Saturday, November 05, 2005

What is the difference between a fundamentalist?

I find that a thread I began on entitled How should we respond to Osama bin Laden? has acquired 85 posts while my back was turned. Mostly a trio of known suspects, thought to be supporters of the war on terror, but
ILJAY sets an interesting problem: find the similarities between an Islamic fundamentalist and a Christian fundamentalist.

IJ: When was the last time a Christian fundamentalist flew a plane into the building?
RL: With suicidal and political intent, never, so far as I know. I am sure a christian fundamentalist must have flown his plane into a building by accident at least once in the last 100 years, but that is not the point.

Suicidal bombings do not form part of christian culture, as opposed to being so totally unwilling to give way on a matter of principle that they get martyred by the opposition. Which I, for one, respect, and has had a good effect in many instances.

Unfortunately, however, modern christian fundamentalism delegates the job of bombing buildings containing civilians to the Air Force. And of course, the killings are accidental, ("collateral") not deliberate as in the case of terrorists. We never bomb civilian targets deliberately, neither do we deliberately choose important civilian targets such as unfriendly newspapers and TV stations.

So in short IlJay, the answer is never, and you have one point.

IJ: Blew himself up on a packed commuter train?
RL: Same again. No culture of suicide.

However, I remember reading the headline "CHRISTIAN GUNMAN KILLS NINE IN BEIRUT" and thinking to myself,
"I don't think so".

IJ: Insisted that women should be treated as second class citizens and beaten but only lightly?
RL: The christian fundamentalists I grew up with insisted that women should cover their heads as a token of submission to the man, who was head of the household. There was no official policy on beatings to my knowledge, but I am sure that domestic abuse took place.

IJ: Called to kill infidels?
RL: Well, Pat Robertson called for the death of Hugo Chavez. Not AFAIK because he was an infidel, because christian fundamentalists do not use that term, but Chavez is an "unbeliever" in Robertson's terms. I confess that I do not know why Robertson wanted Chavez dead. Do you?

IJ: When was the last time a group of Christian fundamentalists massacred a group of tourists admiring the sites including a young mother and her baby?
RL: Christians never knowingly kill tourists AFAIK because it would obviously be bad for the tourist industry. However the Vietnam war certainly put the dampeners on the Vietnamese tourist industry for a few decades.

IJ: Cut another human beings head off on TV?
RL: Not since the 16th or 17th century.

IJ: Called for another country to be wiped off the map?
RL: Reagan joked that he was going to bomb Russia off the map, but that was just a joke, and he wasn't a christian fundamentalist AFAIK. More seriously though, the Catholics in Northern Ireland wanted to wipe the British province of Northern Ireland off the map, while some of the Protestant denominations would like to wipe Eire (and, indeed, the Vatican) off the map. So the equivalent sentiment is there.

IJ: This is a very poor attempt at moral equivalence indeed.
RL: [i]Eppur si muove.[/i] The instances you give of Islamic fundamentalists demonstrate their direct, 6th century AD approach to warfare, which translates as car bomb and the suicide bomber operating at ground level - highly cost effective warfare, it must be said, but utterly horrible in the civilain carnage that it causes. We in the christian West carry out our warfare primarily by bombing from a great height - highly expensive, but then we can afford it, but still utterly horrible in the civilain carnage that it causes.

Yes, IJ, there is a difference. Unlike terrorists who intend to hit civilian targets, our bombs (we are told) are not intended to kill civilians, they are aimed (so we are told) at military targets, and the civilians are just collateral damage. Most regrettable &c. BUT - we have killed much more of their civilians than they have. They killed 3000 on 9/11. How many have we killed in Afghanistan and Iraq? Ten times that number would be a very conservative estimate. And as a proportion of the population, the discrepancy is even greater.

Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms have different approaches to warfare, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that one is good and one is bad. Fundamentalism, by persuading its adherents that their case is absolutely right because they are following an infallible sacred text, is a cause of absolute social and ideological division that has in the past, is in the present and will in the future, cause people to want to kill each other.

Fundamentalists will always be with us. The thing to do is not to fight them with bombs, but to hunt and arrest them (the police have arrested more known terrorists than the Army - although, come to think of it, we just do not know how many terrorists the Army has killed. More importantly we should sideline them by focussing on the real challenge facing mankind - learning how to develop economic sustainability and social and international equity.

Legal note: none of the above is intended to glorify, nor to excuse terrorism, which I define as violence enacted against civilians with the intention of creating terror, shock and awe in order to bring about political aims. I abhor all violence, and believe that it is a singularly wasteful and inefficient way of attaining political settlements.


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Lone Ranger said...

A fundamentalist is simply someone who practices the fundamental teachings of his religion. You should not judge a religion by those who violate the fundamental teachings of their religion. None of the teachings of Christ justify violence in any form. Islam is quite another matter. I have seen nothing in the Koran nor the Hadiths that would prohibit any acts of terrorism we have seen.

DocRichard said...

"None of the teachings of Christ justify violence"
How about "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword"? I know that this can bear a spiritual interpretation, but it has been used to justify violence by christians.
As for the Koran, the bit I agree with is at the beginning of each chapter: "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful."

George W Bush is a fundamentalist, and is responsible for terrible acts of violence.

Matt M said...

A. C. Grayling argues that any religion pursued to it's logical conclusion becomes fundamentalism, and also becomes intolerant to those who don't share your belief.

If, for example, you believe your particular divinity is the one true God, then surely it's your duty to pursued others of this? Allowing someone to live "in sin" when you can prevent it should be wrong to any true believer.

The reason lies in the fact that the world's major religions – especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – are not merely incompatible with one another, but mutually antithetical. All religions are such that if they are pushed to their logical conclusions, or if their founding literatures and early traditions are accepted literally, they will take the form of their respective fundamentalisms. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Taleban are thus not aberrations, but unadulterated and unconstrained expressions of their respective faiths, as accepted and practised by people who are not interested in refined temporisings or theological niceties, but who literally accept the world-view of the writings they regard as sacred, and behave in the way prescribed by them.