Our increasing media fuelled paranoia over extremism and terrorism rests on the misguided notion that what lies behind this uncertainty and violence is a heartless and fundamentalist reading of religious texts leading to militant action. This has been packaged and sold to the Western public as a Clash of Civilisations, where our world of modernity and progress has been pitted against an Arab World of fanaticism and fundamentalism, and we have come to fear rigid fundamentalisms – especially religious fundamentalisms – as a source of hatred and violence. Yet what we fail to see, or better, what is being hidden from us, is that modern Islamist terrorism and fundamentalism are two very different things.


Islamic terrorism, as any half intelligent person can see, is a by-product of colonialism and more recent Western expansionism and interventionism in the Middle East. People of the so-called Islamic World are as politically conscious and nationalistic as any other population, and are every bit as likely as any other to resist foreign interference in their countries. In the respect of the Middle East, Islam – as the majority religion and therefore a powerful cultural unifier – has merely become a solidifying symbol of Middle Eastern resistance against Western imperialism. Even a dullard will see that this does not require a fundamentalist reading of religious texts to work. In some regards it may help, but it is by no means a necessary ingredient.

Our present and now seemingly endless War on Terror is a clash, but as an asymmetric assault by western powers on weaker resource rich Middle East nations it is little different from the empire building of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, fundamentalism more closely approximates the fabled Class of Civilisations, but with the subtle distinction of it being rather a clash with civilisation. Human progress has been possible only due to our ability to learn about the world around us, remember what we have learned, and develop appropriate tools to change the environment to our benefit. This has made civilisation possible.

Fundamentalism is a fluke of this global social process, and fundamentalists are to be found everywhere in human society. Driven by the fear of change and uncertainty, a lack of imagination, and in thrall to dogmatic applications of what little they have half-learned, they adopt a quasi-conservative worldview by which they both deny scientific progress and bar its benefits from whomever they can. Such people are found in all walks of life. They are in politics and in the media, they are religious and secular, and they have varying degrees of power from place to place. The reality of fundamentalism right now is that there are fundamentalists in Islamic terror groups and in the halls of power of the countries dropping bombs on them.


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