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Why is the Islamic world still torn by war?

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By Scott Gilmore   (Christian Science Monitor, October

FOR THE FIRST time in history, the Western Hemisphere is at peace, an epochal milestone that has not attracted enough attention. The last ongoing conflict in the Americas was in Colombia. But, after four years of negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrilla movement, a cease-fire was signed in August. And even though the peace agreement was defeated unexpectedly in this month’s referendum, the cease-fire holds and both sides remain at the negotiating table.

The end of war in the Americas is part of a larger global trend. According to data collected by the Human Security Project, since the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts has fallen by almost half. Peace is breaking out everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, except in the Islamic world. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, now that there is peace in Colombia, there remain only six civil wars in the world. Five of those are in Islamic nations. Similarly, all four of the current sectarian wars involve Islamic groups, and all five of the ongoing transnational terrorism conflicts involve militant Islamic groups. All told, of the 28 remaining global conflicts of all kinds being tracked by the council, 22 involve an Islamic state or faction.

First, let’s discard the idea that Islam itself is inherently more violent. The vast majority of wars over the last century have been fought by Christian nations. And, as the writer Steven Pinker has pointed out, around the world, the large majority of intentional killings are at the individual level, and the homicide rates in Islamic countries are typically only a third that of the non-Muslim world. By comparison, Louisiana, one of America’s most religious states with 90 percent of the population identifying as Christian, has a murder rate 50 percent higher than Afghanistan’s.

This demands the question, if the world is entering a new era of peace, why are Islamic nations still racked by war? There could be a few answers.

There are other more likely explanations, resources being one of them. Many of the current Islamic conflicts involve oil-producing nations, which may be suffering from the “resource curse.” Economists have noted that countries with an abundance of natural resources can paradoxically have less economic development, weaker institutions, and greater inequality than countries with fewer resources. This is because the fast money that comes from oil is hard to manage and can easily distort the economy and destabilize society.

Another clue may be found by looking at why other nations are at peace. Consider the growth of democracy, for example.

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