21 May 2007

Rising fanaticism in the US and Middle East are similar

The rise of Christian fanatics in the US and Muslim fanatics in the Middle East is creating a very dangerous situation that must be addressed before we really do wind up in a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. Reversing the trend may be difficult, but not impossible.
One of the features of both the Christian right and Al Qaeda-type Muslims is that they both focus on warring with their religious enemies and use their beliefs to brutalise others, allowing them to combine the joys of righteousness with cruelty – a truly heady mix. Think of all the “Christians” who support the idea of kicking women with children off welfare and all the Taliban-think-alikes who force widows to beg in street rather than work.
To reverse the trend we must figure out what are the chief causes of the increase in fanatical beliefs. In both the US and the Middle East, the rise of fanatical religious beliefs coincided with persistently declining standards of living and increasingly corrupt governments and a general slow loss of faith in the secular state. As people increasingly felt that their governments were more interested in shafting and controlling them than helping, and as making ends meet became harder and harder, people began turning to religion for solace. But it is a bitter, angry solace that seeks revenge. As the bitter interpretation of religion grows it spreads throughout the society.
Currently it is meeting some opposition. In Turkey, the military had to threaten to topple the government, again, if it gave control to the religious fanatics. In the US, the last Congressional election and various scandals have staved off control by the Christian right.
But the rise of the Christian right is especially worrisome in upper levels of the US government. The US is too powerful for senior decision-makers to adhere to religious beliefs that require them to wilfully ignore science. Similarly, the same right wingers are not just villainising science, but journalism too. It is a full assault on the finders and purveyors of truth. I suspect this is because the scientists and journalists aren’t agreeing with what the Christian right wants to believe. Look at the Christian right’s views of global warming. They honestly believe that it’s a great international conspiracy of the evil climatologists, atmospheric chemists and meteorologists against the good and pure oil and coal executives. They manage that feat by wilfully ignoring the scientific evidence and the glaring motives for self interest.
But it is not just the Christian right that has rebelled against science and truth. Muslim fanatics similarly create their own, equally fanciful versions of the truth, although they do tend to have and more hate propaganda of the sort that went out of style in the West after WWII.
Both strains of religious fanaticism are inherently authoritarian, requiring all who follow them to shun earthly pleasures and devote themselves to God. Notably, they also require everyone else around them to play along. Even in the US it seems that most people have been cowed by religious fanatics to the point where they are afraid to say they don’t believe in God lest they be labelled godless unbelievers (and probably liberals). The situation is much worse in the Middle East. Converting away from Islam in Afghanistan is punishable by death, in accordance with the Koran.
The problem is that the longer a society holds lunatic ideas and the poorer the sources of information, the worse it will run, creating a downward spiral of superstition and oppression.
It is high time to start looking seriously at the declining standards of living and education, and reverse them in both the US and Middle East. This means that the elites cannot keep pillaging their societies. In George Bush’s America, it means forcing US companies to compete internationally instead of relying on government gifts and taxing the wealthy to bolster the nation.
For the Middle East, the road is going to be harder because they are starting from a lower base and are generally more religious. However, the remedy is the same.

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