THE July 7 bombing of London has been ascribed to Islamic fundamentalists.
Why has this form of religiosity become so ubiquitous. What are fundamentalists trying to achieve?
‘Fundamentalism’ is essentially a reaction against secular modernity.
This brings us to a very important point. Fundamentalism is not simply a pragmatic, cerebral movement. It is inspired by deep fears, anxieties and disappointments.
Hence it is not a passing phase, it is part of the modern landscape and will roll-over into the next millennium.
It can be seen as one of those post-contemporary movements, such as environmentalism and feminism, which try to correct some of the imbalances of modernity.
Fundamentalist movements are political but they are not simply obsessed with power. Politics is just part of their battle for God. They are also deeply concerned with private morality and spirituality.
Some engage actively in politics, but others withdraw from what they see as the contamination of the modern world to create an enclave of pure faith, as a first step towards the reclamation of society.
In fact ‘fundamentalism’ has erupted in all the major faiths. Even in the West modernity fills many religious people with ire and despair.
We can see this in the apocalyptic rhetoric of particular Christian fundamentalists who expect an imminent end of days. They see the United Nations as a satanic body, the European Union as the domicile of foreign influence.
Those Christian militiamen responsible for the Oklahoma bombing see the United States Government as an ‘evil empire’.
The fact that such major modern institutions fill so many with such horror shows how deeply alienated fundamentalists feel from the world we live in.
Modernity has not only been a recent arrival in the Islamic world, but it has been imposed by the colonial West and is experienced as alien, foreign, dictatorial and disdainful of local tradition.
People, who have experienced secularism as an invasive force, whether it is imposed upon them by their own people or an imperial power, will fight hard to preserve a religious uniqueness that gives meaning to their lives in an increasingly alien world.
But, as the recent bombings show, it is also a mistake to exploit fundamentalists for your own ends.
This was the mistake of the Israeli Government which initially courted Hamas to undermine the PLO.
In the same way, the Americans were happy to arm and encourage the Islamists of Afghanistan against the Soviets during the Cold War. The people they call terrorists today were then called freedom fighters.
Unless we learn to treat fundamentalists with more respect, we will drive some to still more desperate measures.