Misunderstood fundamentalism | The Qatar Peninsula
By Jonathan Power
In his book “Faith and Power”, Edward Mortimer, the former Financial Times foreign affairs columnist, writing about Rishid Rida, the great Islamic scholar of the first half of the 20th century, wondered if Rida was “fundamentalist” since he was an admirer of the militant Puritan Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. “I don’t think so,” Mortimer concluded, “although I must admit that the precise meaning of this word when used in the context of Islam escapes me.”
At a time when the West is again shaken – because of the attack on Charlie Hebdo – by the actions of extremist Islamic fundamentalists, it should be noted that it is surprisingly difficult to define fundamentalism both in Islam and in Christianity. If that means “an effort to define the foundations of one’s religion and a refusal to deviate from them once defined, then surely anyone with serious religious beliefs of any kind must be fundamentalists in that sense.”
In Christianity, there are many strains of fundamentalism. The Catholic Church, which loathes Enlightenment liberalism, is clearly fundamentalist when it comes to issues such as birth control and abortion, a position which allies the Vatican in international population conferences with many Muslim States and wins the applause of many evangelical church groups in the United States. But that kind of fundamentalism is anathema to the powerful Black Baptist churches in America, which also see themselves as part of the fundamentalist tradition. And where does the fundamentalism of Northern Ireland’s Protestant firebrand, the late Ian Paisley (and now his son) lie? His tolerance of vicious Protestant militias killing Catholics made him unacceptable to fundamentalists in the American South who consider religious tolerance an important part of their creed.
Likewise, in Islam, the so-called fundamentalists have many threads, even if they overlap and sometimes intertwine. Wahhibism is not Salafism despite their mutual respect. And the fundamentalism of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State is neither.
It is deeply ironic that the “fundamentalist” Osama bin Laden, with his Egyptian-influenced credo, adopted a philosophy whose true pedigree goes back to the tolerant and enlightened reformism of Jamal al-Din-Afghani.
Labels are not only seriously misleading, they have taken Western policy in a dangerous and totally counterproductive direction. 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo do not mean there is a clash of civilizations as many are now suggesting. The late Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington even prophesied in his seminal book, “The Clash of Civilizations,” that it might well end in nuclear war between the countries of Islam and the countries of the West. It’s really alarmist.
What can the West do to lessen this Islamic hostility which has now reached unprecedented levels – most worryingly in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine and among a very small minority residing in Western Europe? (Less than 40% of Muslims in France attend the mosque regularly as they become increasingly secularized.)
Europeans must face up more forcefully than hitherto to the ignorance that permeates part of the indigenous population and the police forces. This means making more of an effort to find jobs for young unemployed people, especially descendants of immigrants, even if it is just paid training in skills that are useful for the return of economic growth. This means spending resources to demolish soulless housing blocks and replace them with ground floor apartments, shops, mosques, churches, playgrounds and cinemas – the essence of a life stable community that will not be fertile ground for extremism. Europe must realize that there are no cheap immigrants.
Europe faces a future crisis as the indigenous population ages. The answer is certainly not more immigration, but pushing older people to retire much later. There’s no reason why a 75-year-old doctor, teacher or journalist can’t work – or a plumber, a bus driver or a worker on an assembly line. Look at Pope Francis at 78 or Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve – at age 68, she was only named last year.
Abroad, foreign policy must be radically redesigned. More Iraq and Afghanistan – President Barack Obama sees this and therefore made the right decision not to bomb Syria.
It means increasing the pressure on Israel. This means renouncing all “preventive” military action regardless of the state of Iran’s putative nuclear bomb. With Turkey, it is a matter of accelerating the negotiations which would lead to EU membership.
Moreover, as Pope Francis said while visiting the Philippines, we must not make fun of other people’s sensitivities, even though we have the right to do so.
We are part of the global village and we can upset and hurt other peoples by our extremism – pornography in hotels or women who dress ultra provocatively. A woman’s best friend is what she can refer to.
In short, we must strive to protect and respect all our fundamentals.