- This article concentrates on sectarianism as conflict between groups. For sectarianism as a characteristic of sects, see sect.
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.
The ideological underpinnings of attitudes and behaviours labelled as sectarian are extraordinarily varied. Members of a religious or political group may believe that their own salvation, or the 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 converted or purged.
Sometimes a group that is under economic or political pressure will kill or attack members of another group which it regards as 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 support 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.
The phrase "sectarian conflict" usually refers to violent conflict along religious or political lines such as the conflicts between Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland (religious and class-divisions may play major roles as well). It may also refer to general philosophical, political disparity 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 throughout the world. Wherever people of different religions live in close proximity to each other, religious sectarianism can often be found in varying forms and degrees. In some areas, religious sectarians (for example Protestant and Catholic Christians) now[update] exist peacefully side-by-side for the most part. Within Islam however, there has been conflict at various periods between Sunnis and Shias; Shi'ites consider Sunnis to be damned, due to their refusal to accept the first Caliph as Ali and accept all following descendants of him as infallible and divinely guided. Many Sunni religious leaders, including those inspired by Wahhabism and other ideologies have declared Shias to be heretics and/or apostates.
The historical usage of the term sect in Christendom has had pejorative connotations, referring to a group or movement with heretical beliefs or practices that deviate from those of groups considered orthodox.
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Since the 12th century there has been sectarian conflict of varying intensity in Ireland. This religious sectarianism is connected to a degree with nationalism. This has been particularly intense in Northern Ireland since the early 17th century plantation of Ulster under James I. Sectarian tensions can be found in other regions of the British Isles to this day, including Scotland (with some fans of football clubs such as Celtic and Rangers indulging in sectarian chants) (see: Sectarianism in Glasgow), Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere.
Historically, some Catholic countries once persecuted Protestants 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 crypto-Jews but also 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 was introduced with the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, Catholics were forbidden from voting, becoming MP's or buying land in Ireland.
As of 2010[update], bigotry and discrimination in employment are usually restricted to 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, due 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 pre-Reformation Catholic era. Northern Ireland has introduced a Private Day of Reflection, since 2007, to mark the transition to a post-[sectarian] conflict society, an initiative of the cross-community Healing through Remembering organisation and research project.
The civil wars in the Balkans which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s 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.
Sectarianism in Australia is a historical legacy from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, between Catholics of mainly Celtic heritage and Protestants of mainly English descent.
Middle East and Asia
Sultan Selim the Grim, regarding the Shia Qizilbash as heretics, reportedly proclaimed that "the killing of one Shiite had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians." In 1511, a pro-Shia revolt known as Şahkulu Rebellion was brutally suppressed by the Ottomans: 40,000 were massacred on the order of the sultan.
Some have argued that Iraqi society was largely not sectarian during the rule of Saddam Hussein. However the Sunni population was favoured by Saddam. Certain elements of the Iraqi insurgency and foreign terrorist organizations who came to Iraq after the fall of Saddam have targeted Shias in sectarian attacks. Following the civil war, the Sunnis have complained of discrimination 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 Sunnis of Iraq. One possible scenario envisages splitting Iraq into three: 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 split into Hindu-dominant India and Muslim-dominant Pakistan in 1947. After a two-year trial, Malaysia split into Malay-dominant Malaysia and Chinese-dominant Singapore in 1965.
Sectarianism has been described as a characteristic feature of the Syrian civil war. The sharpest split is between the ruling minority Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, and the country's Sunni Muslim majority, mostly aligned with the opposition.
Lebanon's religious divisions are extremely complicated, with Lebanese society made of a multitude of religious groupings. Sectarianism in Lebanon was chosen to enable 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 (1989) ended the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), power remains divided among different groups.
The political system makes both intersectarian marriages and civil non-religious unions difficult.
Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim countries the world, has seen serious Shia-Sunni sectarian violence. Almost 80 - 90% of Pakistan's Muslim population is Sunni, and another 10 - 20% are Shia.  However, this Shia minority forms the second largest Shia population of any country, larger than the Shia majority in Iraq.
In the last two decades, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan, 300 in 2006. Among the culprits blamed for the killing are Al Qaeda working "with local sectarian groups" to kill what they perceive as Shi'a apostates, and "foreign powers ... trying to sow discord."
The BBC reported that "Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority is being targeted by hardline Buddhists. ... There have also been assaults on churches and Christian pastors but it is the Muslims who are the most concerned."
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. Libertarianism is similarly susceptible to fissiparous tendencies of its own. The Boston Tea Party splintered off from the Libertarian Party, due to the former being completely opposed to all government. Also, geo-libertarians are often disliked by other libertarians.
The Monty Python film The Life of Brian has a well-known joke in which various Judean groups, indistinguishable to an outsider, are more concerned with in-fighting than with their nominal aim of opposing Roman rule.
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- Communalism (South Asia)
- Ethnic cleansing
- Religious segregation
- Sectarian violence
- "Lahore bomb raises sectarian questions". BBC News. January 10, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- Wilson, Bryan Religion in Sociological Perspective 1982, ISBN 0-19-826664-2 Oxford University Press page 89
"In English, it is a term that designates a religiously separated group, but in its historical usage in Christendom it carried a distinctly pejorative connotation. A sect was a movement committed to heretical beliefs and often to ritual acts and practices like isolation that departed from orthodox religious procedures."
- Private Day of Reflection : Ireland
- Healing through Remembering : Ireland
- "Central African Republic: Ethnic cleansing and sectarian killings". Amnesty International. February 12, 2014.
- "Eight dead in Central African Republic capital, rebel leaders flee city". Reuters. January 26, 2014.
- Jalāl Āl Aḥmad (1982). Plagued by the West. Translated by Paul Sprachman. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. ISBN 978-0-88206-047-7.
- H.A.R. Gibb & H. Bowen, "Islamic society and the West", i/2, Oxford, 1957, p. 189
- "Iraqi Sunnis demand abuse inquiry". BBC News. November 16, 2005. Retrieved 2007-05-12.
- "Pakistan - International Religious Freedom Report 2008". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
- "Pakistan, Islam in". Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2013-04-19. "Approximately 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim. The majority are Sunnis following the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Between 10 and 15 percent are Shiis, mostly Twelvers."
- "Shiite-Sunni conflict rises in Pakistan," by David Montero, February 02, 2007
- "The hardline Buddhists targeting Sri Lanka's Muslims". BBC. March 25, 2013.