1 - What is fundamentalism ?
At the beginning, the word used to designate a deviant Protestant movement but now, it can be applied to trends found in all major religions.
Fundamentalism means the total submission of a people to a strict set of principles.
Fundamentalism is not about religion (the pretext behind the means), but about politics (the actual aim of the game) ; ultimately, fundamentalism is about the total control of society in a caricature of theocracy.
Fundamentalists are humans who build the set of strict rules and define what is true and what isn't, generally developing a simplistic doctrine based on their own biased interpretation of ancient religious scriptures that can be interpreted in as many ways as there are human beings. Since fundamentalists consider their doctrine as absolute, perfect, good and unfailable, anything growing out of it is necessarily wrong, corrupt and evil, and thus has to be eradicated in order to purify the world. Beyond what people do or say, fundamentalists intend to control and judge what people think.
Fundamentalism is totalitarian because all human activities should abid to the rules, starting with the pilars of democracy : political debate, science, education, justice, information... any field where intelligence can bloom and expose the limits of a basic propaganda.
The same logic can be found in the Discovery Institute’s Wedge strategy : the ultimate goal of Intelligent Design is to undermine science and education, key entry points for fundamentalists. ID has nothing to do with science but everything to do with politics, starting with the artificial legitimation of religion at the root of the social system, and ultimately the restoration of theocracy.
The worst enemy of a fundamentalist is a person from the same religion who preaches tolerance, reason, and respect of the differences between individuals and cultures. Charismatic pro-peace leaders who happen to be people of faith, sometimes even former respected warriors : Yitzhak Rabin, Ahmad Shah Massoud…
The most embarrassing enemy of a fundamentalist is a "competing" fundamentalist from the same religion. The sales pitches are basically similar, but it brings the notion that there is not only one good answer to the question. At least one is necessarily wrong, it is more difficult to claim the true version. The best way is to either destroy this enemy or find a way to merge both franchises into a more powerful band.
The best ally of a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist from a "competing" religion. Each one becomes the "evil" of the other one, feeding him with new arguments. The more radical the opponent, the better : fear makes propaganda sound more credible and moderates less audible.
2 - Why did fundamentalisms gain momentum recently ?
Fundamentalist movements have always existed in most religions, but were traditionally limited to small circles around isolated radical doomsayers. They tend to blossom in periods of materialist decadence and crises because they leverage on basic fears : fear for one's own life and future, fear for the loss of identity and values of a whole society... In times of uncertainties, fundamentalists offer simple answers, clear visions of a brighter afterlife… and order. With a full set of golden rules.
Like fascism, fundamentalism feeds from the failures of democracy, from the intolerable gaps between peoples kept in poverty and underdevelopment on one hand, and rich corrupt regimes on the other. "Ideally", people must be fed up with their rulers, and not believe anymore in the rules supposed to hold the society altogether. An ailing dictatorship will provide a perfect background, but the fundamentalists' best moments come when self-proclaimed model democracies give the worst examples to the world. Most islamist fundamentalisms find their roots in the abuses of colonization, the failures of decolonization (not to mention the disastrous management of the creation of Israel or India / Pakistan), and many were infuriated by the aberrations of the Cold War. They usually reach power when Western democracies start sending the wrong signals at the wrong moment.
For fundamentalists from all religions, George W. Bush turned out to be the best person at the best place at the best moment.
His strategy should look like a total failure to whoever considers the Iraq quagmire, the Palestinian fiasco, or the worldwide surge in terror. But to the contrary, Bush's strategy proved a complete success.
Because George W. Bush didn't act as a President of The United States of America in the interest of his country.
And George W. Bush didn't even act as a Republican in the interest of his party.
George W. Bush acted as a fundamentalist in the interest of fundamentalism.
Right after 9/11, the whole world was behind him and the USA, but this man refused to lead the world towards peace and mutual respect. Instead, he decided to send the worst signals to the worst people, deliberately triggering a sick race between fundamentalisms. Bush's first speech after 9/11 was meant to clarify the framework for his fellow fundamentalists thanks to one single word : "crusade". In other words : let's go back to the good old times when people fought for religion, we fundamentalists are ruling the show, and I will play on the very ground Bin Laden hoped I would.
Because "the Sheik" new perfectly what kind of leader he was facing : a (stub)born again Christian fan of fundamentalist Billy Graham, a man who set from the start his mandate in a theocratic frame by saying some Higher Being was in charge and driving his decisions. Dubya not only made Bin Laden the official "evil" figure of his crusade, but he happily obliged by becoming the official "evil" figure for Islamists. Everything he did was meant to fuel hatred, sideline the moderates (ie those coward weasels in the West, promoters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agenda in the Middle East...), and sabotage all attempts of peace or reconciliation. Where multilateralism and pragmatism was the answer, he avoided all forms of debates and sticked to his radical black vs white, us vs them, good vs evil rhetoric.
During the 2004 US presidential campaign, I raised a few eyebrows a couple of years ago by dubbing Bush a fascist, pointing out the disturbingly accurate echoes of Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism in BC00’s Amerika. The propaganda reacted with a karlrovishy counterattack on the weak point : all of a sudden, Bush was facing “Islamofascists”. The actual fascists were at the other end of the spectrum… but that other end is a mirror, and fundamentalism fueling fundamentalism, propaganda feeding counter-propaganda, extremists ideas became mainstream. Beyond fundamentalism, other forms of radicalism could gain momentum across the world. In Far-East Asia, ultra-nationalists took over Japan, and state revisionism became common in the Archipelago as well as in China.
Bush did not wage a war on terror but in favor of it : instead of focusing on terrorist networks and reducing their ground (ie by fighting injustice and poverty, promoting peace in the region and especially between Israel and Palestine), he deliberately infuriated the muslim world and helped fundamentalists recruit new flocks of followers. And he targeted a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 but everything to do with peace in the region. A new playground for international terrorism, the end of Iraq as a united country, civil war here, the rise of a new form of fundamentalism in Iran when reformers were "threatening" the Khomeini generation, the failure of Fatah and the victory of Hamas... all this was not collateral damage but the very aim of his sick game.
The war in Iraq has been misunderstood as a war for oil led by neocons. The fact is theocons used neocons because they could sell the war to SIGs and thus to Congress. The hidden agenda was not about securing energy sources but about spreading fundamentalism, and if hardcore neocons truly believed in the democracy spreading agenda, theocons knew perfectly the outcome of this madness.
Paleocons followed because money flew from the budget surplus to the hands of greedy SIGs, with significant crumbs ending up on their own laps. Paleocons followed because the official propaganda combined with Karl Rove’s witchcraft made sure 2004 elections would be a landslide victory for Bush. Paleocons were fooled because they thought it would be a victory for the GOP.
I warned Republican voters before November 2004 : if Bush wins, the Republican party loses its soul and is bound to implode. Letting this man invade Iraq was criminal negligence, (re)electing him a strict liability crime by the American people against American values.
The 2004 elections celebrated the rise of Christian fundamentalism across the US at a level never reached before. If not mainstream at this stage, it gained significant social and political power in areas where demographic tides are changing the very shape of the country. Whatever the outcome of the 2008 elections, the USA are shifting towards more internal and self-centered dynamics, and theocons are more likely to bloom in such an environment.
Bush has been isolating the US from external influences, refusing any kind of accountability for his acts but for the dialogs he pretends to hold permanently with The Lord Almighty. At home, he shunted the Congress and his not so fellow Republicans. Away, he switched off the Kyoto protocol, unplugged the Geneva Convention (with the benediction of his Chief Torture Officer Alberto Gonzales), and tried to destroy the UN from the inside (with the help of Bolton the UN bomber). He even bypassed the WTO with series of bilateral FTAs or rather unilateral PTAs (Protectionist Trade Agreements).
A dedicated fundamentalist, Bush has been methodically destroying America from the inside, corrupting justice, science and education with a caricature of religion and paving the way for theocracy. This man is a total fake : a New England brat pretending to be a Texas hunk, a coward pretending to be a soldier, an amoral fundamentalist pretending to be a compassionate saint, a theocrat pretending to spread democracy, a weak wannabe who should never have been the most powerful man on Earth.
If you think the worst happened in Iraq, consider this : this man is planning an even craziest sequel in Iran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to George W. Bush he shared the same approach of religion. The fact is both are fanatics who expect important visits in a near future ; respectively the return of the Mahdi and the second coming of the Christ. And along with by a bunch of fundamentalists from all confessions (Christian, Muslim and Jewish), they share a more than weird doomsday scenario: the final clash between Iran and Israel will lead to those much awaited visits.
This Commander in Thief only has a few months before giving up power. He is working on peace all right, but rather of the eternal kind.
Compared to such madhatters, Islamist fundamentalists who kicked the Shah out of Iran back in 1979 look like moderates. No wonder Bush does his best to help Ahmadinejad stay in power.
3 - What can be done to undermine fundamentalism ?
Like fascism, fundamentalism needs a permanent state of fear, war and propaganda to survive, and is defeated by democracy at its best : exemplary, fair, just and respectful.
America cannot be respected if it doesn’t respect its own values ; those of a model democracy.
The war on terror should be waged at its roots : helping Afghanistan out of despair and out of the reach of Talibans, converging towards a fair resolution of the Israel / Palestine crisis, focusing on poverty and injustice across the World.
The only way out of Iraq is to fire those who deliberately misfired. Bush and Cheney should be prevented from spreading more chaos and impeached… Easier said than done, but removing Gonzales would be a significant first step forward.
Moderates should speak up across the political spectrum : Dems or Reps, we share certain values and think our leaders betrayed them. We may not overpower them as quickly as we’d like to, but we want to tell the world that we want America back on track, we are not going to let that happen again, and we will do our best to get rid of fundamentalists among us.
Humility will make America stronger : it takes courage to give up arrogance. Besides, there is no other way to get out of what is basically a moral collapse (not to mention to claim any kind of leadership back in the future).
The aim is not to please atheists and condemn believers but to expose fundamentalists, especially among those who are supposed to defend justice, education or democracy. You don’t want to ignite a witch hunt the McCarthy way (are you or have you ever been a fundamentalist ?), but rather to promote transparency over the hypocrisy and confusion fundamentalists are feeding upon.
I’m asking for a much needed reverse burden of proof : nowadays, lawmakers are terrorized by fundamentalists and it should be the other way round. Instead of harassing the bulk of the candidates with questions regarding their private life, we should be forcing fundamentalists to come out in the open, give democracy the lead over the theocratic agenda. Lawmakers shouldn’t be compelled to demonstrate confusingly why they are good believers, they just should clearly tell that they don’t support fundamentalism and that, whatever they believe in, religion should not mix with politics in this country. Ultimately, if some people want religion to rule politics, let them found their own party like they do in other countries.
Once again, I’m not promoting atheism, but defending democracy. And in the US, a cultural change is needed. The fact is America has always allowed too much confusion between the religious and political spheres ; been too tolerant with sects and fanatics that are not compatible with democracy (partly because it was built by people who sometimes fled Europe for religious reasons - ie the Mayflower pilgrims). For a European such as me, it can be upsetting to hear the leader of a supposedly model democracy finish his acceptance speech with “so help me God”. And it is upsetting to see secular democracies under the pervasive threat of fundamentalists in the EU as well (lobbying for the mention of the Christian heritage in the Constitution, for the promotion of creationism and ID… with the benediction of a rather ambiguous Pope ; Benedict XVI).
Beyond the US and EU political microcosms, all moderates should voice their hope for a sounder and more transparent system. This new “we the people” should reach across the world, wherever moderates are threatened by fundamentalists, and not only in the usual hot spots : the race for juicy market shares is raging all over Asia.
Why not A Universal Declaration of Independence from fundamentalism, that perennial enemy of peace, freedom and democracy ?
"What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry" - Barack Hussein Obama (Baltimore, January 17, 2009).
Change has come to America.
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