At first I wondered if there was any difference between religion and politics. On the surface, both seem to be ways of living, but this wasn't true. Distilled down to the heart of it, politics is about mediation between a number of parties. Religion is a structured belief system shared amongst a people. There's definitely a large area where these two cohabitate, but they aren't the same.
So I wondered about religious conflict. Then I wondered about general social conflicts. In the US, the most infamous is the Black vs White conflict. In places like Iran and Iraq, the Sunni and Shia conflict is the most glaring. In history, we all know about the Crusades in general. In all of these, I found it hard to believe that people hate each other for their religion or their culture. In actuality, people seem to be particularly fascinated or enamored with something new. There is much cultural diffusion between these peoples and many even take wives and such from the opposing side. To me, these things are not evidences of real cultural, racial, or religious hatred. But there was conflict. Why?
Politics. I'm thinking that at the heart of all these so-called discords between ethnicities, cultures, religions, and the like, it's rooted in political conflict and as we can see today, political conflict polarizes people into sides. The actual original argument becomes lost and as time goes on it simply becomes about us versus them.
Political conflict is definitely, deeply secular in nature, and usually is based on actions, incentives, resources, and power. Yes, the general definition of politics, as shown above, is much more general and implies mediation. But that's not what we are working with in the world. The kind of politics that is causing the problems isn't (shocker) about problem solving. It is the brokerage or mediation of power, resources, and influence between different groups. Who get's what, and, consequently, who doesn't. Who get's the best land? Who get's this amount of money? Who get's rights? Yada yada.
In my opinion, it's only when culture becomes politicized- becomes a tool by which one decides who get's what and who doesn't; a tool of force or control- that things like religion, culture, and such come into conflict. I'd say that at the heart of it there is no conflict other than political conflict. When these things seek to force or control, it has become political. Your belief in god is a private affair, but when your belief begins to interfere with how another lives their lives- directly or indirectly- it becomes political. When race or culture becomes the bases upon which decisions of who get's what is made, it has become political.
And in truth, can this viewpoint be blamed. Look at all the conflicts past and present. They're all about people seeking things. Was the Crusades really about a bunch of religious people duking it out over their belief of God, or was it about control of some things? The conflict had the veneer of a religious dispute, but it was political in nature. No one would care whether the Imam or a publically elected person headed the religion of Islam if that position or religion didn't affect the lives of people too much. But because religion has so much direct power there, the question is extremely political. In the US, religion still has a lot of power, but it is indirect and not easy for most people to trace into key decisions and so people don't really care whose the Bishop and who's the Pope. Religious issues don't really merit any attention when they don't control or force people counter to their natural inclination.
So when these things pop up, maybe it's best to recognize this not as a conflict between groups based on religion, sex, culture, race, etc. Recognize this as a dispute over the use and distribution of power, influence, and/or resources.