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The fundamentals of fundamentalism. Posted on 09/15/2001.

I have a tendency to simply dismiss religious fundamentalists as kooks not worth my time, but William O. Beeman's essay, "Fighting the Good Fight: Fundamentalism and Religious Revival", provides an overview of theoretical thought on religious fundamentalism that I found quite illuminating, providing a clear context for fundamentalism within societal processes.

These four qualities: revivalism; orthodoxy; evangelism; and social action; are the basis for the discussion of fundamentalism (writ small) presented below. As a number of social scientists have noted, the term has come to have pejorative connotations. Nevertheless, it does seem to serve a useful purpose as a characterization of a repeatedly occurring and nearly universal human social phenomenon. The deeper comparative understanding of fundamentalism may forestall the frequent dismissive attitudes exhibited by groups sharing common beliefs toward each other. As Lionel Caplan, editor of a prominent collection of essays on the subject has noted: "an adequate understanding of fundamentalism requires us to acknowledge its potential in every movement or cause. . . . We are all of us, to some degree and in some senses, fundamentalists."

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I seem to be having trouble navigating this comment process. My two comments re: Fundamentalism seem to have found there way to Peter's food orgy entry. Therefore I am pasting them here, where they belong.

Fundamentalism means Truth. The Fundamentalist believes that his Truth is the only Truth and your Truth is a lie. The Fundamentalist believes that his god is the only true god and your god is a false god. The fundamentalist believes that if you do not believe in his god, you (your soul) is already dead and there is little reason your body should not quickly follow. The Fundamentalist has no patience with science, art, society, diversity or facts. The Fundamentalist is too busy protecting and projecting the Truth.


Re-write of above opening sentence: Fundamentalism is Truthism.
Posted by BJMe @ 09/15/2001 04:53 PM PST [link to this comment]

historical perspective

William O. Beeman teaches anthropology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. A specialist on Middle East Culture, he has written extensively on fundamentalism and terrorism. He has worked for the past four years in Tajikistan, where he has been able to monitor developments in Afghanistan.

The United States risks a severe miscalculation in dealing with the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon on Tuesday. This event is not an isolated instance of violence. This is not an "act of war." It is one symptom of a cancer that threatens to metastasize. The root cause is not terrorist activity, as has been widely stated. It is the relationship between the United States and the Islamic world. Until this central cancerous problem is treated, Americans will never be free from fear.

Merely locating and hunting down a single "guilty party" in this case will not stop future violence: such an action will not destroy the organization of terrorist cells already established throughout the world. Of greater importance, it will do nothing to alleviate the residual enmity against America that will remain at large in the world, continuing to motivate violence. The perpetrators of the original attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 were caught and convicted. This did not stop the attack on Tuesday.

The chief suspect is the Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden or his surrogates. He has been mischaracterized as an anti-American terrorist. He should rather be thought of as someone who would do anything to protect Islam. Bin Laden began his career fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 when he was 22 years old. He has not only resisted the Soviets but also the Serbians in Yugoslavia. His anger was directed against the United States primarily because of the U.S. presence in the Gulf Region more particularly Saudi Arabia itself the site of the most sacred Islamic religious sites.

According to bin Laden, during the Gulf War America co-opted the rulers of Saudi Arabia to establish a military presence in order to kill Muslims in Iraq. In a religious decree issued in 1998, he gave religious legitimacy to attacks on Americans in order to stop the United States from "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places." His decree also extends to Jerusalem, where the second most sacred Muslim site the al-Aqsa Mosque. The depth of his historical vision is clear when, in his decree, he characterizes Americans as "crusaders" harkening back to the Medieval Crusades in which the Holy Lands, then occupied by Muslims, were captured by European Christians.

He will not cease his opposition until the United States leaves the region. Paradoxically, his strategy for convincing the United States to do so seems drawn from the American foreign policy playbook. When the United States disapproves of the behavior of another nation, it "turns up the heat" on that nation through embargoes, economic sanctions or withdrawal of diplomatic representation. In the case of Iraq following the Gulf war, America employed military action, resulting in the loss of civilian life. The State Department has theorized that if the people of a rogue nation experience enough suffering, they will overthrow their rulers, or compel them to adopt more sensible behavior. The terrorist actions in New York and Washington are a clear and ironic implementation of this strategy against the United States.

Bin Laden takes no credit for actions emanating from his training camps in Afghanistan. He has no desire for self-aggrandizement. A true ideologue, he believes that his mission is sacred, and he wants only to see clear results. For this reason, the structure of his organization is essentially tribalcellular in modern political terms. His followers are as fervent and intense in their belief as he is. They carry out their actions because they believe in the rightness of their cause, not because of bin Laden's orders or approval. Groups are trained in Afghanistan, and then establish their own centers in places as far-flung as Canada, Africa and Europe.

Each cell is technologically sophisticated, and may have a different set of motivations for attacking the United States.

Palestinians members of his group see Americans as supporters of Israel in the current conflict between the two nations. In the Palestinian view Ariel Sharon's ascendancy to leadership of Israel has triggered a new era, with U.S. government officials failing to pressure the Israeli government to end violence against Palestinians. Palestinian cell members will not cease their opposition until the United States changes its relationship with the Israeli state.

The Mujaheddin fighters in Lebanon also direct their hostility against Israel and the United States. They also operate against the Maronite Christian community in their own country, who were supported by the French from World War I until the end of World War II. They will not cease their operations until the region is firmly in Islamic hands.

Above all, Americans need to remember that the rest of the world has an absolute right to self-determination that is as defensible as our own. A despicable act of mayhem such as those committed in New York and Washington is a measure of the revulsion that others feel at our actions that seemingly limit those rights. If we perpetuate a cycle of hate and revenge, this conflict will escalate into a war that our great-grandchildren will be fighting.
Posted by carey @ 09/17/2001 03:31 PM PST [link to this comment]

where'd that come from?
Posted by peterme @ 09/17/2001 09:58 PM PST [link to this comment]

Carey mounts a measured and curious defense of fanaticism. which I define as zealous behavior beyond the realm of any achievable self-interest. Good can sometimes come from violent self-interest, but never from fanaticism, which is self-destructive.

Aside from some useful views of terrorist cell strucure, Carey makes a couple of serious mis-statements. For one, bin Laden's rhetoric is full of published quotes stating his fervid anti-Americanism. In 1998, for instance, he called for all Americans and Jews, including children, to be killed. Carey's other mistake is pointed up in his own revealing juxtaposition of sentences when he states that operations will not cease until a certain region is in Islamic hands, followed by his admonition that Americans must allow the rest of the world to experience self-determination. It is obvious that Islamic fundamentalists are no more interested in local self-determination than were the Medieval Crusaders.
Posted by BJMe @ 09/18/2001 09:30 AM PST [link to this comment]

i'm guessing that those weren't carey's statements, but the statement's of Prof. Beeman, quoted by carey. I'd love to find out where those were originally written.
Posted by peterme @ 09/18/2001 04:18 PM PST [link to this comment]

i got it in an email from one of my profs, anne burdick [], but i'm guessing she got it here []. cheers :)
Posted by carey @ 09/19/2001 06:10 AM PST [link to this comment]

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