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The riddle of religious fundamentalism

By David Conde

In a last ditch effort to save itself from attack by demonstrators, the U.S. embassy in Cairo put out the following statement: “The Embassy of the United States condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” The statement was criticized by Mitt Romney because it appeared to apologize for an anti-Muslim movie produced in America and the subject of so many violent demonstrations across the Islamic world.

The statement did no good as the violence against the American Embassy in Cairo went on until the Egyptian police were able to gain control of the situation. The consulate in Benghazi, Libya was not so lucky as the American ambassador of that country and three of his staff died from a coordinated invasion of the facilities by Islamic radicals.

Given the circumstances, I think the embassy statement later disavowed by the Obama administration was a good idea. You need to do whatever is necessary to avoid another tragedy like that in Libya.

My years at what is today Horace Mann Middle School in north Denver taught me to do whatever was necessary in order to not to get beat up. When a gang threatened me and I could not talk my way out of a beating I ran and lived to fight another day.

The irony is that the movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in the United States and its distribution is supported by American fundamentalist Christians such as Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who is best known for his threat to burn the Koran in 2010. This puts fundamentalist Christians as adversaries to fundamentalist Muslims that populate the Arab world among others.

Yet they are the same type of folks in that obedience to God takes people to extreme efforts to convert others to the chosen community. The difference however, between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists is that Islamic fundamentalists are fashioned in the same way as Christians at the end of the Middle Age while Christian fundamentalists are trying to fight for a status quo that no longer exists.

Islamic fundamentalism appears like a long last gasp of a religious life-style that is losing its relevance among a people that yearn to join a modern world. The Arab Spring points to a direction that is much different from the political statements of the past.

Although religion continues to dictate much of its public policy, the Arab Springs is producing a transition forward to a renaissance much like the transition from a Middle Age environment in Europe to the establishment of institutions that characterize the Western World. Christian fundamentalism is going in a different direction and for a different reason in that instead of attempting to move forward it is seeking to hold to the status quo against a world in decay and even tries to go back to a time when religion played a bigger role in the everyday life of its participants.

Religious fundamentalism is playing a significant role both in the United States and the Middle East. In the Arab world especially, the fundamentalists act out their religion in very violent ways to include the terrorism that has characterized the post-9/11 world.

Fundamentalism in America is at war with the national institutions that have evolved to the point that put its relevance in question. The cry to take the country back is actually a journey to the past in search for a moment in our history when the church was at the center of everything we did.





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