power, specifically in reference to Canada and the United States. With our upcoming event, the focus switches to states’ actions in an increasingly complex world. Prospects of Western intervention in the Syrian conflict is a difficult issue with important ramifications for the future of international security. One aspect of the conflict, religion, has been written about continuously in Western media and yet many experts question whether the West truly understands the relationship between religion and conflict in the Middle East.


The first reading is by one of the October 29th speakers, Mr. Omer Aziz, writing with Mr. Renad Mansour. It argues that Harper was right not to intervene in Syria. Mr. Aziz outlines the five necessary conditions for the use of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle to be justified: “Harm to civilians is occurring; the primary purpose of intervention is to halt this harm; all other avenues have been exhausted; the means used are proportional; and, crucially, any sort of intervention does not cause more harm than good.” Aziz and Mansour argue that an intervention into Syria fails the 3rd and 5th conditions. Alternatively, the authors argue for a political solution to the conflict as there are “300,000 reserve troops, 60,000 air defense troops, and a deeply entrenched military-intelligence complex loyal to the regime” in Syria and thus “Mr. Assad is not going anywhere.” Aziz and Mansour see Canada’s contribution to stabilizing Syria as more of a “peacemaker” role, to help the “disparate parties on the ground together to find a political solution at Geneva later this summer” and to provide humanitarian and refugee relief.


The second article comes from the Harvard Divinity School, written by William T. Cavanaugh, and it attempts to debunk conventional wisdom surrounding religion and conflict. The author argues that the belief that “Christianity, Islam, and other faiths are more inclined toward violence than ideologies and institutions that are identified as “secular”” is inaccurate. According to the article, the separation of religion from secular institutions, especially political ones is “an invention from the modern West.” This belief has helped “reinforce and justify Western attitudes and policies toward the non-Western world, especially Muslims, whose primary point of difference with the West is their stubborn refusal to tame religious passions in the public sphere. The liberal nation-state is essentially a peacemaker.”


Our final reading is a book of essays and articles entitled Believers in Battlespace: Religion, Ideology, and War. The book’s introduction and final two essays are written by Dr. Peter Denton, one of the speakers for the October 29th event, who argues that “(a)s religion has been implicated in most of the conflicts in recent global history, understanding the relationship between religious belief and conflict in the 21st century is crucial.” Denton states that our commonly held beliefs on religion are “both simplistic and misleading,” and we in the West, including Canada, draw an artificial line between religious and secular institutions. Denton further argues that since the September 11th attacks, “few people have difficulty recognizing the fanatical and extremist elements associated with some people claiming ties to the Islamic religious tradition.” However we must also “consider the extent to which the larger problems of our time reflect fanaticism on all sides.”

Caitlin Reid

Event Coordinator and Administrative Assistant

Canadian International Council – Toronto Branch


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