Religion And Politics (II)

Part I

Religion and S. P. Huntington’s idea of „Clash of Civilizations“: A critical approach

First, it has to be clearly noted that S. P. Huntington by himself did not claim to be an expert on Islam and Islamic studies. Second, his idea or theory of post-Cold War 1.0 civilizational conflicts did not hinge on religion per se but for him, in fact, civilizations have been based on religious values and confessional culture. For instance, Huntington’s Confucian civilization took its title from historically old Chinese ethical and political experience, but not from a religion per se. However, his choice of the term „Islamic“ inevitably thrust the very formulation of his clash of civilizations into the midst of religious discourse and debate. Therefore, religious uses and critiques about his idea of the clash of civilizations are parallel, but seldom overlapped, the critiques by political scientists.

One of the most Islamophobic interpretations of S. P. Huntington’s theory of clash of civilizations was in connection with his claim that Islam is now and always has been an evil religion, hostile to Christianity and Judaism, discriminatory toward the adherents of those faiths, abusive of human rights and women, and cruel in its legal code. Such an approach, nevertheless, reflected the mindset of the majority of both believers of Christianity and Judaism, as well as of many secular persons. Surely, the specifics of this indictment to some extent are derived from anti-Islamic polemics of great antiquity. However, because popular awareness of Islam as a religion was rare before 9/11, much of the detail used to particularize the indictment came from current headlines about martyrdom operations, honor killings, resistance to cultural assimilation among diaspora od the Muslim communities, curtailment of women’s freedoms by Muslim authorities, etc. Nevertheless, deeper reflections, counterexamples, and discussions of the shortcomings of Western culture based on Christianity counted for little in this discourse. Basically, it was taken for granted that the idea of the clash of civilizations aptly summarized the relations between Islam and the West.

There were many Jewish, Islamic, and Christian leaders, academics, and public workers who saw security danger in S. P. Huntington’s idea of the clash of civilizations especially in its very phraseology, and, consequently, worked to discourage its use or promote a substitute formulation. There were several ecumenical conferences or meetings organized mostly after 9/11 at which the theory of clash of civilizations was denounced. There were as well as organizations that have been created with the specific purpose to financially sponsor such or similar meetings in order to promote the idea of ecumenical harmony among different confessions (for instance, The Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies in Amman, Jordan).

World religions mapThe prominence of the term „dialogue“ instead of the term „clash“ came from the proposal of Iranian President Muhammad Khatami to have the OUN designate 2001 as the year of civilizational dialogue. Iran’s President Khatami’s statements on this subject were mentioning explicitly his political preference for the phrase „dialog of civilizations“ rather than Huntington’s phrase „clash of civilizations“. The OUN in 2005 took the next move by starting an initiative chaired by the Spanish and the Turkish PMs to establish an „alliance of civilizations“. Some thinkers are evaluating Huntington’s theory of clash of civilizations within the framework of political theology.

What is political theology?

Political theology is a Christian concern to explore the implications of theology for political life and thought. Historically, the term itself has an uneasy story as, for instance, being associated with the invention by Carl Schmitt of Hitler and the rise of German nationalism in general. Nevertheless, this term is today usually associated with the work of Johann Baptist Metz and Dorothie Sölle. The term political theology is coined in contrast to what it takes to be the traditional concentration of theology on the individual and personal holiness. Basically, it is allowing the support of a virtual and political system of political parties. J. B. Metz was seeing the deprivatizing of theology as the primary critical task of political theology. In fact, Orthopraxy („correct action“) becomes the mark of true discipleship more than the traditional orthodoxy („correct belief“-doxa in Latin means belief). Consequently, the connections with liberation theology are clear as liberation theology is primarily concerned with the role of theology in moving from abstraction to very praxis and concrete action. The most ultra negative deviation of political theology can be understood as religious fundamentalism.

What is religious fundamentalism?

Religious fundamentalism from a very general point of view is a description of those who return to what they believe to be the fundamental truths and practices of a particular religion. Therefore, religious fundamentalism, as a definition, can be applied to any particular religion. One of the examples can be the revival of conservative Islam that is usually understood, at least by the Christian experts in Islamic studies, as Islamic fundamentalism. In Christianity, there are those who defend the Bible as a Holy Book against charges that it contains any kind of error. To be more precise, Roman Catholic Christian fundamentalism denotes the view of Protestant Christians opposed to the historical and theological implications of critical studies of the Bible. However, for the very purpose to avoid negative tones of closed-mindedness, Christians in the fundamentalist tradition ofter prefer to be called Conservative Evangelists.

There is the Arab term „salafiyya“ that is used by Muslims in cases when it refers to those who assert the literal truth and correctness of the Qur’an and the validity of its legal and ritual commandments for modern people.

Fundamentalism is a modern form of politicized religion by which the so-called „true believers“ are trying to resist the marginalization (in fact, secularization) of religion in their communities. All fundamentalists are identifying and opposing the agents of marginalization (in fact, secularists) and seeking at the same time to restructure political, social, cultural, and economic relations and institutions according to the framework of the traditional-conservative confessional norms and religious teachings as they are understanding them to be „correct“.

Nevertheless, „true believers“ (as they are calling themselves as such) are taking different approaches and methods in pursuing their common goals (religious or/and political no matter):

  1. Some of them are confronting secularists basically on the cultural and social fronts by the methods of launching schools, newspapers, popular or academic journals/magazines, scientific academies, hospitals, etc., for the purpose to serve, educate, and convert people in need of such or similar services.
  2. Nevertheless, other types of religious fundamentalists are fighting by entering the political life by establishing political parties or movements and, therefore, contesting political elections.
  3. A softer form of political organizations is established NGOs rather than classic political parties. All of those fundamentalists, no doubt, are seeking power through established and conventional instruments hoping to transform society in their own ideological way.
  4. Still, another type of fundamentalists is abandoning rule by law and conventional politics and becoming militants who wage a religious „holy war“ for the very purpose to overthrow the established political system and order in certain countries or to commit violent acts of terrorism which are aimed to intimidate the enemy into making concessions in their favor.

Recently, however, fundamentalist movements simply combined these different roles into a single public profile. It became quite evident concerning the 9/11 (2001) case with the elaborate and large-scale attacks by the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Qaida group on the WTC in NYC and Pentagon in Washington, DC. It has to be noticed that fundamentalist groups already became players in a global conflict over resources, political self-determination, and global governance. There are and those fundamentalist movements, especially of the Islamic denomination, which adopted a three-fold strategy that is based on the combination of 1) cultural and social activism, 2) political advocacy and party policy, and 3) pure military operations usually oriented against the „Western imperialism and decadent Western cultural values“.

It has to be noticed that although fundamentalism in principle is opposing modernity as it destroys tradition, the fundamentalists, nevertheless, employ contemporary ways, instruments, and techniques for promulgating their teachings and beliefs. They are using TV as a medium for spreading their doctrines or Internet, emails, different social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), or having their own websites to set forth their views.

Defining religious fundamentalism

Nonetheless, it has to be clear that using the term „fundamentalist“ for everyone who pursues at least one of the fighting strategies enlisted above can be in many cases misleading in the case that other considerations are not taken into account. One good example can be the cases of some contemporary religious leaders who have political power and concentrate on fostering a return to religious practices and lifestyles by fallen-away Muslims, Jews, or Christians. Many specialists think that it would be more accurate to call such types of, in fact, apolitical leaders or religious chieftains „revivalists“ rather than „fundamentalists“ and to see their movements as expressions of confessional revivalism. To say in other words, it is true that not every personality who is taking his/her religion seriously, practices it fervently, and organizes his/her life and career around it is a fundamentalist.

ChomskyBy contrast, fundamentalists would like to change the behavior of nonbelievers but as well as of „wrong“ believers. For that purpose, fundamentalists are struggling for the change of the legal and social structures of the system and society that impede their mission of opposing the godless and converting the nonbelievers. However, at the other extreme, there are too many genuine terrorists and kind of religious warriors (as they propagate to be such) who are, in fact, not so motivated by pure religious sensibilities but rather to be classic mercenaries or secular ideologues exploiting religious fervor for some of their own non-religious purposes.

What is quite true, real fundamentalists are at the same time both religious and political. They share the opinion that general circumstances within the community require him/her to act politically including in many cases violent forms of activity for the only purpose to realize his/her religious tasks and obligations. Probably the most notorious example of such is the case of Ossama bin Ladin – a leader of Sunni fundamentalist network organization of al-Qaida who issued „fatwas“ (religious rulings on Islamic law) calling all Muslims around the world to fight against the USA arguing that the soul (fundaments) of Islam was at risk. One of the focal reasons for subsequent terrorist attacks by al-Qaida in several countries was to demonstrate to fellow Muslims that a universal battle against the infidels was going on and is already in the process of winning.

Contemporary religious fundamentalism has arisen largely in response to globalization or/and Westernization as the (Western) features of modernization progressively undermine traditional elements of the social life and communal traditions (usually based on religious norms) religious fundamentalism has arisen in defense of traditional beliefs and social order and relations based on them. They are, in fact, insisting on faith-based answers and references to ritual truth. In other words, fundamentalism is a tradition that has to be protected and defended in a pure traditional (conservative) way. Another truth is that in practice fundamentalism has more to do with how beliefs are defended and justified than with the content of the beliefs themselves.

A standard understanding of religious fundamentalism is to be a cross-cultural, religio-political pattern of thought and behavior rather than equated with a specific set of beliefs, rituals, or religious practices. However, in this case, it became quite clear that fundamentalists may be found in any religion within a historical framework that has sacred scriptures and basic teachings. They are defenders of a religious tradition and customs that go back centuries rather than to be promoters of a new religion or cult focused on one charismatic leader. Although fundamentalists are defending traditional beliefs and draw on the symbolic and organizational resources of their ancient religion, they are not merely conservative or orthodox believers. In order words, it is not necessarily to be a fundamentalist if one is conservative Christian, Orthodox Judaist, or devout Muslim. Fundamentalists are rather militant conservatives or orthodox who see the world as a battleground between absolute good and absolute evil. Consequently, fundamentalists are spiritual and time to time physical warriors who oppose nonbelievers, doubters, and/or compromisers within their own religious society.

Fundamentalism from the most general point of view can be defined as a style of thinking and teaching in which certain principles are recognized as the fundamental truths that have unchallengeable and overriding authority. It is often associated with fierce, and sometimes fanatical, commitment. Chronologically, the term fundamentalism was used for the first time in debates with American Protestantism in the early 20th century when between the years 1910 and 1915, evangelical Protestants have been published several works under the title „The Fundamentalists“. The final purpose of these works was to uphold the inerrancy, or literal truth, of the Bible in the face of modern interpretations of Christianity. Nevertheless, the term fundamentalism is very controversial as it is commonly associated with inflexibility, dogmatism, and authoritarianism. Therefore, usually, those who are labeled as fundamentalists are rejecting this term as simplistic or demeaning. Instead, they prefer to be called by alternative terms as traditionalists, conservatives, evangelicals, revivalists, etc.

Religious fundamentalism is characterized by a rejection of the distinction between religion and politics. Scriptural literalism, however, is a common feature of all religious fundamentalists – a belief in the literal truth of sacred texts, which as the revealed word of God have unquestionable authority. Consequently, scriptural literalism is the foundation of all types of religious fundamentalism. The term „fundamentalism“ itself is derived from the Latin fundamentum or base. The core idea of religious fundamentalism is that religion cannot be used only in the private domain but rather it has to be incorporated into the politics of popular mobilization and social regeneration in line with religious principles, as opposed to a retreat from corrupt secular society into the purity of faith-based communal living. As for the religious fundamentalists, politics is religion, which means that religious principles should not be restricted to personal/private life but are seen as the organizing principles of public life. Nevertheless, fundamentalism arises usually in deeply problematic societies, especially in those afflicted by an actual or perceived crisis of collective identity (imagined community). Three modern factors, in particular, fostered a fundamentalist impact on religion: secularization, globalization, and postcolonialism.

As a matter of very fact, indeed, the biggest number of religious fundamentalists’ leaders are well educated and they are not backward-looking people. They can be medical doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers even businessmen, or university-educated mothers/fathers who are really using or inventing the instruments of technology, mass communications, and contemporary science. However, Christian fundamentalist (conservative) leaders feel strongly that Western societies made a huge mistake when they replaced God, religion, and divine law with human reasons and secular political principles as the foundation for the legal and social order. In principle, for all religious fundamentalists, the morality and moral order based on religiously established principles are the only acceptable umbrella for the creation and maintenance of the common social good and prosperity, evaluating human behavior, and governing society. From the perspective of Muslim fundamentalists, Western liberal ideas and institutions have been imposed by the West European imperialists who colonized and dominated their communities, converting many local Muslims to their Western „godless“ way of life and social values.

Religious fundamentalism for the first time came to the attention of the Western powers in 1979 when an absolute pro-American monarchy of Iran became transformed into a Shiia Muslim semi-theocracy with an Ayatollah as a supreme religious and political leader of Iran and the Shiia Muslims. For Iranians Shiia Muslim clerics, who had all the time being their spiritual leaders, would now be their political leaders as well. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism prompted the American realist Samuel P. Huntington to warn of the possibility of an upcoming clash of civilizations on the global level between two worlds: Islamic and Western. Nevertheless, two facts are deserved to be mentioned here: 1) Islamic fundamentalism and its various forms represent a politicized interpretation of the Qur’an rejected by most of that faith; and 2) More Muslims are killed by the fundamentalists than people of any other faith or culture.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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One Comment
  1. Quite a long overview. Not clear what the central theme is. Permit me to offer one.

    Faith experiences are embedded in the human brain as a result of evolution. This has survival value when applied internally, to give self-confidence and endurance in times of stress. However when applied externally and enforced, it is very destructive and has been throughout history. See: Vindication of Natural Society by Burke.

    The faith element in religion is the bad part, except for religions that focus on internal contentment. Faith can also be a component of nominally secular ideologies, such as communism. So, the problem is not faith per se, but externally enforced faith in all ideologies not just religion.

    Human brain waves have evolved to resonate with Schumann waves in the atmosphere; this corresponds with the sky gods. Also normal alpha waking state brain waves resonate with very low frequency (about 8hz) sound from movement of tectonic plates. This corresponds with earth goddesses.

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