Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fundamentalists of various persuasions

Every once in a while I hear talk about how Christian fundamentalists are just as bad as the Muslim ones. To that, I usually feel like quoting Mark Steyn:

"Unfortunately, for the old moral equivalence to hold up, the Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people. At the moment, the brilliantly versatile Muslim fundamentalists are gunning down Maryland schoolkids and bus drivers, hijacking Moscow theatres, self-detonating in Israeli pizza parlours, blowing up French oil tankers in Yemen, and slaughtering nightclubbers in Bali, while Christian fundamentalists are, er, sounding extremely strident in their calls for the return of prayer in school."

Steyn is exaggerating a bit of course, forgetting Eric Robert Rudolph and John Salvi. Still, Rudolph and Salvi and the rest of Christian terrorists in the world, for, say, the last 30 years are rather meager pickings in comparison to the amount of Muslim terrorism during the same time in, say, France (all because France invaded Iraq, I am sure, or because Israel is occupying Palesine, or because Pattani was annexed by Thailand in 1909 or because of the Crusades or because of some other real or imagined grievance).

I think it is pretty obvious that Islamic fundamentalists are more trouble than any other kind, but I keep wondering how much of this is inherent in the fundamentalists themselves, and how much of it is inherent in the fact that Christian and Jewish fundamentalists tend to be a smaller percentage of the respective populations, and rather less liked. This is of course an interactive process: the more the surrounding society dislikes the fundamentalists, the more pressure there is on them to behave themselves, the more they try to please, etc.

One problem in discussing Islamic, Christian and Jewish fundamentalism is that the standards for defining a fundamentalist in public discourse are quite different for different religions. The media usually reserves the use of the expression "Islamic fundamentalist" to the people who are fairly vocal supporters of Islamic terrorism, and tends to call people who do not speak in support of terrorism too often "moderates". I think that if we apply the same standards to Christians and Jews their fundamentalists would almost completely disappear.

It is kind of understandable that when the media is talking about "moderate Muslim clerics" or "fundamentalist Muslim clerics" they tend to use these expressions to compare them to other Muslim clerics, but then they - and we - should always remember that when we are talking about "Muslim fundamentalists" and about "Christian fundamentalists" we are not talking about the same thing.

If we start applying the same standards to Islam as we apply to Christians or Jews, we might find that their fundamentalists are only somewhat more violent than ours - but we might also find out that there is an awful lot of them.

The most prominent examples of "moderate muslim clerics" mentioned in the media are Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Tariq Ramadan. Would the people even in their worst nightmare call a Christian priest who supports some suicide bombings and demands punishment for homosexuals a "moderate"? Or a rabbi who has supported terrorist organizations financially?

A recent poll in the UK found that 37% of young (16 to 24) Muslims would prefer to live under Sharia, 36% believe that apostasy should be punished by death, and 74% would prefer Muslim women to wear veils. This did not produce any "74% of young UK Mislims are fundamentalists" headlines. However, if I saw a Jew who wants to live under Halacha, or believes that people who convert out of Judaism should be shunned and not talked to, or believes that married women should cover their hair, I would consider that person a fundamentalist.

This I think is the problem. In Christianity and Judaism fundamentalists, or at least the kind of fundamentalists who want to change the whole society according to their religious views, are small minorities who are reasonably afraid of the majority. In Islam they are either the majority or a large minority, and have nobody to be afraid of.

Anyways - IMO religious fundamentalists of any persuasion are, generally speaking, bad news. Yes, they have the right to practice their religions. And I have a right to consider them bad news. There are groups of them that live their fundamentalist lives in peace and don't try to force others to live according to their religion, but I strongly suspect that this is just because they don't think they can. And while I think that it's Islamic fundamentalists who cause most problems, I would find it rather disturbing if several tens of thousands of fundamentalist Christian or fundamentalist Jewish voters suddenly materialized all around me.

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