Winning Matters: Lessons From The Killing Fields Of Christianity, Islam And Communism

by R Jagannathan - Nov 9, 2021 02:23 PM +05:30 IST
Winning Matters: Lessons From The Killing Fields Of Christianity, Islam And CommunismSecond World War violence. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • Sheikh’s research, despite its flaws and possibly a soft corner for Islamic violence, is evidence that truth does not always triumph. Violence does, and the winner is the one who masters killing technologies, and he or she can then decide what the truth is.

Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilisations, was right when he noted that the “The west won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion…, but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

A 2009 monograph, titled Body Count, which covers the last 2,000 years of history and authored by Naveed S Sheikh (his Linked-In profile identifies him, among other things, as editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Politics, Religion and Ideology, amply attests to this fact (read his bio here). The monograph came to my notice yesterday (8 November) through a Twitter handle (Indian History, @arya_amsha). Laboriously compiled by Sheikh, the monograph seeks to do a “quantitative review of political violence across civilisations”, and was apparently motivated by Samuel Huntington’s definition of civilisations and the geographical boundaries he had indicated for each one of them.

There are problems in trying to compile political, racial, ethnic or religious violence in civilisational terms, for civilisations have fuzzy geographical boundaries, and the same civilisation could change colours over centuries. For example, most of the Middle East and northern Africa was Christian before it became Muslim, and violence that happened in the same geography cannot easily be labelled as belonging to Christian or Islamic civilisation for the people are often from the same original stock. If both civilisations seem to share the same basic ideology and imperialistic tendencies, why label one as Christian and another Islamic?

Nevertheless, the study (you can download a PDF version from here) which focuses on mass violence and genocide only from the Common Era to 2008 (CE 0 to CE 2008), offers many insights on which civilisation was the most violent, and which one the least. Sheikh mixes religious and non-religious civilisational descriptors to arrive at his conclusions.

The main conclusions of Sheikh’s monograph, which include violent deaths from war, civil war, genocide and structural violence, are the following:

One, the Christian civilisation has been the most violent of them all, accounting for deaths in the estimated range (low to high) of 119-236 million, which gives us a mid-point of 177 million over two millennia.

Two, the Indic civilisation is one of the least violent, with a low-high range of 1.3-3.4 million, and a mid-point of 2.3 million over two millennia. Less than 1 per cent of the mass violence can be traced back to Indic civilisation.

So far, no surprises here.

But where the compilation gets intriguing is how communist, Sinic and Buddhist civilisations are shown to be more violent than the Islamic one. In Sheikh’s compilation, the communist regimes (labelled as Antitheist) of the twentieth century killed more people (125 million), than the Sinic (107 million) and Buddhist (87 million) ones, with Islamic totals coming in at a rather modest 31 million. Primal-indigenous civilisations, which include the ravages of Genghis Khan, accounted for 45 million.

However, if we adjust for the fact that Islam is only 1400 years old, while Christinity is over 2000, Islam's score of 31 million killings (0.7 percent of the time available to Christianity) would rise to nearly 44-45 million - on a par with so-called Primal-Indigenous civilisations, which include Genghis Khan.

While this may entitle modern-day Islamists to claim Islam as the religion of peace, one explanation could be that events like the Second World War got labelled as Christian-Buddhist violence (with 55-72 million casualties), largely due to the entry of Japan into the conflict, while communist regimes in China, the Soviet Union and elsewhere (Pol Pot, et al) got labelled as Antitheist, even though they may have had Christian, Muslim and Buddhist elements internally. Buddhism also enters the picture through the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars of the last century, which led to many deaths.

Since the author of the monograph lays the blame for mass killings on whoever initiated the conflict, Turkish entry into the First World War on the side of the Central Powers (Germany-led) still got labelled as a Christian war as the conflict began within Christendom. It is more than likely that the Islamic role in mass killings and genocide is understated, since even India’s partition is labelled jointly as Islamic and Indic, when most of the killings were between Muslims and Sikhs ousted from western Punjab. In the east (present day Bangladesh), the genocide took decades, and the Hindu population fell from 22 per cent in 1951 to around 8-9 per cent now.

More interesting is another table, which tabulates 30 major events of genocide based on civilisational labels. Not surprisingly, 14 of these were Christian, nine Islamic, three communist, two Sinic, and one each by Buddhists and primal-indigenous civilisations. Indic civilisation scores a big zero. No genocides over the last 2,000 years. One can theoretically label the Sikh massacre of 1984 as a genocide, but the study only looks at death counts in excess of 10,000, and hence neither 1984 nor 2002 find a place.

Equally interesting is the sheer number of instances of mass murder events as opposed to their intensity. According to Sheikh’s study, of the 321 events of mass killings in CE history (0-2008), 166 were Christian in origin, and 81 Islamic. There were 19 communist events of mass murder. This suggests that 75-82 per cent of instances of mass killings were Abrahamic in origin and content, especially if we also include communism as a Western (non-theistic) idea and an extension of Abrahamic ideology. If we can include Nazi Germany’s ideology as Christian, when Hitler was openly appreciative of Islam and had only contempt for the pusillanimous church of his time, surely communism qualifies as a non-theistic form of Abrahamism?

Sheikh’s research, despite its flaws and possibly a soft corner for Islamic violence, is evidence that truth does not always triumph. Violence does, and the winner is the one who masters killing technologies, and he or she can then decide what the truth is. The Indian motto, Satyameve Jayete (Truth alone triumphs), should probably be reversed. Winning Leads To Truth. For what is truth but collective belief? As they Zimbabwean saying goes, Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. The problem is, even if the lion tells his story, once he is annihilated, his story will only be for the archives. It makes no difference to the inheritors of the hunter, who will win either way, albeit with some guilt attached.

Perhaps this was the core message of the Gita. Winning is important, never mind if one has to sometimes use unfair means for it.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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