Religious conflict brings complexity

Jameson Goetz Columnist

Over the past few weeks, I have grown more disheartened each day by the conflict in Syria. Regional journalists and other notable experts on Syrian affairs contend that religious tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims are playing an increasing role. In response to the situation, President Obama has called for military strikes to resolve the conflict. 

I have been thinking about one of my good friends from high school whose parents were born in Syria. He has gone years without seeing his extended family, the majority of whom still call Syria home.

I have not spoken with my friend for a few months. But every time I hear more news about the conflict in Syria, I visualize my friend sitting at home thinking about the last time he saw members of his extended family, about how he might have already seen them for the last time.

I cannot even imagine.

A few weeks into this past summer, I had a brief telephone conversation with my grandma Aileen. We talked about the end of my semester at school and my upcoming trip to New Orleans. 

A couple of weeks later, and a few days into my trip to New Orleans, I found out that brief telephone conversation would be the last time I spoke with my grandma. On May 30th, Aileen Goetz (Ahern), our family’s Irish Catholic matriarch passed away suddenly at the age of 79. 

Towards the end of my grandma’s wake service, my mom handed my sister and I two rosaries. They were our First Communion gifts from our grandmother. She bought them at the Vatican during her trip to Rome.

We ended the service by praying the full Rosary, and as I sat on the pew clutching my rosary, memories of my grandma flooded my mind. Not just my First Communion, but also my O’Gorman High School graduation, my Confirmation, and our family gatherings during Christmas and Easter. I remembered the stern, somewhat amused look on her face when my eight-year-old self explained to her that we should start opening gifts early Christmas day, rather than attend Christmas mass. 

One way or another, my fondest memories of my grandma involve my family’s Catholic tradition. My grandma’s sudden passing showed me that, regardless of how attached I feel to the Catholic faith, my religious upbringing will always play a big role in my life.

I am so grateful that I do not have to doubt whether or not I will be able to spend this Christmas with my extended family. I wish my friend could say the same, rather than have to spend each day praying for the safety of his family in Syria.

Why does his family have to go through this, but not mine?

Well, if you ask Fox News television personality Mike Huckabee, he might repeat the shortsighted analysis of the conflict in Syria he provided a month or so ago.

According to Mr. Huckabee, Muslims aren’t much more than “uncorked animals”.

According to Mr. Huckabee, my friend spends his days praying for the safety of his family in Syria because he and his family belong to a faith identity that just cannot seem to figure their stuff out. 

According to Mr. Huckabee, my friend walks around every day uncertain if he will ever see certain members of his family again because they are Muslim, they are so barbaric that it’s beyond anyone’s control.

But neither my friend, nor his family, practice Islam. They are practicing Christians.

Religious conflict is not as simple as we often would like to believe, nor is it some Middle East invention. Without a doubt, its manifestation takes on a much more volatile presence in the Middle East, where socioeconomic circumstances differ drastically from countries in other parts of the world.

Still, religious conflict takes form all around the world, sometimes in the subtlest of ways. In fact, religious conflict takes place here at SDSU. Remember when you finish your final exams at the end of this semester, not everyone is heading home to celebrate Christmas with their family. Some students are wondering why they had to devote their faith holidays studying for exams, rather than spending precious time with families.

Can we resolve religious conflict? Each of us has a clear understanding of the importance of our own spiritual beliefs. 

But are we capable of recognizing that the spiritual beliefs of others, no matter how different from ours those beliefs may seem, are just as important to them?

Without a doubt, I believe there is enough room in the world for all faith traditions. As for the conflict in Syria, I have a hard time believing that our bombs are going to help the Syrian people, or anyone else, come to this understanding. 


Jameson Goetz is a Spanish major at SDSU. He can be reached at [email protected]