Fundamentalism Misinterpreted

In summing up, it is appropriate to point to two misinterpretations of Islamic fundamentalism in the West. Some contend that the emergence of fundamentalism is merely a by-product of poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth. They argue, therefore, that social and political reforms can curb and even eliminate fundamentalism. Without question, fundamentalists take full advantage of social deprivation. But at least in this part of the world,

 fundamentalism should not be viewed merely as a function of economic factors. All of the elements contributing to the crises that plague the region, such as poverty and bureaucratic corruption, were in place in the 1970s. Prior to the mullahs’ coming to power in Iran and their export of fundamentalism, however, fundamentalist groups had never developed beyond isolated religious sects. The historical, social, and cultural roots of this phenomenon must not be overlooked.

     Without confronting fundamentalism in political and cultural terms -and that means first of all coming face-to-face with the mullahs’ regime in Tehran-not much can be achieved. In recent years, the mullahs’ rise to power in Iran has played a key role in opening the way for fundamentalism’s expansion. Khomeini swept into power on a genuine wave of popular religious sentiments and revived religious demagogy.

     Another erroneous perception, sometimes encountered in the West, is the suggestion that the Islamic fundamentalists’ rise to power is not necessarily a negative development; it could be a step in Islamic society’s progress toward democracy. This interpretation, beyond being ethnocentric, is extremely dangerous because the logical next step is appeasement of the fundamentalists. It further reveals a profound misunderstanding of the religious nature of Khomeini and is equivalent to suggesting that Fascism and Nazism in Europe in the 1930s "contributed" to Europe’s progress toward democracy. Perhaps, but only after a world war, millions of victims, and the greatest catastrophe in human history. To argue that fundamentalism is "natural" to Middle Eastern development is an insult to the dignity and history of the Middle Eastern peoples.

     Islamic fundamentalism is based upon a medieval and totalitarian ideology. It interferes in the most trivial personal matters of the citizenry, imposing a repressive system that eliminates all avenues for free political, social, and economic activities. Furthermore, owing to its nature, this ideology recognizes no geographic boundaries and, therefore, elevates the export of revolution, crisis, and disruption of all norms of international relations to the top of its agenda.