Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The very dangerous concept behind all fundamentalism is that the followers of a principle are the sole keepers of the Truth. That means all truth regarding their beliefs. There is no possibility that their beliefs are mistaken and anyone who argues such is a heretic. It is an inevitable fact of the fundamentalist's life that heretics are dangerous and need to be snuffed out rather than debated. What's the point of debate, after all, when the other is already known to be wrong? What's the point of engagement or even discussion? In the most extreme cases (redundant, I know, as we're talking extremely extreme), fundamentalists resort to violence, including murder. To pit degrees of fundamentalist attitudes against one another is a fool's game as all fundamentalism must be opposed or ostracized for it's detrimental effects on human development, human nature, and democratic ideals.

However, we find ourselves in strange times in this world. These times are not without precedent, of course, and we have failed to fully learn the lessons. Yet, I hope we are moving forward. Still, I read a fair number of people in the United States and parts of Europe raging against the Islamic fundamentalists. While these people also rail against fundamentalists in their own country, there seems to be a certain outrage beyond the norm reserved for Islamic fundamentalists. It's almost as if the Islamic or Muslim fundamentalist is worse than the Christian one. As I stated - this is a fool's game.

There are often cries coming forth about why the liberal or moderate members of Islam are not speaking out against the fundamentalists within their community. The assumption of such commentators is that there is no debate within those communities just because they haven't seen one posted by their mainstream media. However, these commentators rarely, if ever, stop to consider that their media services do Islam a disservice. After all, this is the same mainstream media that presents Israeli public opinion as shades of gray in the forms presented by the government there when, in fact, if one reads a variety of newspapers there one can see a broad array of opinions available to it's citizens. Do we really expect the mainstream media to represent Islamic communities any better?

The problem with all of this bashing and focus on one community rather than on fundamentalism in general is that it is perceived as racist. When that happens potential discussion with allies within the targeted community and the ability to combat fundamentalism altogether is thwarted. The same could be said about terrorists and terrorism, as we have learned from the Iraq war - terrorists just being fundamentalists of a different sort - but that is not my focus here. Rather than engaging the moderates within a community by targeting the community's fundamentalists as being especially vile that community will tend to band together to protect it's own instead of standing against the fundamentalists within it's ranks.

Christopher Hitchens is one such commentator who has gone on about the Islamic fundamentalists. To be fair Mr. Hitchens has also railed against Christian fundamentalists - his latest book is about the dangers imposed on this world by religion - but he has set aside a particular screed against Islamic fundamentalists. Others, also well meaning, have taken up this line of thought as well, including Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage. I don't have a problem with the majority of their criticisms and I know that all three of these people (indeed, I admire all 3) oppose fundamentalists of all stripes. However, they do tend these days to focus on the followers of Islam rather than fundamentalists all around. The result of which can lead to stir up racist tendencies within some readers (racism, ironically, also being a fundamentalist screed). Take, for instance, commenter number 3 to a recent post by Dan Savage in The Stranger Slog:
I'm sorry, but I can't accept the notion that Christian and Islamic fundamentalists are exactly the same in terms of their danger to civil society.
This same person goes on to argue in comment number 9:
@6 - oh, please. No, you don't have to list the outrageous things Christians do. But if you do, then please, make another list of the outrageous things Islamic fundamentalists have done throughout the world, and compare and contrast. I maintain that there is a difference in their nature - insane though Christian fundies may be, in recent times they have largely resorted to civil means of achieving the insane ends they seek. How often do you hear of American TV preachers putting a literal bounty on their political opponents' heads, or mobs of Southern Baptists stoning a 17-year-old to death in the streets and cheerfully taping the whole thing on a cell phone, as happened in Iraq recently?
For the record, I countered this post by pointing out the bounty posters for abortion clinic doctors posted by Christian fundamentalists. I could have also noted the bombings of clinics, the protests at funerals of homosexuals and military personnel by Westboro Baptist Church members, any number of hate crimes against homosexuals, blacks, and women committed by people who describe themselves as Christian fundamentalists, and so on. I also mentioned Pat Robertson asking for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. All of which was dismissed by the commenter in a later post.

One of the dangers of flaming up these latent racist tendencies is how they feed on ignorance and get perpetuated. Take, for instance, that last bit quoted above about the stoning of the 17 year old girl. The commenter is implying that it was Islamic fundamentalists who were behind the stoning. As others have noted, including today's Seattle Times, it was a different religion behind the stoning. In fact, recent bombings and killing in Iraq have been thought to have been followers of Islam retaliating for the actions of Yazidis in stoning the girl.

Unfortunately, the commenter doesn't apparently know or understand the distinction between the 2 religions. No, s/he only knows that its those people in Iraq (or India, as in Savage's original post) that's doing it and apparently they are more backward than our own backwards-assed folks in America. I don't blame Savage, et al, for bringing up incidents like these and I cannot blame them for the ignorance that their readers sometimes spew in their comments, but I'd like to see more people discussing the opposition to fundamentalism as a whole and less focusing on fundamentalism coming from another part of the world. Moderates can and will win the debate, but only if they tone down the pointing of the finger at other cultures and work with activists within those cultures to foster change throughout the world.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Nice essay, though with my you're singing to the choir, so to speak. I've spoken out with those concerns since I was a pre-teen. The only people who considered me a rebellious child were babysitters and sunday school teacher types.