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A Cacophony of Fundamentalisms

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2006
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:


      A cacophony of fundamentalism
      Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar
      03 November 2006 09:25

      Gilbert Achcar: When Arab nationalism, Nasserism and similar
      trends began to crumble in the 1970s, most governments used
      Islamic fundamentalism as a tool to counter remnants of the
      left or of secular nationalism.

      A striking illustration of the phenomenon is Egyptian
      president Anwar al-Sadat. He fostered Islamic fundamentalism
      to counter remnants of Nasserism after he took over in 1970
      and ended up being assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists
      in 1981.

      Today in the Middle East the same genie is out of the bottle
      and out of control. The repression of progressive or secular
      ideologies, aggravated by the collapse of the Soviet Union,
      has left the ground open to the only ideological channel
      available for anti-Western protest -- Islamic fundamentalism.

      Noam Chomsky: Without drawing the analogy too closely, I
      think there is something similar in the US fundamentalist

      It should be added, however, that the dynamic may be
      universal. [Whether] Christian or Jewish or Islamic or
      Hindu, the fundamentalist religious impulse can be turned to
      serve political agendas.

      In the United States, what we call fundamentalism has very
      deep roots, from the early colonists. There's always been an
      extreme, ultra┬şreligious element, more or less
      fundamentalist, with several revivals.

      In the past 25 years, fundamentalism has been turned for the
      first time into a major political force. It's a conscious
      effort, I think, to try to undermine progressive social
      policies. Not radical policies but rather the mild social
      democratic policies of the preceding period are under
      serious attack.

      The fundamentalists were mobilised into a political force
      for the first time to provide a base for this reaction, and
      -- to the extent that the political system functions, which
      is not much -- to shift the focus of many voters from the
      issues that really affect their interests (such as health,
      education, economic issues, wages) to religious crusades to
      block the teaching of evolution, gay rights and abortion rights.

      These are all issues about which CEOs, for example, just
      don't care very much. They care a lot about the other
      issues. And if you can shift the focus of debate and
      attention and presidential politics to questions quite
      marginal for the wealthy -- questions of, say, gay rights --
      that's wonderful for people who want to destroy the labour
      unions, or to construct a social/political system for the
      benefit of the ultra-rich, while everyone else barely survives.

      This fundamentalist mobilisation has occurred during a
      unique period of American economic history where, for about
      25 years, real wages have either stagnated or declined for
      the majority. Real median family incomes are rising far more
      slowly than productivity and economic growth, and for some
      sectors, declining. There were things like the Great
      Depression, but never 25 years of stagnation through a
      period with no serious economic disruptions.

      Working hours have been going way up, social benefits way
      down, and indebtedness is growing enormously. These are real
      social and economic crises. One way for the powerful to
      manage these crises is by mobilising the fundamentalist
      sectors and turning them into an active political force.

      Thus the discourse and the focus shift to issues of great
      concern to the fundamentalists, but of only marginal concern
      to the people who own and run the society.

      In fact, you could take a look at the attitudes of CEOs:
      they're what are called liberal. They're not very different
      from college professors. And if the population can become
      obsessed with "evolution theory" and gay rights, that's
      fine, so long as the business world is running the social
      and economic policies with little interference.

      After the last election, the business press described the
      "euphoria" in corporate boardrooms, and it wasn't because
      they were against gay marriage. Some were, some weren't;
      many of them or their children are gay anyway -- no, what
      they knew is that it was a free run for business.

      And if you can manage that, that's an achievement; it's one
      of the ways the population can be kept under control -- plus
      inducing fear, which is a standard device.

      My impression is that a real shift came with the
      administration of Jimmy Carter. Pre-Carter, nobody really
      much cared whether the president was religious.

      But Carter, who was probably sincere, somehow taught party
      managers that if you put on a pious face, you appeal to a
      big voting bloc. Since Carter, every presidential candidate
      has pretended to religious experience.

      In any case, it became possible to mobilise religious
      sentiment, which had always been there, and to turn it into
      a major political force, into the focus of political
      discourse, displacing social and economic issues.

      Take right now. For most of the population, the major issues
      are things like exploding healthcare costs. But neither
      political party wants to deal with that; they're too much in
      the pocket of the insurance companies and the financial
      institutions and so on. So instead they have battles about
      evolution theory and intelligent design, and they'll argue
      about that. Meanwhile, the rich go on their way, running the

      Stephen Shalom: Perhaps we should clarify terms here. There
      are some very traditional, religious Muslims who say that
      "fundamentalism" is an attitude toward religion and that it
      doesn't imply that you want to impose it on somebody else.
      So, according to this view, one shouldn't use
      "fundamentalism" as a politically derogatory term.

      Chomsky: I think religious Muslims would make that
      distinction, just as when some Jewish fundamentalists were
      stopped just before they blew up a mosque, religious Jews
      dissociated themselves from them. That makes sense.

      We're talking here about the rise and use of fundamentalism
      as a general phenomenon, across cultures. The correlation
      between social and economic programmes that cause hardships
      for most of the population, and the ascendancy of
      fundamentalism as a core of political debate, is too close
      to be disregarded.

      -- Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar

      Noam Chomsky, the author, most recently, of Failed States:
      The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, is a
      professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Gilbert Achcar, a
      native of Lebanon, teaches politics and international
      relations at the University of Paris. He is the author of
      several books on contemporary politics, including Clash of
      Barbarisms, and is a frequent contributor to Le Monde

      Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy by
      Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar is published by Paradigm

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      "Don't just question authority,
      Don't forget to question me."
      -- Jello Biafra
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