Op-eds

The Ghosts of Religious Wars Past Are Rattling in Iraq: Op-Ed by Dean Stavridis

Foreign Policy

Dean Stavridis The Fletcher School

As Sunnis and Shiites tear their societies apart throughout parts of the Arab world, old ghosts are indeed rattling from the eastern Mediterranean and Levant to the northern Arabian Gulf. We watch with horror and near disbelief as radicalized elements on both sides of the Islamic faith take up arms in Iraq and Syria in increasingly vicious ways. But in the West, we have seen this play out before: in the Christian faith, during the wars of the Reformation.

From the early 1500s to the mid-1600s, Protestants and Catholics tore Europe apart, killing perhaps a third of the population in parts of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, with brutal casualty rates in many other parts of the continent and the British Isles. Coincidentally, this was the moment when Christianity was about 1,500 years old -- roughly the length of time since the founding of Islam to the present.

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