The Rise in Fundamentalism

By: Grainne Rhuad

In fundamentalism one holds that one’s religious texts are infallible and historically accurate, despite contradiction of these claims by modern scholarship.
In 1994in Qandahar, when Afghanistan was plagued by civil war as well as facing Russia, the world began to take note of a sect of religiously based seekers, in fact the  name  “Taliban” translates to “One who is seeking” This religious fervor was nothing new, there has ever been in every religious tradition waves of people who think outside the box or conversely too deeply within the box.

While there is no consensus regarding the triggering events that would mark the rise of the Taliban, it is clear that the initial popularity of the Taliban was due to the complete collapse of law and order under the Mujahideen era, which had officially begun in 1992.  It is also interesting to note that through political placement of fundamentalist Christians in both government and high profile media jobs we are hearing more in our own homeland about the same sort of collapse of law and order which they postulate only a return to God’s loving embrace can cure.

Initially, on the surface, the  goals of the Taliban were to disarm the country, end lawlessness and enforce the Islamic law or the Sharia on a united Afghanistan. The Taliban so far have been successful in bringing relative law and order in around 85% of the country that they control. They have done so mainly by disarming and in certain cases by incorporating in their ranks, the previous warring groups.

So too seem to be the goals of the Christian Right, to end lawlessness and usher in a new era wherein according to some, the God of Abraham and his Son will sit at the head of state, which goal seems noble if you take it at face value, God is supposed to be fair, balanced, kind and full of love.  However it doesn’t seem plausible that God would want to sit at the helm of the country, and there are many resources that state just that.

While we often think of the Taliban as a violent oppressor, and rightly so, we are failing to note that their beginnings were based on the fundamentals of religion.  To what lengths would a religious governing power in our own country go to keep their statutes in order once achieving majority?  We are already seeing the huge voting source that Christianity can pull upon.

In the recent elections in many states regarding the right to marry for those of the same sex, the single biggest factor that was cited by those voting against it was “homosexuality is morally wrong.”  Also since the moment Roe vs. Wade made abortion possible it is the Christian morality that drives opposition to abortion, even to the detriment of the health of both mother and fetus.  These are only two glaring examples, it is a given that there are many more items on the Christian agenda of world domination.

It has been noted that the Taliban cannot understand why it should be the world’s business when they, for instance, amputate the hand of a thief, or stone to death an adulterer, as prescribed by Islamic criminal law. By what authority, Taliban leaders demand, does a western organization intercede on behalf of an Afghan woman in contravention of local cultural mores that have persisted for more than a thousand years?

However doesn’t the Christian faction in the United States also see things in the same way? Doesn’t the world look at our current debates on issues like abortion as outrageous and unnecessary?  Don’t we see our government as a God-given right that nobody has any say-so in?  And taking it a step farther doesn’t every country view its unique way of governing in this light?

Many Afghans were surprised and pleased with the elimination of corruption and restore to religious rule under the Taliban.  Likewise, in the U.S. and other western Christian based countries, many preachy folks feel that the elimination of corruption can only come about by following the god of Abraham’s laws.

The Taliban’s strict social policies and their anomalous interpretation of Islam have had detrimental effects on Afghans and have alienated them from the rest of the world. Do we think that a Christian run country would be any less isolating?

Christian Fundamentalism used to be confined to Bible belt areas, those areas below the mason-Dixie line.  It was fostered there by disenfranchised slave owners who believed their God fearing rights had been denied them by the federal government.  Interestingly enough, it was the same Republican party that they saw as taking away these rights that they over time infiltrated and changed to reflect their ideals.

Similarly, Pakistan is a lonely country, a hard place to live a place where intellectual pursuits are not as important as day to day living.  Most people you will find there do not concern themselves as much with university and world outreach as they do eking out a daily living, to this end the study of religion becomes more important as it is the protection of God, Allah or whomsoever one prays to that individuals hope for.

After the 2008 elections in California when the Religious Right effectively made it illegal for anyone but one man and one woman to marry each other, a frightening trend began emerging.
Concerned moderates from within religious communities most involved with this movement began to observe the behavior of people who thought that their way was the only way.

One very noticeable outcome was people had gotten high on district walking, phone banking and generally speaking their mind.  It brought to them a sense of empowerment that for some reason many of them had been missing.  What I was concerned with was the reaching, disconnected tentacles of this huge army of people left with no cause.  It was ripe for the picking from any charlatan that cared to make use of it.

It was a classic crowd set up for a grafter or politician, as it turns out the situation was not far off as an Army of God moved in to begin its take-over. And it isn’t a new scenario.   Current Taliban heavily influenced by the teachings of Madressas in Pakistan a country created out of strife when India broke away from Britain and which continues to be a place where those fleeing from one thing foreign intervention continue to go.

The Taliban made their move to win more public favor in September of 1994 when they avenged the death of a family who was caught at a guard point.  Instituting a punishment for warlords that they had previously supported by killing of the rapists and attackers of this family and instituting “morality laws” for people for which there would be no quarter given.

It is interesting to note that in our Country and others that are largely Christian identified, the Christian faction are similarly attempting to make a return to “core values” and punish any whom would deviate from whatsoever definition of “core values” is popular at the moment.  Things like Homosexuality, right to protest, public aid, practicing other religions.

I made mention of an “Army of God” and I give it this name not because of its righteousness  but because the Abrahamic God is the idol that has been set at the head of it.  It was an easy take over for two reasons.  1.  People wanted to be useful and 2. They were used to anything that the Abrahamic God said being right and true.  It required almost no selling point other than “God wants this, and you do want to do what God wants don’t you?”

Christian militancy has been on the rise in our nation for quite some time.  Former President Jimmy Carter took note of it and wrote a book on it “Our Endangered Values” by Jimmy Carter
President Carter states that some of the direct results of fundamental religious changes in our government are “Seismic, dramatic, radical changes threaten the very core of “America’s traditions values”.  At stake are simple justice; the fundamental rule of law, domestically and under binding international treaties, enforced and applied equally to all; religious freedom; a nation dedicated to pursuing peace rather than instigating wars; a growing threat of nuclear annihilation; a nation becoming less and less secure; the environment under siege at the same time its economy is threatened.”

“The list is long and deeply troubling,” President Carter says, “watching America’s core values crumble day-by-day before a host of assaults — America torturing prisoners internationally; the Administration admitting to spying on Americans despite the fact that it is illegal; new policies for declaring war or setting policies of pre-emptive war rather than following an ancient commitment of all American Presidents not to go to war unless America’s security is directly threatened.”

Speaking from his private religious convictions in an interview with Paula Gordon, President Carter reminds us that Christ emphasized humility and servant-hood, never domination or prestige. He was the Prince of Peace, not of pre-emptive war. There’s a need for religious people in public office — whether a devout Catholic like John F. Kennedy or a devout Protestant like himself, President Carter says — not to show any preference of one religion over others, but rather to offer exactly equal treatment of all citizens of the United States, whatever they believe.

Like a fog the insidiousness of this call to arms infiltrated. Unnoticed at first as its tendrils wrapped around individuals until its seeping fingers reached in and made cold the affected person.  Until at last the individual drifted from view, unrecognized and unseen as an individual they became a part of something else.

One who stood outside of the fog felt lost.

Some things became most noticeable and concerning to more moderate members of Christianity.

Firstly, a rise in intolerance; where before what had been taught was to Love each and every one as God himself was their father, to judge not.  Now in its place was put, “Love the sinner but not the sin.”  and of a sudden there was so  much more sin, so many more names for sin.  Forgotten separations now re-employed.

This was very similar to how other fundamental regimes rose, like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In 1995 the UN estimated a loss in population in Afghanistan of about 50,000 souls with the country destabilized, warlords who had been soaking up religious teaching from semi-literate Mullahs came in and effectively took over the governance of the country through terrorism and the withholding of resources..

In the case of American Christianity, next came a rise in urgency for outreach but not in a positive helping sense.  Rather in a sense of saving, even those in no need or want of it.  With this came a firm set of instructions not to argue any points.  To me it seemed this was not for the sake of regarding the feelings of others but rather so the crusaders sent out would hear no other message save their own.  The closing down of our own education had begun

Schools public and teachers, preachers, poets were of a sudden made public enemies, to keep our children from their influence became a new issue.  Anything that caused an individual to stop and evaluate somehow was to be shunned and feared.  Where before the way to enlightenment shone bright with questions and quests encouraged along the way as the only way to truly know truth of a sudden there was to be no questioning for doing so we were told was to turn from the light of God.

With this came an unorthodox preaching in copious amounts.  Politics from the pulpit when in plain language in our own customs this was not just discouraged, but disallowed.  Also new ideas of heaven and hell and our place in it were being presented not as personal discussion points but as truth.  The inside of me began to hurt, the discordant resonance telling me this was very bad and very wrong.

More help and service came with strings attached, messages and lessons delivered with meals and building where before it was about doing what was right for one another now it had a more sinister meaning, it was a trap for a squirrel a box with a string sat atop every meal.

And there is yet another fear, the control of our nation and how it is financed.

Where the members of the Taliban took their paychecks from road blockaded and stealing, our Christian Brethren take their paychecks through a different type of fear, one more televised the ideal that an angry God will not love you if you do not support him and his representatives.

Where the Taliban subjugated women through condoned rape our Christian brethren subjugate women through the increased teachings that women need to be having children for God’s army,  that they have a duty to be a mother to as many as they can.  It is readily apparent even on network television channels like TLC that Christian families are actively engaged in staffing their army through higher birth rates.

In Afghanistan the harshness of the Taliban’s rules is felt most keenly in urban centers.  Places where people are most socially isolated due to lack of family or connections as women cannot afford to affront the Mullahs.  Harsh Biblical punishments like stoning and the cutting off of limbs having been reinstated.  Interestingly enough the more rural areas feel less of a change.  Their lives were already hard and they had little to give up.  In rural areas also people are organized by family clans thus giving them more of a sense of safety in community.

It is interesting to note that the rural areas of America are also the most aggressive at pushing forward the Christian led battle cry.  It seems that as in Afghanistan the rural, less literate and those of a lower social/ economical standing have more to gain by having a religiously run government.  This is something that at least makes sense to them, it is what they live by, vengeful punishment being held over their head on a daily basis.

Another interesting parallel is the economic state of Afghanistan.  In the west we like to blame the Taliban for the downfall of the currency however it was the mistake of the preceding government which tried to bail out their deficient economy by printing money with nothing to back it, much as we here have done.  For this reason many people found themselves aligning with the Taliban who at least had a plan for opium production that actually brought in money.

This sounds eerily familiar with our own country suffering a depression in its economy due to preceding governments and ridiculous bailouts provided with little or no plan and nothing to back it.

In the area of foreign policy the Taliban have found themselves with very few allies.  This is mostly due to their uncompromising treatment of women and harboring of terrorist factions.

We like to think that we have a lot of allies however in recent years we have effectively through our own inability to bend alienated many countries who have previously been our allies.

The bottom line is the very thing we have sent young men and women to war to ostensibly fight; Fundamentalist government is something that we seem all too eager to embrace.  Which should make us stop and think on many levels, and yet we press on in the “Work of the Lord.”

As this began and as it continues I begin to lose my own sense of self and cultural identity.  I ask myself constantly was this always there?  Was it waiting in back? Did I miss it?  Or did it really come in as an alien force attacking beliefs that I hold/ held dear?

I fear the loss of the truest form of Love the unbridled, unattached, complete Love that used to be, already I do not feel that thing that sense of belonging and familial touch.  I feel separation and distrust.  Everyone sizing up everyone else’s intentions cataloging, looking for differences and weaknesses in brothers and sisters.

I fear miseducation of the youth, most importantly my own but everyone else’s too.  My own however, I have brought to this doctrine, telling them a lifetime ago it was right and true and correct.  I fear having to take it back and how that will be; will they be already lost to it?  Am I too early?  Am I too late?

This question of (mis) education has too been demonstrated by militant Islamic practitioners. “Since the establishment of Islam in Afghanistan, the Taliban, a sort of religious proletariat, have been recognized as an inseparable part of the social fabric. In addition to running religious schools, mosques, shrines and all kinds of religious affairs, they have distinguished themselves as mujahedeen (holy warriors) whenever the cause of Islam or, for that matter, the cause of Afghanistan as a Muslim country, was at stake. Thus, in the context of Afghan history, the Taliban are not an upstart movement. The international community, however, perceives them differently and seems to be confused by the Taliban phenomenon.  This stems from the fact that Taliban, as simply one component of a religious establishment, have always lived in the shadow of military, political and economic elites. Now Taliban leaders themselves have assumed the role of military-political governing elite for the first time in the history of Afghanistan.

They are the followers of the “Deobandi” school of thought, preached by mullahs (clerics) in Pakistani madrassas. The Deobandi school emerged as a reform movement in British India with the aim of rejuvenating Islamic society in a colonial state. The Pakistani version of the Deobandi schools in Afghan refugee camps were, however, often run by in-experienced and semi-literate mullahs, associated with Pakistan’s Jami’at-e ‘Ulema-e Islam (JUI) political party. Saudi funds and scholarships, during the Afghan struggle against the Soviets, in combination with a lack of appreciation on the part of the mullahs of the reformist Deobandi agenda, brought the schools and its curricula closer to ultraconservative Wahabism, which claims to teach strict adherence to the practices of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the Four Rightful Caliphs. But it must be pointed out that the majority of Taliban foot soldiers are the products of Afghani Masjids, may they be inside Afghanistan or within Refugee camps.

And what will happen if an entire generation grows into intolerance because people like myself feel it prudent to leave and they are left with no opposing voices.  What happens then when a huge machine rolls forward with nobody to nay say it?

For more reading and information here are some of the sources I cited: