Jahanpour, TFF Associate
March 11, 2007
the third anniversary of the terrible bombings in Madrid that killed
nearly 200 people and wounded hundreds more, an outrage that was committed
by some fundamentalists acting in the name of Islam. This was followed
by similar bombings when four terrorists blew themselves up in tube
stations and buses in London and killed 52 innocent people, including
my cousin's daughter, and wounded over a hundred more people.
event, and of course the much greater tragedy on 9/11, are manifestations
of a very ugly phenomenon that has developed among a small minority
of radical Muslims who have a deep sense of grudge against those whom
they hold responsible for the afflictions that have beset the Islamic
it would be as wrong to define their activities as the evidence of a
clash of civilisations between Islam and the West, as it would have
been wrong to describe the IRA atrocities as a clash of civilisations
between Catholicism and the West, or the numerous suicide-bombings of
Tamil tigers as a clash between Hinduism and Buddhism. It is also important
to bear in mind that the Al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups do not
only pose a threat to the West, but to the whole world, including the
Islamic world. This is why these terrorists are not being fought only
in the West, but also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
Egypt and many other Islamic countries. In those countries, one cannot
say that the terrorists represent a clash of civilisations between Islam
and those largely Muslim countries. Terrorists are terrorists, and they
should not be glorified by any association with any major religion.
Nevertheless, the return of religious fundamentalism – and for
that matter all kinds of fundamentalism, including political fundamentalism
– is a disturbing reality of our modern age, and unless we find
a cure to it, all of us will suffer its evil consequences. Instead of
looking at individual cases and demonising certain religions, it is
important to look for the reasons behind the growth of fundamentalism
and militancy in all cultures and religions. Here are some characteristics
that are common among all religious fundamentalists:
1. They have a blinkered view
of reality and see the world only through their own narrow perspective.
They have reduced religions that have produced complex civilisations,
philosophies and cultures into one-dimensional and narrow concepts.
Muslim militants have reduced Islam with its amazing mystical and philosophical
dimensions to Shari'a, or the compendium of Islamic penal codes mainly
put together by Medieval theologians that are completely out of keeping
with modern realities.
Christian and Jewish fundamentalists are also guilty of the same offence.
Ask why they believe in something and they quote you a verse from the
Bible, the Gospels or the Koran, not realising that those teachings
were written at a time and a place, completely different from the world
in which we live today
2. The fundamentalists are reactionary
and backward-looking, instead of innovative and forward-looking. As
the result of their limited approach towards religion, they make religion
look like a stagnant pool. They do not realise that if religion were
not a changing and dynamic phenomenon it would stagnate and die like
is or should be like a flowing river. It moves on and takes on the colour
and the shape of the channels and the courses it runs through. All religions
have been greatly influenced and often improved by the cultures and
civilisations that they have come into contact with, but to the fundamentalists
innovation is heresy. In fact the Arabic word bid'ah or innovation also
stands for heresy.
3. Another problem with the fundamentalists
is that they believe in the literal meaning of their texts. They do
not realise that the literal text is a shallow text. Any profound and
lasting text is complex and multi-layered and requires the mediation
of human intelligence, understanding, interpretation and hermeneutics.
The text by itself is mute. They find their meaning through the interaction
of our minds, insight, understanding and vision.
take the literal meaning of the texts that were written centuries or
thousands of years ago is not only an injustice to those texts, it is
even profoundly harmful and dangerous. In the words of Christ, 'the
word killeth, the spirit giveth life.' The Koran tell us that it contains
two types of verses, the muhkamat or clear texts that do not require
any interpretations and mutashabihat or allegorical texts that should
be read with the eye of the soul, whose meaning can be understood only
by 'those who are firmly-grounded in knowledge'.
4. The fourth problem with the
fundamentalists is that not only that they have a narrow understanding
of religion, they wish to impose their views on others. They are not
content with believing what they do but they expect others to have the
same narrow vision of reality. If others do not agree with their prejudices,
they force it on them through violence.
fundamentalists are also violent. Speaking after the 9/11 atrocities,
former President Mohammad Khatami said of the perpetrators of that crime:
"They have self-mutilated their minds and hearts and tongues and
can only communicate through the language of violence." The philosophy
of the fundamentalists is 'I am right; you are dead."
5. However, despite their aggressive
behaviour, the fundamentalists also suffer from a feeling of victimhood.
They believe that the whole world is against them. Regarding themselves
as the true custodians of truth, they believe that those who do not
share their views are intent on destroying them. Not believing in pluralism
and the relativity of truth, they think that 'you are either with us
or against us'. Any deviation from the 'straight path', as they see
it, is a declaration of war against them and their narrow ideology.
Therefore, they see it as their mission to fight against the enemies
of 'God' and 'Truth'.
6. Another characteristic of
fundamentalism is that it is a reaction to change and modernism. It
is a rearguard action and really has no message for today or tomorrow.
Like simple people who are suddenly confronted with a complex situation
and are baffled, the fundamentalists also react to modernism with rage
and resistance. They are basically frightened. They are frightened of
change, of modernism and development. They feel insecure in themselves
and their beliefs. Consequently, they lash out against what they do
not understand. They want to stick to the status quo and prevent the
march of history.
7. The fundamentalists are filled
with hate and with rage, while all religions have preached tolerance,
humility, patience, forbearance and love.
taught: "It is not by hatred that hatred shall cease, it is by
love that hatred shall cease."
Bible teaches: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Christ went even further
and taught: "Love your enemy as yourself" and 'turn the other
preached: 'You will not go to heaven unless you have faith, and your
faith will not be complete unless you love one another.' The Koran says:
"A man who kills another human being it is as though he has killed
mankind", because killing is an act of sacrilege against God's
creation." The Koran also states: "Goodness and evil cannot
be equal. Repel (evil) with something that is better. Then you will
see that he with whom you had enmity will become your close friend.
And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience
In the words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis, "The greatest dangers
to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning
but without understanding."
biggest challenge that mankind faces today is to prevent the views of
the 'men of zeal' to predominate. What the world is facing is not a
clash of civilisations, but a clash between a liberal and pluralistic
view of the world, and one based on religious and political dogmatism
is needed is not resort to force but a clash of ideas and an effort
towards greater understanding and tolerance.