arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations
of a religion
or the factions
of a political movement
The ideological underpinnings of attitudes and behaviors labeled as sectarian are extraordinarily varied. Members of a religious or political group may feel that their own salvation, or success of their particular objectives, requires aggressively seeking converts from other groups; adherents of a given faction may believe that for the achievement of their own political or religious project their internal opponents must be purged. Sometimes a group feeling itself to be under economic or political pressure will attack members of another group thought to be responsible for its own decline. It may also more rigidly define the definition of "orthodox" belief within its particular group or organisation, and expel or excommunicate those who do not agree with this newfound clarified definition of political or religious 'orthodoxy.' In other cases, dissenters from this orthodoxy will secede from the orthodox organisation and proclaim themselves as practitioners of a reformed belief system, or holders of a perceived former orthodoxy. At other times, sectarianism may be the expression of a group's nationalistic or cultural ambitions, or exploited by demagogues.
A sectarian conflict usually refers to violent conflict along religious and political lines such as the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland (although political beliefs, ethnicity and class-divisions all played major roles as well). It may also refer to general philosophical, political or armed conflict between different schools of thought such as that between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Non-sectarians espouse that free association and tolerance of different beliefs are the cornerstone to successful peaceful human interaction. They espouse political and religious pluralism.
Sectarianism is present in all parts of the world. Wherever religious sectarians compete, religious sectarianism is found in varying forms and degrees. In some areas, religious sectarians (for example Protestant and Catholic Christians
in the United States
) now exist peacefully side-by-side for the most part. In others, some nominal Catholics and Protestants have been in fierce conflict – one recent example of this was in Northern Ireland, although the conflict was condemned by some Catholic and all Protestant leaders. Within Islam
, there has been conflict at various periods between Sunnis and Shias; certain Sunni sects inspired by Wahhabism
and other ideologies have declared Shias (and sometimes mainstream Sunnis) to be heretics
are two notable contemporary examples.
- See also: the Troubles, Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland
Since the 17th century, there has been sectarian conflict of varying intensity in Ireland. This religious sectarianism is bound up with nationalism. This has been particularly intense in Northern Ireland since the Irish Free State became independent in 1922. Irish emigration has taken this conflict to other lands, including Scotland (with some fans of football clubs such as Rangers and Celtic indulging in sectarian chants) (see: Sectarianism in Glasgow), Newfoundland, Canada's Maritime provinces, New York State, Ontario, Liverpool, and elsewhere. See also Know-Nothings for anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States.
In Catholic countries, Protestants have historically been persecuted as heretics. For example, the substantial Protestant population of France (the Huguenots) was expelled from the kingdom in the 1680s following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In Spain, the Inquisition sought to root out not only Protestantism but also crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims (moriscos); elsewhere the Papal Inquisition held similar goals.
In most places where Protestantism is the majority or 'official' religion, there have been examples of Catholics being persecuted. In countries where the Reformation was successful, this often lay in the perception that Catholics retained allegiance to a 'foreign' power (the Papacy), causing them to be regarded with suspicion. Sometimes this mistrust manifested itself in Catholics being subjected to restrictions and discrimination, which itself led to further conflict. For example, before Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Catholics were forbidden from voting, becoming MP's or buying land in Ireland.
Today, bigotry and discrimination in employment are usually relegated a few places where extreme forms of religion are the norm, or in areas with a long history of sectarian violence and tension, such as Northern Ireland (especially in terms of employment; however, this is dying out in this jurisdiction, thanks to strictly-enforced legislation. Reverse discrimination now takes place in terms of employment quotas which are now applied). In places where more 'moderate' forms of Protestantism (such as Anglicanism / Episcopalianism) prevail, the two traditions do not become polarized against each other, and usually co-exist peacefully. Especially in England, sectarianism is nowadays almost unheard of. However in Western Scotland (where Calvinism and Presbyterianism are the norm) sectarian divisions can still sometimes arise between Catholics and Protestants. Indeed, in the early years following the Scottish Reformation there was actually internal sectarian tension between Church of Scotland Presbyterians and 'High Church' Anglicans, whom they regarded as having retained too many attitudes and practices from the Catholic era.
The civil wars in the Balkans which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia have been heavily tinged with sectarianism. Croats and Slovenes have traditionally been Catholic, Serbs and Macedonians Eastern Orthodox, and Bosniaks and most Albanians Muslim. Religious affiliation served as a marker of group identity in this conflict, despite relatively low rates of religious practice and belief among these various groups after decades of communism.
Protestant Ascendancy and anti-Irishness as founding cultures of the nascent Australia
During the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Australia was a sectarian society divided between Catholics — predominantly but not exclusively of Irish
background — on the one hand and Protestants of British
heritage on the other . The British military
authorities who founded the penal colony
of New South Wales
in 1788 brought anti-Catholic, Anglican Ascendancy
sectarianism with them: the settlement was perpetually on high alert in case of risings led by exiled
Irish political prisoners
— there were rebellions in Ireland in 1798
and many involved had been transported to Australia — in the context of war with republican France
. No Catholic chaplains were permitted in the colony for its first thirty years.
Maltreatment of Irish prisoners
In 1804, Irish prisoners staged a successful but doomed uprising
. Traditional Protestant British state-hatred of the "Catholic Irish" coalesced with contemporary fears of a pro-French republican fifth column and the Irish convicts and settlers — most of whom spoke Irish
as their community language until the 1850s — represented a separate ethnos
to be kept under constant suspicion and both formal and informal surveillance. Ironically, many of the Irish republican
convicts who were prisoners after the 1798 rebellion
were, in fact, Protestants. Nonetheless, it is recorded that predominantly Catholic Irish-speaking prisoners were frequently singled out for physical maltreatment by the authorities and sometimes murdered by English
convicts for speaking Irish on the basis that it was a conspiratorial tongue.
Loyalism as state culture
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the immediate threat of an Irish convict seizure of the penal colony largely evaporated, though anti-Irish
and anti-Catholic suspicions did not, particularly given the massive Irish migration occurring as a consequence of the Great Irish Famine
between 1845-1849. Irish involvement in the Eureka Stockade
in 1854 and the transportation of Fenians
(including their subsequent rescue
) in the 1860s meant loyalism
and Protestant ascendancy (including Orangeism
) remained pre-eminent values in the colony in the second half of the nineeteenth century, with most Protestant Australians of English and Scottish background strongly attached to British imperialism
as their core identities — at the time, British imperialism, loyalism and notions of innate Protestant and Anglo-Saxon supremacy
were mutually reinforcing, though some Catholics in the Australian colonies attained positions of power by adopting vocally loyalist public postures.
Position of Irish Catholics and Anglo-Scottish Protestants
However, because Irish Catholics were a greater proportion of the population in Australia than they had been in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
, they enjoyed an ostensibly more level playing field when it came to community relations. This was particularly noticeable in civic society, where the increasingly urban Irish Catholic
population played a disproportionate role in the labour movement
(including the foundation of the Australian Labor Party
) in direct opposition to the disproportionate role in business played by Anglicans
who were typically involved in conservative
politics. Sectarian antipathy between the two blocs characterised Australian society and politics in the 1920s and 1930s with Protestants using Freemasonry
to express a solidarity based on social and political anti-Catholic attitudes . This developed into a strong and mythic tendency — sustained until the 1950s — for most Catholics to vote Labor and for most Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists to vote for their conservative opponents.
Events in Ireland affect Australia
Towards the end of nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, growing unrest in Ireland — for example, the Land War
— constantly fed sectarian tensions between Catholics of Irish nationalist
background and Protestants of British unionist
background. This divide became starkly and bitterly apparent during the First World War
Protestants were reflexively enthusiastic supporters of the war and conscription
, in line with the establishment culture of loyalism; conversely, Irish Catholics were reflexively critical of both . When the Australian government
tried to introduce conscription it was defeated — on two occasions by referendum
) — leading to a split in the ALP. Prominent Irish Catholic campaigners against the war and conscription such as Archbishop Daniel Mannix
were widely denounced in public as traitors by Protestants . The 1916 Easter Rising
in Ireland heightened the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic atmosphere, even though most prominent Catholics — including Archbishop Mannix — condemned the Rising.
Empire loyalism resurgent
The Irish War of Independence
worsened community relations in Australia even further. Anglo-Australian
Protestants saw the First World War as a definitive loyalist experience in which Australia had contributed significantly to the honour and prestige of the British Empire
and organised loyalist rallies to counter those calling for Irish self-government
; with the same reasoning, they considered Irish Australian Catholics with Irish nationalist sympathies to be treacherous— regardless of the fact that large numbers of Irish Australian Catholics had signed up, fought in the Australian contingents of the British army and been killed in Europe. Anglo-Australian Protestant ex-serviceman formed loyalist paramilitary
organisations in preparation for a final confrontation with Irish Australian Catholics in an atmosphere of severe sectarian and ethnic suspicion . After the Anglo-Irish Treaty
, partition of Ireland
and Irish Civil War
, sectarianism became less explicit but did not disappear: Australian conservatives — primarily Protestant — were still strongly loyalist and antipathetic to the existence of the 'disloyal' Irish Free State
Second World War
Nevertheless, with the entry of Australia into the Second World War
there was no repeat of the public anti-Catholic denunciations that had characterised society in 1914, even when in 1941 the British garrison at Singapore fell to the Japanese, leaving Australia largely undefended. Large numbers of Catholics and Protestants alike joined up to fight with Australian formations during the war. Similarly, when Australian troops fought in the Korean War
and Viet Nam War
, sectarianism did not pit Protestant against Catholic in supporting or opposing either conflict. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth
in 1953 and her tour around Australia in 1954 did not attract sectarian comment, either in terms of calls of 'disloyalty' from Anglo-Australian Protestants to Irish Australian Catholics, or in terms of calls of 'fawning' from vice versa. One commentator considers that anti-Catholic sectarianism in Australia expired in the 1950s when the predominantly Protestant conservative government of the time agreed to state aid for Catholic schools .
Nonetheless, the Australia of the 1950s was still an Australia in which notions of Catholicism and Protestantism, loyalism and disloyalism, were of everyday noteworthiness. Catholics were still associated with Irishness, and Protestants with Britishness, though as Australia developed further away from Britain the division became less bitter. This was enabled in part by the mass migration in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s of large numbers of non-British and non-Irish settlers, primarily from Italy
, and Eastern Europe
. Old enmities simply made less sense in this new cosmopolitan demographic environment.
What is more, the entry of Britain into the Common Market
in 1973 devalued the long-cherished Anglo-Australian Protestant value of loyalism. Around the same time, republicanism in Australia
, largely divested of its historical insinuations, became a real possibility with the election of — and subsequent dismissal of — the Whitlam
Labor Government , which dismantled many of the old imperial symbolism that had hitherto characterised Australian public office These reforms were continued during the 1980s and led, ultimately, to the Australia Act
of 1986 which removed the power of the British Parliament
to legislate for Australia.
Echoes of sectarianism
Thus the old sectarian divide — or, indeed, the British-Irish divide — had largely metamorphosised into a debate around the extent to which Australia, an independent country, should retain symbolic manifestations of its historic links to Britain, though anti-Irish sentiment resurfaced in the 1970s and 1980s. Recognition, however, that sectarianism as an everyday influence
was a thing of the past was most clearly seen in the Republic referendum
campaign in 1999, where a number of commentators suggested that, broadly speaking, monarchists
were more likely to be Protestants of British background and republicans were more likely to be Catholics of Irish background and that the republic debate itself risked resurrecting sectarian enmity between the two groups.
In contemporary Australia, sectarianism between Catholic and Protestant is extant but minimal and occasionally raises comment , though the issue intermittently reappears — for example, in discussion of sexual abuse being associated with certain denominations, or when politicians are said to follow their faith more than the public interest in deciding matters of public policy . Furthermore, public sectarianism in Australia today is more likely to be manifested in terms of a Christian-Muslim divide than a Catholic-Protestant one, and at least one commentator has stated that sectarianism in contemporary Australia is best described in terms of secularists
versus religious .
India and Sri Lanka
In India, sectarianism is known as communalism, which refers particularly to conflict between the Hindu and Muslim communities. It can also refer to Hindu/Sikh conflict and Hindu/Christian conflicts. While communalism usually implies economic communalism, in this sense it refers to the sectarians' "community." Violence in Sri Lanka between the HinduTamil, and the Sinhalese and Muslim communities often has heavy sectarian overtones. In the 1980's for example, the Hindu LTTE group expelled all Muslims from areas under its control. The expulsion of Muslims was later used as a model for the expulsion of Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir in 1990.
In Pakistan, there has been a history of sectarian violence and unrest since the 1970s, although much of the violence may be attributed to non-theological clashes over tribal lands, rivalries, and class-disputes. Almost all relations between Shias and Sunnis are peaceful, and there exists a large degree of intermarriage between the two communities. Further, many prominent Shias play an important political role in the country - the late Benazir Bhutto is believed to have been Shia, for example. However, sporadic violence between the two communities is often initiated by extremists on both sides, particularly in South Punjab.
In the early years of sectarian conflict, extremist Sunnis clashed with Ahmadis
, until they were declared non-Muslims in 1974 by ultraconservative judges on Pakistan's supreme court; who were handpicked by the Pakistani dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq. The judges were under strong pressure from both Sunnis and Shias to declare the Ahmadis as such. Under continuing rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq
, sectarianism in Pakistan, especially in Karachi
and South Punjab, became quite violent as the began his process of Islamization
began in the Pakistani judicial system. Social laws, which had been tolerant of the open-sale of alcohol, intermingling of the sexes, etc. were severely curtailed by Zia's laws, although hardliners in both the Shia and Sunni camps were largely in favor of his restrictions. The process eventually came upon issues in which Sunni and Shia viewpoints differed. In such instances Zia favored the Sunni interpretation of Islam over the Shia one, causing a rift between the two communities.
Because of massive Saudi assistance to Pakistan in the 1980's, Zia began to shift his favor away from local variants of Sunnism (which were largely tolerant of Shias) towards the far more more intolerant Saudi style of Sunnism known as Wahhabism
. Much of the violent sectarian conflict can be attributed to the introduction of Wahabbism, which is fundementally anti-Shia, and gained notoriety in mainstream Sunni Islam after the destruction of the Shia holy shrine of Imam Hussein
, in 1800. Saudi funded arms soon flooded into the country as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. While the arms were meant to be directed to Afghan fighters, many inevitably ended up in the hands of newly formed Wahhabi paramilitary groups. However, the Wahhabist paramilitary groups attacked not only Shias, but anyone who they felt was not a true Muslim, including Sufis
, who have largely influenced the practice of Sunnism in Pakistan.
At the same time, the revolutionary government in Iran
began funding local Shia militants in order to combat Wahabbists. The groups would not only exact revenge against Sunnis, but would also attack Iranian dissidents in Pakistan (particularly in Karachi) who were critical of the Iranian regime. The Iranian-backed Shia militant groups, such as the Tehreek-e-Jaffriya, would often battle against Saudi-back Sunni groups. Thus, a proxy-war between Iran and Saudi Arabia raged in Pakistan, while the Americans and Soviets fought a proxy-war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Spread of Sectarianism
During the 80's and early 90's, violence spread as Shia mourning processions during the period of Ashura
frequently came under attack from Saudi-backed Wahabbi extremists. Despite the attacks from Wahabbi extremists, many mainstream Sunnis would visit the processions to show their own reverence for historical Shia figures. However according to Wahabbis, the local Sunnis were acting un-Islamic in their participation in Shia rituals, and were considered legitimate targets as such. In response, Iranian-backed Shia militant groups would often attack Wahabbi mosques, and events staged by Wahabbists. Also at the time, old rivalries took on a more sectarian nature in the areas around Gilgit
, and Skardu
as Saudi and Iranian paramilitary groups spread their influence.
Sectarianism as a Class Conflict in Punjab
In South Punjab, sectarian violence is most deadly. However, violence is often rooted class-disputes, and not theological arguments. Most of the wealthy and powerful estate-owners in the region of Shia, while their tenants are poorer Sunnis. Sectarianism feeds off the class tension, which may explain why sectarianism is more prominent there then elsewhere in Punjab where Sunnis and Shias belong to similar economic classes.
Sectarianism as a Triban Conflict in the Northwest Frontier
Tribal clashes between Pashtun
tribes in the Northwest Frontier Province have also taken on a sectarian nature, with the Shia Orakzai tribe often battling with their Sunni neighbors. These clashes are centered around the town of Bannu, and have often turned deadly. However, the conflict is rooted in centuries' old land disputes, and has only taken on a sectarian nature since the the fanatic Taliban regime came into power in nearby Afghanistan
in the 1990's.
In the early part of the new millennium, the names of Shia doctors and lawyers were listed on anonymously paid-for newspaper ads; these were, in fact, assassination
hit lists - those listed were systematically assassinated by extremist the Wahabbist
group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, as part of an effort to eradicate the nation of prominent Shias. A new wave sectarian violence erupted when a Sunni suicide bombing
of a Shia
mosque in Iraq in 2003 took place.
Waning of Violence
Since 2003, sectarianism in Pakistan has considerably waned, and only a few instances of sectarian violence have been reported. Of these, the majority stem from the tribal conflict in Bannu, while attacks in Karachi, Gilgit, and Punjab have almost entirely ceased. This may be largely attributable to a new Saudi hesitance in funding extremist groups in the wake of September 11th, as that coutry is often identified as the ideological birthplace and financial source of radical Sunni extremism
Finally, although sectarianism in the Pakistani context often refers to the conflict between the majority Sunni and minority Shia traditions, this definition is misleading because violence is usually perpetrated by extremists, or sectarianism simply masks older and non-theological rivalries. Further, the two sects are not homogenous, and have their own: subsects, local variants, and different schools of thought. Moreover, up to 20% of Pakistanis are Shia, and the number of attacks in proportion to the size of the community is quite low. Additionally, there are several Shia members of Parliament, and the late Benazir Bhutto, along with her husband the current President of Pakistan, are reportedly Shia.
Middle East and Asia
Iraq's Shia population was persecuted during the presidency of Saddam Hussein, and certain elements of the Iraqi insurgency have made a point of targeting Shias in sectarian attacks. In turn, the Sunnis have complained of discrimination and human rights abuses by Iraq's Shia majority government, which is bolstered by the fact that Sunni detainees were allegedly discovered to have been tortured in a compound used by government forces on November 15 2005. This sectarianism has fueled a giant level of emigration and internal displacement.
Some people advocate an independent nation for the Shias of Iraq. The idea that Iraq could be split into Kurdistan in the north, Iraq in the center and Basra in the south. The thinking is that if each community is busy nation-building, they would not be attacking each other as they would be within a single country where the communities may be striving for political dominance at expense of other communities instead of working together. British India was split into Hindu-dominant India and Muslim-dominant Pakistan. After a two year trial, Malaysia was split into Malay-dominant Malaysia and Chinese-dominant Singapore.
Sectarianism in Lebanon was caused because of the political sharing of power. The 1943 National Pact gave the Maronite Christians, the then majority, more power than the other groups. Although the Taif agreement ended the civil war, power is still divided along sects.
Sectarianism within Judaism
Sectarianism also exists between Orthodox
Jews, with orthodox Jews often characterizing reform Jews as being non-religious, disobeying the Torah
, rarely attending shul
and adopting semi-Christian styles of worship. Reform Jews, on the other hand, often view the orthodox as being intolerant of them and of other religions, placing legalistic rules such as the observance of the Sabbath above ethical obligations, being cult-like and hostile to change.
In the political realm, to describe a group as 'sectarian' (or as practicising 'sectarianism'), is to accuse them of prioritizing differences and rivalries with politically close groups. An example might be a communist
group who are accused of devoting an excessive amount of time and energy to denouncing other communist groups rather than their common foes. However, separatist fundamentalist
Protestant political parties have proliferated, and regularly denounce one another, in New Zealand
, as can be seen from the entries on United Future New Zealand
and Future New Zealand
seems to be similarly susceptible to fissiparous tendencies of its own.
Another great example is the Stalinist denouncing of Trotskyist movements, and libertarian socialists.
The Monty Python film The Life of Brian has a well-known joke in which various Judean groups, who to an outsider are indistinguishable, are more concerned with in-fighting than with their nominal aim of opposing Roman rule. This is taken to be a parody of modern political groups.