Sunday, January 18, 2004

Religious fundamentalism as a political problem

Many of the main problems of the world stem from religious fundamentalism, and the unfortunate way that the main fundamentalists reinforce each other's insanity. From an article by Amin Saikal:

"Three minority extremist groups - the militant fundamentalist Islamists exemplified at the far edge by Al Qaeda, certain activist elements among America's reborn Christians and neoconservatives, and the most inflexible hard-line Zionists from Israel - have emerged as dangerously destabilizing actors in world politics. Working perversely to reinforce each other's ideological excesses, they have managed to drown out mainstream voices from all sides. Each has the aim of changing the world according to its own individual vision."


"Al Qaeda and its radical Islamist supporters, believing in Islam as an assertive ideology of political and social transformation, want a re-Islamization of the Muslim world according to their vision and their social and political preferences. The alternative that they offer is widely regarded as regressive and repressive even by most Muslims, let alone the West. Violence against innocent civilians can neither be justified in Islam nor find approval among a majority of Muslims. Yet many Muslims have come to identify with the anti-American and anti-Israeli stance of the radicals because they have grown intolerant of America's globalist policies."


"The extremists of [American fundamentalist Christians and neoconservatives] seek to 'civilize' or 'democratize' the Arab world in particular, and the Muslim world in general, in their own images, and they have particular influence through key appointees in the Bush administration. The fact that democracy can neither be imposed nor be expected to mushroom overnight does not appear to resonate with them. (The agenda of some fundamentalist Christians, who promote Jewish dominance of the Palestinian lands as leading the world closer to the prophesied Judgment Day, is a variant that might be dismissed as a hysterical fringe element if it were not connected to a powerful voting bloc supporting President George W. Bush.)"


"The efforts of the neoconservatives dovetail all too effectively with the aims of the radical Zionists who push for more and more Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. Because of Israel's proportional voting system, these radicals exercise disproportionate power within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. Although a majority of the Israelis still support the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the principle of land for peace, the electoral system leaves them hostage to the minority of extremists in their midst. The activities of these three extremist minorities feed on one another: actions by each are seized on by others to justify their own extremism. With considerable help, intended or not, from one another, these three groups have now positioned themselves to determine the future of world order and, for that matter, humanity."

Unfortunately, traditional liberalism is ill-equipped to deal with fundamentalism, as the traditional liberal value of freedom of religion makes liberals squeamish about criticizing fundamentalist beliefs. We are currently seeing this very problem in France, where the government is facing the issue with the inelegant approach of banning ostentatious religious dress in state-funded schools, fearing, with some justification, that these symbols are becoming associated with fundamentalist politics. France has come to its current position of secularism through a long history of violent struggle, and fears falling back into the abyss of religious hatred. It would be nice if people could wear whatever symbols they want, but it is not racist for the French to fear that certain symbols are being misused by fundamentalists to undermine the secular basis of the French state. I also wonder whether all the Muslim women demonstrating for 'freedom' to wear head coverings are actually free of physical or emotional pressure from their male relatives who force them to wear symbols of female subservience they would rather leave behind. Liberals all over the world are going to have to come to grips with the fact that religious fundamentalism, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish - not to mention the horrors being committed in the name of fundamentalist Hinduism in India - is the main enemy of the traditions of the modern liberal state, not to mention the main cause of physical insecurity in much of the world today. Freedom of religion does not mean that those who are advocating the end of the modern secular state should be free to hide behind religious freedom to hurt the freedom and security of everybody. The main goal of modern liberalism has to be to stop the insanity of the fundamentalists, with a few caveats:

  1. Modern neo-fascism in Europe, exemplified by the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, has attempted to hide its racism behind the fog of an attack on fundamentalists. The fascists feign an interest in tolerance, and then claim that non-whites have to be excluded from European societies because their fundamental values are inconsistent with the freedoms enjoyed by white Europeans. The views of the fundamentalists are held up as the example of the views that must be excluded from Europe. Of course, the logical fallacy of the fascists is their assumption that most immigrants agree with the views of the fundamentalists. In fact, many immigrants wish to escape the stultifying influence of the fundamentalists, and most immigrants are no more interested in the views of religious fruitcakes than are most Europeans. Liberals have to be careful not to fall into traps laid by the fascists, who would like to use problems stirred up by the battle against fundamentalists to achieve their own goals.

  2. Over and over again it has been determined that fundamentalism as a disease grows in a culture where young men feel ostracized and humiliated by the society they grow up in. This is the case in both the slums of Cairo and rural Alabama. People who are not allowed to use class analysis to examine their plight, or who are unaware of it, tend to see their helplessness as imposed on them due to a humiliating weakness which prevents their defeating the oppressor country or group. In the American context, there is a long history of those oppressed by capitalism to blame their plight on northern liberals, who they see as advocating positions undermining traditions in culture and family life, and taking the cause of non-whites against the interests of poor white men. The oppressed gain confidence against their weakness through their participation in extreme regimented religion, which provides structure in their lives and a higher purpose set by the deity, with the confidence that they will succeed because success is the will of the deity. Fundamentalist leaders, who tend to be completely bonkers, feed off the insecurity of the oppressed peoples of the world. In the final analysis, fundamentalism can only be rooted out by removing the causes of the humiliation. The current American plan for the Middle East, by fighting fundamentalist violence with American state violence, is doomed to fail because the terror imposed by the American state only increases the humiliation of its victims, and thus feeds the fundamentalism. We can see in the recent debates by so-called American liberals over the war in Iraq, that even these 'liberals' remain hopelessly confused over how fundamentalism has to be confronted. Dropping bombs on people won't help, and the whole war on Iraq has been an utter disaster in the liberal war against fundamentalism.

  3. It is important for liberals not to fall into the trap set by conservatives of seeing all those who struggle against neo-colonial oppression as doing so under the thumb of fundamentalists. The freedom fighters in Iraq are struggling to free their country of violent military oppression, and are not necessarily religious fundamentalists. On the other hand, religious fundamentalists will certainly use the excuse provided by oppression to recruit for their cause. That fact should not tar all freedom fighters - or for that matter all people living under oppression - with the label of fundamentalists. Some Palestinians fighting the state terrorism of the Israelis do so under the banner of religious fundamentalism, but that does not mean that all Palestinians fighting for freedom from oppression are fundamentalists. The peculiar propaganda logic of the fundamentalists means that we hear all about the religiously-themed videos of the 'martyrs', but don't see the day-to-day struggle of the average non-fundamentalist Palestinian. The propaganda war means that it is in the interests of both the Muslim fundamentalists and the Zionist fundamentalists to portray all elements of the resistance as religiously based. The truth is that fundamentalists are always a minority, and most people given a choice will not choose to be led by religious nuts.

  4. The primary weapon of liberalism has always been objective scientific truth, and it is not an accident that modern science and the modern liberal state arose at the same time from the same minds. The fundamentalists would prefer to return to the Middle Ages, when all was certain and determined by religious leaders. For fundamentalists, there is no objective truth, but only religious doctrine and political propaganda. We see an example of this in the silly American debates over evolution. We also see it in the reporting of the disgusting American media, which is essentially just the propaganda arm of the military-industrial complex. Americans have been dumbed down by years of conditioning and lousy education to the point where they become angry if they are forced to encounter the truth. The truth is regarded as one of the weapons used by liberals to undermine the comfortable certainties of life. Liberals don't realize that their opponents don't share their view that telling the truth is a paramount goal. Liberals still can't bring themselves to believe that there are many people in the world who would prefer to be lied to. Many Americans were furious at BBC coverage of the war in Iraq because it attempted to be objective, and objectivity is regarded as treason. The dumbing down planned by corporate America over the last forty years has been so successful that it poses a problem for liberalism in America. The majority of Americans are not led by the nose by religious nuts, but the preference of people to believe the lies of religious nuts over the unpleasant truths told by liberals, the ability of the nuts to get their vote out, the concentration of their followers in southern states, and the peculiarities of the American Electoral College (which poses the same type of problem in the United States as is faced in Israel with its ridiculous and evil system of proportional representation), means that liberals have had to struggle in recent years in the United States. The last American election, where the liberal ran a terrible campaign and faced all the problems faced by liberals in America, but still won (and would be President were it not for a crooked Supreme Court), means that the battle is far from hopeless, but will never be easy until deep structural issues in the American media and education system are dealt with. American liberals have only themselves to blame for this sad state of affairs, in large part through pretending to ignore the crimes committed over the years by their political opponents.

I hope the French can resolve their current problems without having to resort to laws about what people can wear, but if clothing is being used as a symbol of fundamentalist politics, it is not an un-liberal position to attack fundamentalism through laws on clothing. Such laws are not dissimilar to laws preventing the wearing of gang colors in order to prevent gang violence. The battle against fundamentalism is the most important battle modern liberal societies face today, and if lost will plunge the world back into the Dark Ages. It is time for liberals to start to fight with a strong and smart and resolute commitment to save liberal values, as such values are under direct serious threat by a small minority of religious fundamentalists.