Saturday, May 20, 2006

Religious extremists in the political mainstream

Imagine the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan or Egypt was able to establish a special university that was exceptionally well-funded, and supported politically by powerful politicians, businessmen and organizations from across the region.

Imagine that this university was established specifically for those students whose parents had raised them in a way that saw the entire society around them as corrupt, and in nead of drastic, God-inspired reform, and that there was a kind of test of belief for all those who studied, taught or worked there. The young people studying in this university would have been raised completely outside of state or other state-regulated public schools, and would have been taught a very narrow religious curriculum.

Imagine that the students in this school had been raised to believe that the only source of truth was a sacred religious text written centuries ago, and that all other sources, especially any with a hint of European enlightenment thinking or liberalism were suspect at best, probably tainted by Satan himself, if not an actual Satanic inspiration. Imagine the political and social forces supporting this school not only had occupied important local, state and national political offices, but even had the ear of the leader of the country.

In this university, these young men and women, who had been raised to see the society around them as a dangerous enemy, and to see the world outside their country as full of all kinds of other terrible people who wanted to attack their country and forcibly wreck their religion, would be given the best chances to meet powerful members of society who shared their views, or at least wanted their support, and be given choice jobs throughout government and industry.

This is not an imaginary tale. This is a reality coming from the United States and a growing slice of the American Christian right. In an article about a growing scandal at this "university" outside Washington, the Washington Post reports that:

The college has ambitions to place conservative Christian graduates in positions of influence, where they will help reshape American culture. Since the school opened six years ago, its student body has grown from 88 students to 300, and it has sent students to prized internships at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
The school has part of its mission as balancing a quality liberal arts education with the kind of narrow minded religious fundementalism I described above. The tensions inherent in its mission are what have caused the scandal, as a kind of religious puritan head has clashed with a number of teachers and employees who have suggested such scandalous ideas as salvation being possible through baptism as opposed to just belief in Jesus, or that there sources other than the bible that might be sources of useful information. The focus on liberal arts is not an admiration for liberal thought, but instead a training that allows fundamentalists to navigate the secular world around them in a way that covers their extremism and makes them seem well educated and tolerant, when basically they are not. These are not all "peace and love and turn the other cheek" kind of Christians, but those who see the need to use force to battle the forces of Satan at work in the world.

So while policy makers in the US are further impovershing Palestinians and in some cases killing them through its economic and political blockade, due to the narrow victory of Hamas at the polls, they are also cozying up to even more reactionary, illiberal and dangerous home-grown religious fundamentalists in America.

Still scared of fundamentalism in the Muslim world? That may be fair, but I find fundamentalism in America at least as threatening and dangerous a force at work in the world.


Blogger 21stCenturyShea said...

I agree that American fundamentalists can be a scary lot. However, whatever in-roads they make & strategems they employ, they will not change the fundamental DNA of American society which recognizes the supreme importance of the separation of church & state.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a number of Middle Eastern countries where the importance of separating church and state is not self evident.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

21stcenturyshea: I hope you're right about America. It just takes a small band of dedicated extremists to make a mess of trouble. There's a good number of people who say the bible is America's constitution.

Never assume the crazies won't somehow take power. Being a secular democracy demands constant vigilence on the part of an educated citizenry. We are sorely lacking on that score.

7:14 PM  

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