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N. 38, June 2003
It's the fundamentalism, stupid!
At the cost of oversimplifying an overly complex situation, I propose
that the major threat to modern democracies is not terrorism per se, but
ideological fundamentalism, particularly of a religious nature. Political
fundamentalism has now essentially disappeared, at least for now, with Fidel
Castro as one of the few pathetic remnants, destined to soon disappear naturally
into oblivion, like all mortals.
No,the real problem is religious fundamentalism, and in particular the one
rooted in the twin monotheistic branches of Christianity and Islam (with
Judaism ranking as a distant third only because it is numerically much less
represented worldwide). This is not, of course, because every (or even the
majority) of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews are willing to blow
themselves into pieces to achieve a political goal, or because they are all
bent toward the destruction of everything and everyone that disagrees with
them. Far from it. But the fact remains that fundamentalism of any sort,
by definition a form of extremism and therefore ill-suited to live within
a democratic and pluralistic society, easily breeds intolerance, self-righteousness,
and even more extremes, of which the world has experienced the consequences
all too clearly during the past few years.
Let us not make the mistake of dismissing the problem as simply a modern
incarnation of the old (and certainly true) observation that political power
exploits religious feelings, and that therefore the problem is with the greed
for power and with people like Saddam Hussein (or George Bush) who want power
and find it easy to manipulate the masses using religious appeals. There
surely is part of that going on too, but George W. Bush, I think, really
believes that God is on his side, and so do Tony Blair, Hussein, Bin Laden,
and a host of other characters that are concurring in making a mess of the
just-born 21st century.
The extremes to which Islamic fundamentalists (including Palestinians and
their leader Arafat, currently as pathetic as, but much more dangerous than,
Castro) can go in the name of their version of the universal truth are well
known and need not be belabored here. But the New York Times has recently
reported some comments by “mainstream” politicians in the US and Israel that
should be chilling to the bone of every rational and truly compassionate
human being. For example, Benyamin Elon, a minister with the current Israeli
government, has been quoted as referring to cardinal principles of the Palestinian-Israeli
accord such as the idea of land-for-piece as “clichés” to be overcome,
and has essentially called for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. As an exponent
of the latter as pointed out, can we imagine what would happen if somebody
made the same casual suggestion about moving Jews out of their unhappy land?
On this side of the Atlantic things aren’t much better. The extremes of the
Christian right are now documented in books upon books, but a recent addition
is a declaration by Gary Bauer, of American Values, who said (again quoted
in the NYT) that conservative Christians must accept the Abrahamic Covenant
as described in Genesis, by which God personally promised the land of Israel
to the Jews, and that’s that. Tom DeLay (the House majority leader) has been
quoted in the same newspaper as referring to the West Bank using the biblical
names of Judea and Samaria!
It is simply astounding that a species that has conquered space, split the
atom, figured out the essentials of where it came from evolutionarily, and
has invented democracy, is currently in the hands of a bunch of nut cases
who still believe in the literal reading of a book written by ignoramuses
several thousand years ago! How can we vote into office, support, and take
seriously a political class that on the one hand uses computers and airplanes,
but on the other firmly believes in the actual existence of heaven and hell,
concepts obviously invented by primitive human beings who slaughtered each
other with swords and arrows? How much longer are we going to leave the future
of the world in the hands of deluded minds who are so sure of their own viewpoint
that they constantly affirm God is on their side (on all of their sides,
I keep hearing of the existence of a “silent majority” of moderately religious
people in Western democracies and even among Muslims and Jews, who apparently
have a distaste for the outrages of the nut cases that run them. Where is
this silent majority? Isn’t it time to wake up and kick these guys out of
office (or, if not elected, out of Mosques, Churches, and Synagogues)? The
recent worldwide anti-war demonstrations may have been a signal that people
are in fact waking up. But let’s keep the alarm clock ringing loud, or Bush,
Bin Laden & co. will plunge us all back into the Dark Ages, real soon.
And we call them “dark” for reasons other than the fact that electricity
hadn’t been invented yet.