September 10, 2004


The clash of fundamentalists (Ehsan Ahrari, 9/11/04, Asia Times)

The post-September 11 era has unleashed fundamentalists of all stripes who are not only blossoming, but are colliding with each other frequently, sometimes even ferociously, in the process keeping us on the edge. Fundamentalism is defined here as a feeling of self-righteousness, and of the correctness of one's cause and one's objective, which also convinces, with an equal fervor, the believer that others and their causes are wrong, and they should be defeated, and, in some instance, eradicated.

A fundamentalist belief system has little use for a contrary point of view. Perhaps the strong feeling of righteousness - or even righteous indignation - overpowers the inherent human curiosity and the need for inquiry. Eric Hoffer labels these fundamentalists "true believers", in his seminal work of the same title. His description of this personality type states, "It is the true believer's ability to shut his eyes to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and consistency."

In this clash of fundamentals there are a whole slew of players; some of them are well known, while others are not. The level of transnational violence is on the rise, while the level of tolerance for different beliefs, different perspectives and different outlooks is going down. [...]

The rationale underlying Bush's use of the phrases "evil one" or "evil-doers" was to unite everyone to condemn bin Laden and his methods in much the same way bin Laden was using similar phraseology to unite Muslims. In 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa (religious edict), in which he stated, "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim." Bush's explanation of the reason al-Qaeda chose to strike at the US was that they "hate us for our freedom". Al-Qaeda's explanation was that the United States was the force of evil, an anti-Islamic force, which should be confronted and harmed everywhere in the world.

Bin Laden's use of the word "infidel" should be clearly understood in the context of a clash of fundamentalism. Even though the original meaning and intent of that word was only to describe a non-Muslim, the Wahhabi sect - of which bin Laden is a member - uses it to describe anyone, including Muslims, who do not subscribe to the cause and the world vision of al-Qaeda and its violent modus operandi.

In choosing the language of morality to characterize bin Laden, Bush was emulating his idol, former president Ronald Reagan, himself an ardent and effective practitioner of right-wing fundamentalism. [...]

[T]he US is exercising something that can be described as "secular fundamentalism". This particular brand of fundamentalism is just as dedicated for the establishment of secular democracy in the Middle East, as are Islamists about creating Islamic governments.

Interesting that what fundamentalist America is trying to do is to force the Middle East to accept Hoffer's vision of freedom:
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

We are indeed intolerant of beliefs that conflict with liberal democratic protestant capitalism, precisely because that is the matrix upon which a society of free men can best be built. What's missing from this essay is any defense of the ideas that advocate keeping men unfree.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2004 10:39 AM
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