For people in the modern world, there may be nothing more difficult to comprehend than the group calling itself the Islamic State, or ISIS. The beheadings, rapes, and other acts of cruelty seem beyond understanding, as does the wanton destruction of priceless ancient monuments. Perhaps most mystifying of all is the way ISIS has been able to recruit young men — and even some young women — from the industralized West, particularly Europe: the conventional wisdom is that the cure for ethnic and religious violence is “development,” education, and the opportunities provided by free markets. This seems not to be the case.
Because of the mainstream media’s narrow and often misplaced focus, it’s not surprising that most Westerners believe that religious extremism is primarily a problem of Islam. But the fighting in Syria and Iraq is not the only ethnic or religious conflict underway. There has been violence between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, Buddhists and Hindus in Bhutan, Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab, Eritreans and Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in the former Soviet Union, and many more. The fact is, fanaticism, fundamentalism, and ethnic conflict have been growing for many decades—and not just in the Islamic world.