Why, why, why, say a thing like that? Everyone knows that fundamentalism in its various forms is the biggest threat we face. Rosie O’Donnell on The View said that Christian fundamentalists are every bit as big a threat as Islamic fundamentalists, and the audience cheered.
Why did the audience cheer? Because they were ignorant and/or thoughtless.
I’ve long been suspicious of the labeling of Islamic radicalism as “fundamentalism”. It appears the label was applied to suggest these radicals were the Muslim equivalents of Christian Fundamentalists. Apparently, the label was applied based on the fact that the Muslim radicals rejected the modern world in favor of 7th century Islam, which was considered similar to the way Christian Fundamentalists rejected modern science and culture.
The problem with this “analysis” is that it misunderstands both Christian Fundamentalism and Islamic Radicalism. Besides, it distorts the real meaning of the word “fundamentalist” into “anti-modern” and “strict” .
This is a bigger topic than could possibly be addressed in a short post by someone who Actually Has A Life, but I’ll hit on the three problems listed in the above paragraph anyway. Of course, I may have to continue the topic across several posts, since it’s already past my bedtime …
Topic One: What does fundamentalism mean?
At its heart, fundamentalism means a focus on the fundamentals. Basically, until you answer the question, “Fundamentals of what?”, you have no specifics on what a fundamentalist is or believes or practices. That’s why it’s unfortunate that so many use the term as if it has a distinct and universal meaning, as if a Christian fundamentalist and a Muslim fundamentalist are basically the same thing. By extension, we should also be able to speak of “Hindu fundamentalists” and “Buddist fundamentalists” and “Shinto fundamentalists.”
But fundamentalism really refers to a focus on the fundamentals of anything. I’ve known basketball coaches who were big fundamentalists, primarily at the junior high and high school levels. Essentially, a basketball fundamentalist is one who says you win basketball games by doing the fundamentals of the game better than the other guys. And at the foundational level of sports, the fundamentalist coach is hard to argue with. At the college or professional level, of course, the fundamentals of the game are a given, and the focus usually moves beyond that.
And this bit of language is one of the biggest problems in the foolish equivalence of Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism: The fundamentals of each are very different. To take one obvious difference — and possibly the core difference — one of the fundamentals of Islam is jihad, while one of the fundamentals of Christianity is evangelism. Though there have been offences in the past of those who named themselves Christians but sought to expand the “kingdom of God” through conquest, history is pretty clear that this is not a core value, if you will, of Christianity. That is, jihad is not one of the Christian fundamentals. Neither is evangelism a core value of Islam. It is somewhat practiced, particularly in non-Muslim countries with a history of religious freedom. I have in fact encountered at least one Muslim who tried to “proselytize” me, and made about as good a case for his beliefs as your typical “Jehovah’s Witness”. Still, no Muslim countries make any practice of proselytization, and it seems more an accommodation to the reality that jihad is not always practical.
Having outlined what “fundamentalism” means and given at least one example where the fundamentals are very different between Christianity and Islam, we’ll pick up the discussion of Christian fundamentalism and where it came from. With that background, we can then proceed to Muslim radicalism and really ask the question, can it be fairly described as “fundamentalism”?
Next post: What is Christian fundamentalism?
But not tonight: I’m going to bed. As aforementioned, “I Have A Life”, and it’s going to be knocking on my door in the morning….