Blaming religion and Islam: Explaining the fanatic by deploring Islam and its adherents multiplies the challenges facing society rather than mitigates them by situating the source of the problem in Islam as a whole.
Islamophobia as a response to 9/11 or to incidents in Kenya and Pakistan pours vinegar on wounds experienced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and yet it seems an inevitable reflex, which if carried to its own limit by opportunists and purists leads to mimicry of the originating fanaticism.
In its moralising rationalisations for violence against the innocent, the purported anti-fanatic operates in the same milieu of alienated consciousness as the fanatic. The one resembles the other in mentality and deed, although the fanatic is more likely to be sincere than the anti-fanatic who often acts out of ambition created by the situation rather than belief.
There is some reason to feel that fanaticism of this kind is largely a product of monotheistic religion and thought, specifically ideas of dualism separating good and evil, and the insistence that the human mind has access to ‘the truth’ via the revelations of a single God that is applicable to all social and political relations.
In this regard, the philosophic and religious traditions of the east do not seem, at first glance, to nurture such fanatical mentalities as emerge in the west: there is a rejection of dualism and a general acceptance of the view that there are a variety of ways to find fulfilment and salvation, and no single truth that is universally applicable.
Nevertheless, communal, religious, ethnic, class, and political tensions can and do generate habitual genocidal behaviour, which also can well up from the depths of the collective unconscious of an embittered community. Tragically, the land of Gandhi is also the land of Gujarat, where genocidal surges of violence against Muslims have occurred repeatedly, with a major lethal outbreak in 2002. Hindu nationalism in its extreme enactments is as capable of fanatic politics as are extremist exponents of political Islam.
There are also distinctions to be drawn within the Hindu tradition between those who support and those who repudiate the Indian caste distinctions carried to their own inborn extremes in ideas and practices associated with being ‘untouchable’ and ‘bride burning’.
No religion is immune: Even Buddhism, the religion that is most admired around the world for the valuing of compassion, can be lured into the situational camps of fanaticism as was clearly evident in the final stages of the holy war against the Tamils carried to genocidal extremes in Sri Lanka a few years ago, or in the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minorities in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
In other words, culture and political tensions can give rise to radical forms of denial of species or human identity as the essential imperative of people living together in peace and equity.
There is no need to be a secular humanist to acknowledge the human family as encompassing the whole species. The inclusive side of all religions do open this moral and political space, although it is contested from within these traditions by those who champion exclusivist views. To affirm the human is fully compatible with loving God, gods, country, and family, and indeed it may be the only way to achieve a sustainable love.
As humans, we must shake the curse of fanaticism or we are doomed.
By: Richard Falk
Excerpted from ‘Repudiatingfanaticism after the Westgate Mall massacre’.