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by Robert M. Young

Under what circumstances and with what rationale do people kill and maim one another and, in particular, innocent people and children, in the name of a higher cause? This has recently occurred in Oklahoma City, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, former Yugoslavia and, of course, New York and Washington. If we cast our net more widely we can add Rwanda and Iraq, and if we broaden our scope again we can include world wars, civil wars and dictatorships, for example in Uganda, Chile, Argentina and the history of pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery in the Americas, the genocide of the native Americans.

In Oklahoma City the higher cause was the Militia movement in America, seeking to preserve a special reading of individual rights in the face of the federal government, Jews and the United Nations. In Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and probably in New York and Washington it was Moslem fundamentalism under the sponsorship of Osama Bin Laden, while in the Balkans it was ethnic cleansing. The killing in each of these settings had the keynote of purification, the elimination of enemies who were considered evil. The broader examples I mentioned have that theme, too, whether in tribal terms in Africa, anti-communism in South America, the persecution of Jews as infidel non-Christians, the rooting out of heresy from Catholicism, the mastery of blacks and the conquering of Indians in the name of European and putatively higher civilization. In each case the rights and consideration normally accorded to other humans is denied or is revoked, and it is alleged that they or their ancestors have acted so as to merit the loss of the status of full human being.

Dark-skinned Africans were candidates for enslavement, so goes the rationale, because they were descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. According to the Bible, Ham looked upon his father naked and had failed to cover the old man, though his brothers had done so. Ham's punishment was that his son Chus (or Canaan) and all his descendants would be black and would be banished from his sight. The crime of Ham — as the Hebraic and early Christian commentators understood perfectly well — was not merely disrespect. It was the castration of the father — the violent rejection of paternal authority and the acquisition of the father's sexual choice. The blackening and banishing of Ham's progeny is the retaliatory castration by the higher Father, God. The transgression which is used to rationalise racism was putatively an Oedipal one.

What is black and banished cannot be seen. The long-term consequence of this was, according to Franz Fanon, that in Europe, that is to say, in every civilised and civilising country, the Negro is the symbol of sin. Whatever is forbidden and horrifying in human nature gets designated as black and projected onto a man whose dark skin and oppressed past fit him to receive the symbols. The id becomes the referent of blackness within the personality, and the various trends within the id make themselves realised in the world as the forms of blackness embodied in the fantasies of race (Kovel, 1970, pp. 63-66).

The Bible, other sacred texts and religious traditions more generally are often appealed to for authority for behaving abominably. All of the perpetrators of otherwise heinous and sometimes unimaginable atrocities believed themselves to be acting righteously. During the American Civil War, the Supreme Court dismissed the applications of pacifists with the statement, ‘A country which contemplates war as well as peace as an instrument of national policy must proceed under the assumption that its policies are not inconsistent with the will of God.’ It is, of course, against the tenets of Christianity to take another’s life, as it is against the tenets of Islam, as the President of Lebanon pointed out last Wednesday. However Holy people, Ayatollahs, for example, say to a person who is being asked to blow himself up with dynamite, as Palestinians are currently doing or in a flying bomb as two dozen Arabs did last Tuesday, that they will go straight to heaven. Christian righteousness can be used to rationalize the most appalling behaviour. In Argentina, under the anti-left and officially Christian dictatorship, after highly technical and agonising torture had achieved all it could, prisoners were taken out over the sea in helicopters, their abdomens were cut open, and they were thrown into the sea bleeding to attract sharks. Their children were adopted untraceably by their parents’ torturers, guards and other friends of the ruling group.

Some dynamic features are becoming apparent. The perpetrator is altogether right, sanctioned by God. The victim is altogether wrong, beyond humanity, quite literally dehumanised – monkeys, as the Japanese were called in the Second World War, beasts or brutes as the Germans were, gooks, as the Viet Cong were. The African slaves’ lament was. ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother’? Apparently not, according to the slave trader and slave owner, though, quite paradoxically, the slave man would often be entrusted with the owner’s child, the slave woman would often bear him children, and the slave mammy would often be the confidant of the daughter of the house. This pattern persisted in post-slavery America and was common in Apartheid South Africa, both places of extreme Christian fundamentalist religion. Even so, the ‘place’ of the denigrated person was officially sub- on non-human or, at best, as my mother used to say, ‘They are like children, and it is God’s will that we should take care of them’.

In psychoanalytic terms we have here splitting. Blacks, Third World peasants and enemies are not like us; they are not even rather like us; they are unspeakably awful – dirty, unprincipled, rapacious, thieving, whatever comes to mind. We stereotype them, denigrate them, split them off from the human community and sever the bond of sympathetic imagination which constitutes the fellow-feeling that makes behaving badly unacceptable. Then we can exploit, enslave, rape, harm, kill them. In fact, we have every right to, and it is good in God’s light that we should do so. When the Conquistadores set about slaughtering and otherwise causing the deaths of over 12 million inhabitants of the West Indies in the first forty years after Columbus sailed there, learned Catholic theologians decreed in 1503, that the permission of Queen Isabella should be given for slavery in the New World. A degraded view of the natives was a prerequisite to this trade, as was a promise of salvation. Here is the curious decree she signed: 'Being as they are hardened in their hard habits of idolatry and cannibalism, it was agreed that I should issue this decree... I hereby give licence and permission... to capture them... paying us the share that belongs to us, and to sell them and utilise their services, without incurring any penalty thereby, because if the Christians bring them to these lands and make use of their service, they will be more easily converted and attracted to our Holy Faith' (Carew, 1988, p. 48).

 The charges against the Native Americans were caricatures. These people were being degraded. They were stereotyped. They were split off - everything ‘we’ are not. We have the true faith, as claimed so many of the waves of immigrants who went to the New World as that they could be pure, as the Puritans, including my own ancestors, did in 1609. These waves of immigrants were the same people who made and broke treaty after treaty with the native Americans, took their land, and when the Indians defended themselves and their territories, they were called savages. Then they were called ‘redskins’, since it was easier to bring in the bloody skin for the bounty being paid for killing them than to heft a whole corpse. They also were deemed pagans, and the religions they had and the cults they practiced were deemed devilish, as are deemed the positions taken up by third world people whose immiseration leads them to join fundamentalist Muslim sects. It is so striking to read and hear about dreadful terrorists who are accused of attacking the highest values - democracy and freedom and civilization itself - without its being asked how they reached the point of feeling the need to reject all of first world values. We are appalled by female circumcision, fatwas, bombings – all deplorable in themselves – without asking how people got to the point of adopting them.


What all the groups I am discussing today have in common is fundamentalism. Karen Armstrong tells us that ‘Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech or the separation of church and state’ (Armstrong, p. ix). Fundamentalisms all follow a certain pattern. ‘They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of their charismatic leaders, they refine these “fundamentals” so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacralize an increasingly sceptical world’ (Armstrong, xi, quoting The Fundamentalist Project; see also below - Appendix). There are, of course, various forms of fundamentalism around, but Karen Armstrong suggests that they have certain common features - common fears, anxieties and desires – and that they share a reaction against scientific and secular culture. This is certainly true of the Protestant fundamentalism with which I am familiar in America and the Muslim fundamentalism implicated in last week’s events.

Thinking about the dynamics of this way of thinking intrapsychically, why do people become fundamentalists? People or peoples or groups somehow come to feel deeply threatened. Poor people, disenfranchised people, displaced people, embattled people, refugees. In a reduced state people cannot bear uncertainty. What people do when they feel under threat is to simplify. To simplify in psychoanalytic terms is to regress, to eliminate the middle ground, to split, dividing the world into safe and threat, good and evil, life and death. To be a fundamentalist is to see the world perpetually in these terms to cling to certainties drawn from sacred texts or the pronouncements of charismatic leaders.

The baby whose needs are not met blames the provider who has not provided or who has removed what one needs and is experienced as abandoning or withholding. One feels attacked, as it were, by lack, hunger, and one wants to retaliate. It is so tempting to defend oneself from feeling so abject by becoming in phantasy the opposite and attain a position of complete self-sufficiency or certainty. Bin Laden’s father died when he was 10; the young Hitler was a failed painter. ‘I am nobody and am sure of nothing’ becomes ‘I am powerful and sure about everything: it is in the book’. If fundamentalists were really sure they would not have to be so intolerant. People who feel threatened in this way see others in very partial terms – as part-objects. They suffer from phantasies of annihilation and defend themselves against these psychotic anxieties with rigid views. They lose the ability to imagine the inner world, the humanity of others. Sympathy, compassion and concern for the object evaporate, and brittle feelings of blaming and destructiveness predominate. They act out. Where acting out is, thought cannot be. It is not seemly that Vice President Cheney said over the weekend that he wants to have the head of Osama Bin Laden on a platter.

Terrorism is the institutional violence of the fundamentalist. It has been used throughout history*. Some will recall the Spartacist slave rebellion in 73-71 BC, which at one time numbered 90,000 It was defeated by the Roman legions led by Crassus, who crucified over 6000 Spartacists and placed them all along both sides of the Appian Way to frighten others from rebellion. Blacks were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, Israelis are terrorized by suicide bombers**, as are the Spaniards by Basque bombs. 

Of course there are differences of merits among different terrorists. One person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. This is true of Israel, where Zionists fought against the British mandate. Menachem Begin was the leader of one terrorist gang, Irgun, during the period 1938-47. He went on to become Prime Minister of the country and to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat (who was murdered by Muslim fundamentalists for trying to make peace in the region). Irgun blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, killing 91 soldiers and civilians - British, Arab and Jewish (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/King_David.html) The same organization raided an Arab village on 9 April 1947 and killed all 254 of its inhabitants (http://members.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=43721&sctn=1#s_top. (On Zionist terrorism, see Koestler, 1949, pp. 137 sqq.). Yitzhak Shamir was a leading member of another terrorist group fighting for the creation of Israel, the Stern Gang . He went on to be Prime Minister on two occasions. (http://search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=68844&sctn=1#s_top) Black South Africans blew up oil depots under apartheid. Zapastista rebels in Mexico wreak havoc, as do other subversives in many Third World countries.

The fundamentalist terrorist lies at the extreme end of people killing in a higher cause and seeks to wash the impure world clean with the blood of innocent victims. What they do from hatred is to act out unconscious phantasies – they tear, maim, torture, disembowel, put victims’ genitals in their mouths, eviscerate – horrible things (I am thinking of accounts of Argentinian, African, French, Algerian and British torturers). When the Taliban overthrew the head of state of the previous regime they hung him in public and stuffed his genitals into his mouth.

 It is very common to see and hear rhetoric about pure evil, Satan. Seeking the origins of the concept of Satan, we find them in the origins of Christianity. The proto-Christian group, the Essenes, introduced it to charactetize the ‘other’ – other tribes, threatening strangers. Things go full circle: this occurred in the turmoil of first century Palestine. (Pagels, p. xviii). Satan defines negatively what we think of as human (ibid.). By characterizing our enemies as satanic, we can justify hatred, even mass slaughter (p. xix). Elaine Pagels says Satan mirrors our own confrontations with otherness, i.e., that he is a projection. He expresses quality of going beyond lust and anger and onto brutality (p. xvii). This is familiar territory. If we put this concept of projection together with the extreme splitting I described above, we find that history and theology have given us a fair account of projective identification in its most virulent forms as found in racism, sectarianism, holy wars, all with fundamentalism at their base. Do not forget, however, that the fundamentalism itself is an effect of relative deprivation. For example, one quarter of the population of Afghanistan depend entirely on international aid, a situation not unfamiliar to a number of countries in the Third World, e.g., in the Horn of Africa. Similarly, the gap between rich and poor both within and between countries is growing, not shrinking. It is especially ironic that those who make the trainers and fast foods cannot afford the lifestyle of which they are a part and often work in health-threatening settings.

I now want to look at fundamentalism in three settings: the ultra-right in the US, extreme racism and Osama Bin Laden’s group, al-Qaeda

US Militias

When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, it was at first thought to be perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists but it turned out to be done by American fundamentalist. Various right-wing armed groups exist in the US - militias, Patriots, Freemen or Christian Identity - which are located in rural areas, principally in the Pacific Northwest states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming but they are also present in the Old South as well as in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the home of the notorious Michigan Militia. They are fighting a perceived conspiracy, behind which is a New World Order including the Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the United Nations, Jews and blacks which have somehow duped the US Government at the expense of Christianity, the Constitution and the common people. It is from this loose grouping of paranoid organizations that Timothy McVeigh came to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing over 168 people, including women and children. You will recall that his motive was retribution for the Federal Government’s siege of the Branch Davidian cult lead by David Koresh in Waco, Texas, in which 80 highly-armed Christian fundamentalists perished by fire caused by federal agents after a prolonged siege. The Oklahoma City bombing occurred on the anniversary of the fire. McVeigh was a hard-core follower of the militia movement.

These cultists advocate, in various combinations, a reactionary revolution ‘which will bring about a great national rebirth, ending years of encroaching moral and political decadence wrought by a gigantic world conspiracy of probably Satanic origins’ (Neiwert, 1999, p. 4). These groups are lineal descendants of the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan, which controlled the governments of several southern and Midwestern states in the 1920s.

David Neiwert has written a highly-textured study of some these movements and has moved among them and met their adherents. Many of them seek purification by separating themselves from mainstream society and live in communities deep in the woods of the less populated states. Here is his characterization of the Patriots, a group which particularly abhors homosexuals and abortion providers: ‘The Patriot movement appears to operate in the mainstream world, but truthfully it does not. Rather, its believers reside in a different universe – one dominated by an evil government and a conspiracy to destroy America. Agents of the dark side lurk at every corner; every disbeliever is a pawn. Proof of this hidden reality can be found in everyday news stories and ordinary documents, if only seen with the right eyes.

‘The alternative reality that is the essence of the Patriot movement is like a big quilt, a patchwork of factual items – United Nations reports, government documents, news stories – that are pieced together with other less credible information - black helicopter sightings, suggestions of troop movements, and the like. The thread that weaves them all together is the paranoid belief is the existence of a vast conspiracy; even if elements of the patchwork don’t appear to fit together, the irrational fear driving the movement will overlook inconsistencies. Everyone is free to make a contribution: a military vehicle sighting here, an obscure document there. Believers are free to ignore some elements of the patchwork if they happen to disagree, so long as the quilt itself hangs together as an all-encompassing blanket.

‘The dwellers in this other world can be found not just among the most radical believers residing in the wilds of Montana, like the Freemen. They can be found seemingly everywhere in the Northwest: in suburban conference centres, in rural town halls, in Bible study groups.

‘Step into one of the militias’ organising meetings – typically held in small community halls in rural areas and in towns outlying urban centers – and you will have walked into this world’ (Niewert, p. 22).

The people who are drawn to these movements are for the most part losers, as are most fundamentalists. Their businesses have failed, their lives have not worked out, they have a grievance against local, state or national government. That’s not quite the whole story, since most fundamentalisms have leaders who come from the elites of their respective societies. Sometimes their role is to be at the head of a populist movement, making a bargain with the people they want to rule and exploit. Sometimes, as with reactionary fat cats, they want to protect their winnings.

 I say again that you don’t have to be economically oppressed to be a fundamentalist. I grew up in what was then the richest community on earth – the Park Cities suburb of Dallas. Dallas then boasted the largest fundamentalist Baptist and the largest fundamentalist Methodist churches in America. I attended the First Presbyterian Church – the fifth generation in my family to do so. I went to church up to three times on Sunday – Sunday school, ‘big’ church and vespers and often attended sing-songs during the week. We were taught the literal truth of every word in the Bible and other tenets of what came to be called fundamentalism in the 1920s (see Appendix). The people attending these churches were far from immiserated, at least economically. But they did live in a place which had the histories of being defeated in the Civil War, of then being ruled and humiliated by oppressive carpetbaggers and then, in the twentieth century, gaining great wealth in seemingly magical and precarious ways – oil and finance. This was the city which so hated liberalism that Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was spat upon there, and, of course, Texas’ own governor and one of its senators were shot, and the President murdered in 1963. My parents were waiting to have lunch with him. On the way home my mother saw an American flag being flown upside down by a retired ultraconservative army general in protest at the President’s visit. She, a frail old lady, got out of her car and took it down. When his bodyguards appeared, she said they had no right to fly the flag and took it away.

I have the impression that if one believes that one’s prosperity is not merited, one supports this uncertainty with an ideology of total certainty. In any case I well remember the owner of a local company manufacturing cotton gins who taught my Sunday school class, going on week after week about his relationship with his close personal friend - indeed, his very best friend - Jesus. The beliefs of the political power structure of Dallas were congruent with its simplistic religious beliefs. The person who was at the time the world’s richest man, H. L. Hunt, lived in Dallas. He had won his first oil property in a poker game. He wrote a book arguing that the more money one has, the more votes one should have. Young people of good family were invited by him to join an organization called Facts Forum in which they were schooled in ultra-conservative politics and religion. I was for a time a member. This was the period when wealthy Dallas ultra-conservatives bankrolled Senator Joseph McCarthy, the senator who put fear into all liberals and leftists with his witch-hunting in the 1950s. The mother of one of my girlfriends had large number of match books printed with the slogan ‘I like McCarthy and His Methods’, and every match had printed on it ‘Strike a Light for Freedom!’. His methods were intimidation, slander and innuendo; for years no one, not even the President, dared oppose him, which is why the witch-hunting Nixon was chosen as Eisenhower’s running mate. McCarthy destroyed many lives and sullied the culture industries, especially film, with his brand of fundamentalist anti-communism. Civil rights were trampled during his reign of paranoia and persecution. Wealthy contemporaries of mine who have remained in Dallas continue to hold similarly unenlightened views.

You can imagine what a shock it was for me to go East to university and be told in a course on religion that the Gospels contained innumerable inconsistencies. I took the trouble to go up after the first lecture when this was said and patiently explained to the professor that he was mistaken, since every word in the Bible was true. He was unshaken and gentle, and I spent a difficult period reconstituting my world view to make allowance for uncertainty and mixed opinions.


I want now to turn to an extreme manifestation of fundamentalism, of which racism is so often an important part, as it is in the militia movement. Lynching is to racism as terrorism is to fundamentalism – its most virulent expression. It is a painful topic, but it dramatically drives home some of what I want to convey about the primitiveness of what we do when we hate. I quote from the introduction to a photo album I will show you anon: ‘In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century two or three black southerners were hanged, burned at the stake or quietly murdered every week. In the 1890s lynchings claimed an average of 139 lives each year, 75 per cent of them black. The numbers declined in the following decades, but the percentage of black victims rose to 90 per cent. Between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs’ (Allen et al., 2000, unp). The frequency declined after 1930, but 21 civil rights workers were murdered between 1961 and 1965. Needless to say, the perpetrators of these crimes were almost never arraigned, much less convicted. Rape and murder were the most common charges, but note well, the very act of lynching means that the event pre-empted the judicial process, so the charge had not yet been tested in a court of law.

Lynching was a public event openly attended by numerous, often hundreds, of locals. The duly constituted authorities could not or certainly did not prevent them. The rationale, often stated, was that an occasional lynching was a good preventative, because it ‘kept the niggers in their place’. The crowds gathered up as souvenirs teeth, toes, fingers, nails, kneecaps, bits of charred skin and bones, as well as penises, testicles and scrotums (Buckser, 1992, pp. 18, 22, 23). Sometimes whole bodies were hacked to bits and shared out. These mementoes were often sold and later found on the watch fobs or on prominent display by local citizens. They, along with pieces of rope or chain used in the lynching, were thought to have magical or ritual significance. Photographs of the event were common, and professionals often developed, reproduced and sold the pictures on the spot. An exhibition of them was published last year, and I will pass it around for those who care to look.

Lynchings occurred almost exclusively in the parts of the country where poor white people felt threatened by the newly freed blacks. The only thing standing between a white sharecropper, often called ‘redneck’ because of the sunburn on his neck from constantly bending over to hoe cotton - between him and the bottom - was the black person being kept down by so-called ‘Jim Crow’ discriminatory laws and customs which were not finally set aside until the 1960s. Blacks had poor housing, facilities and schools and were prevented from voting. They were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, an organization founded on the principles of white supremacy and fundamentalist Christianity. The Klansmen wore white robes, pointed hoods and masks to hide their identities. The symbol of their terror was a burning cross – a fitting representation of perverted religiousity.

The Klan continued to attract members well into the second half of the twentieth century. I worked among them in a Ford assembly plant in the mid-1950s where I was ostracized for being seen conversing with a black janitor. The clansmen I encountered were sharecroppers trying desperately to hold onto their farms by going off to town to work in a factory. Cotton had become uneconomical for the smallholders due to the introduction of the mechanical picker which was driving the blacks off the land and North to Chicago and elsewhere to seek work (and find drugs and street gangs) in the cities while the white sharecroppers clung to the Old South and the consolations of the degradation of blacks. As recently as the late 1990s in East Texas a black man was dragged by a chain attached to a pickup truck driven by white racists until he literally fell apart.

Muslim Fundamentalism

The Americans were going to bomb Viet Nam back into the Stone Age; the very same threat is now being applied to Afghanistan, because the Taliban have given hospitality and protection to Osama Bin Laden. An Afghan commentator last week reflected on this phrase and the situation in Afghanistan: ‘Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering.

A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan - a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban. We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that (Tamin Ansary, quoted in PHML forum by Dan Cash, 14.09.01)

So much for the Desert Storm approach to the problem.

Let’s now dwell on Bin Laden and his followers. So much of the rhetoric of the past week has been somewhat bewildered. America is the home of freedom, democracy and opportunity. How, then, could anyone but a madman want to attack America? Yet one Palestinian quoted on the radio said he felt sadness at the loss of life last Tuesday but had gladness in his heart. This gave grave offence. An American commentator was furious at the charge that America deserved it, pointing out that no other nation has been as generous in sending aid, planes and supplies all over the world. He called the comment that the attack was deserved ‘total nonsense’.

It turns out that America supported the Taliban and worked constructively with Bin Laden as part of their support for the mujahideen in the closing years of the Soviet regime, since it suited them to have lots of Soviet soldiers tied down in a bitter war on its southern flank. In doing this, however, they brought together Muslim fundamentalists from fifty countries, trained and armed them and gave them military experience in the field that they would have been unlikely to get elsewhere. Then they dispersed, and lo and behold there are people associated with Bin Laden’s group, called al-Queda or The Base in 30 or 40 countries. One account says 44.

Bin Laden himself grew up in Saudi Arabia, where his father grew fabulously rich from beginning as a dock labourer by getting contracts to rebuild the holiest places in Mecca and Medina. The boy was the seventeenth of the more than fifty children of this construction magnate and had a very strictly orthodox Muslim upbringing. His teachers were exiled Egyptian fundamentalists. He has never been anywhere outside Muslim countries. He moved back and forth between Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and was in exile for a time in Sudan. The defining event of his thinking was Desert Storm in 1990. He warned the Saudi Royal Family that Iraq was about to invade Kuwait and expected the Arabs to build up a force to prevent this. Instead, they brought in the Americans and British. This was, to him, an outrageous sacrilege: no infidel should be in Muslim Holy Places. It was from this point that he set out to destroy the American empire. For example, the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which 224 people died, occurred on the anniversary of the day American troops landed in Saudi Arabia.

You might think this a particularly fastidious origin of the recent atrocity, but you have to put it together with the disaffection of millions of Arabs in the Middle East, whose grievances extend from hating to see their natural resources and much of their wealth go to the metropolitan countries, to seeing their culture sullied by the world wide influence of American cinema, music, fashion and so on. Interviews with Bin Laden make it clear that these are felt as profound insults by Muslims. Americans just don’t ‘get it’. As I heard on the radio in recent days, ‘These are desperate, angry men’. They are not mad, and plenty of them are willing to undertake any attack on America, Britain and Israel, including suicide bombing, of which seventy per cent of Palestinians approve. Americans brag about being the cradle of democracy while they support less than democratic regimes in the Middle East, not the least of which is Saudi Arabia. There are a number of groupings, e.g., Fatah, Hamas, Hisbolah, dedicated in varying degrees to the destruction of Israel, which, after all, was created by simply taking land from Palestine. It is the height of naiveté and false consciousness for Americans to say, as many have in recent days, ‘The forces of evil have chosen to destroy us, because we are good’ (CNN 13.9.01). There were many references to ‘attacks on freedom and democracy’, something which few people in the Middle East have experienced much of, for example the Palestinian refugees who have had no home for over fifty years. I also heard the phrase ‘attacks on civilization’, which reminded me of a quip by Gandhi. Someone once asked him what he thought of Western civilization. He replied that he thought it would be a jolly good idea.

I think we have to ask why so many are willing to volunteer to be suicide bombers or to go to certain death as hijackers, having, as apparently some did, waited as sleepers in America for some years to be called to action. In addition to the 19 on the planes, there were another 25 or so abetting them, and the mind boggles to think who is waiting for their chance to serve in this or related ways. During the troubles in Northern Ireland there have been repeated references to ‘mad bombers’, psychopaths and murderers, as if that province had some genetic defect running rampant in the biology of its citizens rather than seeing it as a political and cultural conflict which leads ordinary people to the extremes of violence which have been enacted in recent decades, for example, the Omagh bombing. There, too, are poverty, injustice, oppression, lack of opportunity, inferiority. The problem in Ulster, as in the Middle East, as in all places of ongoing and extreme inequality, is what is happening in the culture from which the fundamentalism and the terrorism have sprung and may still spring. How can a person find it possible to say that he deeply regrets the loss of life in New York and Washington but also feels happiness in his heart unless he is coming from deep deprivation nurturing hatred alongside his civilized humanitarianism? Referring to ‘evil on this scale’ averts one’s eyes from the equivalent suffering on this scale which has evoked such destructiveness. There are two sides to every structure of projective identification.

One commentator in The Guardian wrote, ‘It is this record of unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world’s population, for whom there is little democracy in the current distribution of the world’s wealth and power. If it turns out that Tuesdays attacks were the work of Osama Bin Laden’s supporters, the sense that the Americans are once again reaping a dragon’s teeth harvest they themselves sowed will be overwhelming’ (‘They Can’t see Why They Are Hated’ by Seumas Milne. Guardian 13.9.01, p. 24). The founder of the Hamas movement wrote, ‘This is the outcome of the injustice that the United States exercises against the oppressed people in the world… It is the United States that sows injustices and racial discrimination. It sows hatred in the hearts of the oppressed’ (Guardian The Editor, 15.09.01, p. 9). Although it elicits outrage from Americans, an oft-repeated phrase in recent days is ‘It served them right’ or ‘It serves the bastards right’. Americans simply cannot take in that many people in the world hate them and their country. I saw a message on the net from a psychotherapist in Britain who had heard this phrase from three patients on Wednesday. On the other side I had a Zionist patient, whose life is going nowhere, manic with delight, since, as he sees it, the Israelis will now have carte blanche to deal with the Palestinian terrorists. He finds all these murders exciting. I also heard a Muslim woman on the radio who said that neither Americans nor other people from the first world have any idea ‘how it feels to live outside this privileged world’ and to be on the wrong side of globalization. The hatred and envy, the anger and resentment, are intense and evoke those people’s most destructive impulses. This will go on as long as the underlying causes are not addressed and the structures of inequality mitigated. This means reducing the structures of power and the gap in standards of living. It means eliminating the cultural hegemony. I may be wrong, but I think the Taliban would not be in a position to lay down their utterly rigid rules in a less polarised world. Girls are forbidden to go to school; women cannot go outdoors without being completely covered with shroud-like burkas. These restrictions would perhaps be less likely to prevail if the example of Western women was not so undermining of Islam’s own cultural values.

Bin Laden is not the head of a disciplined hierarchical organization like the Real IRA. Rather, it is a loose affiliation of like-minded people who agree with his views and, it appears, act relatively autonomously. But they act under a chilling injunction of his: that it is the ‘individual duty for every Muslim who can do it… to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military – in any country in which it is possible to do it’. What he says he does is to ‘instigate’. Others act. His logic is simple: ‘The Americans should expect reactions from the Muslim world that are proportionate to the injustice they inflict’ (Time Magazine interview, 1999). To escape this Americans and their lackeys must remove themselves from the chief shrines of Islam, elect governments that do not persecute Muslims and, ultimately, they must convert to the Muslim faith. Of course, recent activities of Prime Minister Sharon are making the list of provocations longer, especially the assassination of Palestinian dissidents and other extreme acts occurring under the cloud of last week’s atrocity. And then there is Sharon’s past, especially his allowing the massacre of Palestinians in South Lebanon. And there is the ongoing starvation of innumerable Iraqis resulting from the Anglo-American blockade. There is no end to the list of justifications for hating the Americans. They do not justify what was done last Tuesday, but they certainly help to explain it and to make it clear that military acts against terrorist and those who support them will not make the problem go away. For that to happen, to adapt a phrase from Mr Blair, we will have to be tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism, and that means addressing a huge world-wide problem about global capitalism, corrupt governments and inequality.


I wonder if it is as obvious as I intend it to be that I am engaged here in a study in applied psychoanalysis. I hope it is. I am tracing the roots in the world situation of the splitting and projective identification – the virulent, malignant projective identification – which motivates fundamentalism and terrorism. As I said, I have myself been socialized into some of the lesser manifestations of this in fundamentalist Protestantism and the intolerance for other denominations and faiths this entails. I have also been near to some of its worst manifestations, the Ku Klux Klan. I have not been directly sundered by murder itself, but I have been profoundly moved by some examples of inhumanity, especially in the American South, in Latin America and the Middle East and, of course, in New York and Washington. I was speaking to my eldest son on Saturday about our shared distress. After the conversation he rang me back and said he’d recalled a moment in the first ‘Star Wars’ movie when Alec Guinness spoke of a disturbance in the force which he felt as if ‘a million souls cried out in anguish’. That is how these events affect me. In order to commit those atrocities, the humanity of those fundamentalists would have to have underegone a long process of caricaturing, degrading and dehumanising Americans, learning to treat them as part-objects, creating a huge split between themselves and those people in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and their other target, perhaps the White House, perhaps Camp David. (Here I wish to pay my respects to the man named Todd who led the fight to overpower the hijackers and crash that plane.)Those people were scapegoated, thereby making them victims of religion’s most challenging and heart-rending phenomenon, unmerited suffering. I here want to express my heartfelt sympathy for those who died and those loved ones who have survived them. Those people should not have died that way.

I am going to close by advocating the political equivalent of moving from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. The difference between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position is supremely relevant here. In Kleinian psychoanalysis, the depressive position is as good as it gets. This may seem a bleak prospect, but one of my purposes is to try to persuade you that it’s not a bad deal, as life in the real world goes and as we compare it with the alternative of the paranoid-schizoid position. Moving from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position, according to Irma Brenman Pick (1985), is the goal of every analytic interpretation. Getting people to ‘take back the projections’, i.e., dwell more of the time in the depressive position, is one way of describing the goal of therapy. These two positions are considered by Kleinians to be the basic psychological modes of all of unconscious life. Indeed, Bion thought we oscillate so often and so quickly between the two basic positions in everyday life that he put a double-headed arrow between them: PSÖD.

The depressive position is not just a lacuna in the arcane vocabulary of Kleinianism. Winnicott wrote of it as follows in his assessment of ‘The Kleinian Contribution’ two years after Melanie Klein died:

Working along Kleinian lines one came to an understanding of the complex stage of development that Klein called the “depressive position”. I think this is a bad name, but it is true that clinically, in psycho-analytic treatments, arrival at this position involves the patient in being depressed. Here being depressed is an achievement, and implies a high degree of personal integration, and an acceptance of responsibility for all the destructiveness that is bound up with living, with the instinctual life, and with anger and frustration.

Klein was able to make it clear to me from the material my patients presented, how the capacity for concern and to feel guilty is an achievement, and it is this rather than depression that characterizes arrival at the depressive position in the case of the growing baby and child.

Arrival at this stage is associated with ideas of restitution and reparation, and indeed the human individual cannot accept the destructive and aggressive ideas in his or her own nature without experience of reparation, and for this reason the continued presence of the love object is necessary at this stage since only in this way is there an opportunity for reparation.

He continues with high praise: ‘This is Klein’s most important contribution, in my opinion, and I think it ranks with Freud’s concept of the Oedipus complex’ (Winnicott, 1965, p. 176).

I believe that we admire our leaders and heroes because they managed to attain and sustain that species of integrity which is the external world, role-playing expression of the depressive position – to behave well in spite of everything, including especially dreadful political and social problems and personal vicissitudes in the midst of pursuing admirable goals, doing one’s duty, bearing heavy responsibilities and making unwelcome sacrifices.

Turning now to definitions, I offer you John Steiner’s characterisations of the two positions which have come to be seen as the basic modes of feeling between which people oscillate:

As a brief summary: in the paranoid-schizoid position anxieties of a primitive nature threaten the immature ego and lead to a mobilisation of primitive defences. Splitting, idealisation and projective identification operate to create rudimentary structures made up of idealised good objects kept far apart from persecuting bad ones. The individual’s own impulses are similarly split and he directs all his love towards the good object and all his hatred against the bad one. As a consequence of the projection, the leading anxiety is paranoid, and the preoccupation is with survival of the self. Thinking is concrete because of the confusion between self and object which is one of the consequences of projective identification (Segal, 1957).

The depressive position represents an important developmental advance in which whole objects begin to be recognised and ambivalent impulses become directed towards the primary object. These changes result from an increased capacity to integrate experiences and lead to a shift in primary concern from the survival of the self to a concern for the object upon which the individual depends. Destructive impulses lead to feelings of loss and guilt which can be more fully experienced and which consequently enable mourning to take place. The consequences include a development of symbolic function and the emergence of reparative capacities which become possible when thinking no longer has to remain concrete (Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70; see also Steiner, 1994, pp. 26-34).

A lot hangs on attaining the depressive position. In 1946 Klein described a fundamental mechanism, involved in all communication but in its virulent forms lying at the heart of hatred, racism, and idealization. It is, you might say, the fundamental particle of all the baleful phenomena of which fundamentalism and terrorism are among the most extreme manifestation. She called it 'a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype an aggressive object relation’. She added a couple of years later, ‘I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification’ (Klein, 1946, p. 8). This lies at the heart of human nature, and I will close by suggesting that finding ways of moving from part-object to whole object relations in international affairs is the key to peace. But the psychological move cannot be made independently of the material changes in wealth and power which will be required unless we are to create in the coming period innumerable young Bin Ladens, American militiamen, racists and other fundamentalists to plague our world for the foreseeable future. We need constructive guilt and reparation, not self-righteousness and retaliation. At the moment I see two sets of projections, mutual caricatures, mutual incomprehension and underlying fundamentalisms on both sides. Where is the capacity for concern, the ability to see things in mixed, pluralistic, tolerant terms? If we cannot transcend the brittle stances I have been describing, we cannot have a liveable world. There will be no havens, no places of respite and safety and certainly no ‘land of the free’, ‘Britons never shall be slaves’ or ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’.

*Here is a passage from the CD-ROM of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1999) on terrorism:

terrorism, the systematic use of terror or unpredictable violence against governments, publics, or individuals to attain a political objective. Terrorism has been used by political organizations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and ethnic groups, by revolutionaries, and by the armies and secret police of governments themselves.

Terrorism has been practiced throughout history and throughout the world. The ancient Greek historian Xenophon (c. 431-c. 350 BC) wrote of the effectiveness of psychological warfare against enemy populations. Roman emperors such as Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37) and Caligula (reigned AD 37-41) used banishment, expropriation of property, and execution as means to discourage opposition to their rule. The Spanish Inquisition used arbitrary arrest, torture, and execution to punish what it viewed as religious heresy. The use of terror was openly advocated by Robespierre as a means of encouraging revolutionary virtue during the French Revolution, leading to the period of his political dominance called the Reign of Terror (1793-94). After the American Civil War (1861-65) defiant Southerners formed a terrorist organization called the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate supporters of Reconstruction. In the latter half of the 19th century, terrorism was adopted by adherents of anarchism in Western Europe, Russia, and the United States. They believed that the best way to effect revolutionary political and social change was to assassinate persons in positions of power. From 1865 to 1905 a number of kings, presidents, prime ministers, and other government officials were killed by anarchists' guns or bombs.

The 20th century witnessed great changes in the use and practice of terrorism. Terrorism became the hallmark of a number of political movements stretching from the extreme right to the extreme left of the political spectrum. Technological advances such as automatic weapons and compact, electrically detonated explosives gave terrorists a new mobility and lethality. Terrorism was adopted as virtually a state policy, though an unacknowledged one, by such totalitarian regimes as those of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. In these states arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution were applied without legal guidance or restraints to create a climate of fear and to encourage adherence to the national ideology and the declared economic, social, and political goals of the state (see totalitarianism ).

Terrorism has most commonly become identified, however, with individuals or groups attempting to destabilize or overthrow existing political institutions. Terrorism has been used by one or both sides in anticolonial conflicts (Ireland and the United Kingdom, Algeria and France, Vietnam and France/United States), in disputes between different national groups over possession of a contested homeland (Palestinians and Israel), in conflicts between different religious denominations (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland), and in internal conflicts between revolutionary forces and established governments (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina). (see also Index: revolutionary group)

Terrorism's public impact has been greatly magnified by the use of modern communications media. Any act of violence is certain to attract television coverage, which brings the event directly into millions of homes and exposes viewers to the terrorists' demands, grievances, or political goals. Modern terrorism differs from that of the past because its victims are frequently innocent civilians who are picked at random or who merely happen into terrorist situations. Many groups of terrorists in Europe hark back to the anarchists of the 19th century in their isolation from the political mainstream and the unrealistic nature of their goals. Lacking a base of popular support, extremists substitute violent acts for legitimate political activities. Such acts include kidnappings, assassinations, skyjackings, bombings, and hijackings. (see also Index: mass media.

The Baader-Meinhof gang of West Germany, the Japanese Red Army, Italy's Red Brigades, the Puerto Rican FALN, al-Fatah and other Palestinian organizations, the Shining Path of Peru, and France's Direct Action were among the most prominent terrorist groups of the later 20th century.

**By no mans are all suicides by fundamentalists aimed at taking revenge on oppressing groups. Think of the people of Jonestown in Central America, where nearly a thousand of Rev. Jones’ followers took cyanide on his instruction and administered it to their children. The same can be said of the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult in Canada and Switzerland, all of whom committed suicide on the command of their guru. 

Talk delivered to MA by distance learning students in Psychoanalytic Studies, Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield, 18 September 2001.


Allen, James, Als, Hilton, Lewis, John and Litwack, Leon F. (2000) Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe NM: Twin Palms Publishers.

Armstrong, Karen (2000) The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Harper-Collins.

Brenman Pick, I. (1985) 'Working Through in the Counter-transference', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 66: 157-66; reprinted in Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 2, pp. 34-47.

Buckser, Andrew S. (1992) ‘Lynching as Ritual in the American South’, Berkeley J. Sociol. 37:11-28.

Carew, Jan (1988) 'Columbus and the Origins of Racism in the Americas', Race and Class 29:1-19; 30:33-57.

Klein, Melanie (1946) 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms', reprinted in W. M. K. III, pp. 1-24.

______ (1975) The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Hogarth. Vol. I: Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works, 1921-1945. Vol. II: The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Vol. III Envy and Gratitude and Other Works; 1946-1963. Vol. IV: Narrative of a Child Analysis. all reprinted Virago, 1988. (W. M. K. )

Koestler, Arthur (1949) Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949. Macmillan.

Kovel, Joel (1970) White Racism: A Psychohistory. N. Y. Pantheon; reprinted Free Association Books, 1988.

Marty, Martin E. and Appleby, R. Scott. (1993) Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family and Education. University of Chicago Press.

Neiwert, David A. (1999) In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press.

Pagels, Elaine (1995) The Origins of Satan. Allen Lane. The Penguin Press.

Segal, Hanna (1957) ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 38: 391-7; reprinted in *Segal (1981), pp. 49-65.

Steiner, John (1987) ‘The Interplay between Pathological Organizations and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions’, Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 68: 69-80; reprinted in Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 1, pp. 324-42.

______ (1994) Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients. Routledge.

Winnicott, D. W. (1965) The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. Hogarth. 


I append an exposition of fundamentalism by B. Beit-Hallahmi which I found on the internet.


Many millions and individuals and thousands of groups around the world, ranging from Protestant churches to the governments of some nation-states, are currently designated by scholars and the media as fundamentalist. The term itself has had its origins in United States religious history.

Starting in the early twentieth century, Fundamentalism has been defined (and self-defined) as a U.S. Protestant movement, guided by the doctrine of complete faith in the five fundamentals: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, the supernatural atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of the Gospel miracles. Another version of the "five points" included: The divine inspiration of the Bible, the depravity of man, redemption through the blood of Christ, the true church as a body composed of all believers, and the coming of Christ to establish his reign. In 1983, a convention of fundamentalist Baptists in Kansas City, Missouri, affirmed the following five fundamentals: Inerrant scripture; Christ is God in the flesh; Christ died for the sins of mankind; Christ rose bodily ; Christ will return bodily. A variety of Protestant groups have been recognized as fundamentalist because of their adherence to these principles, and fundamentalism has been recognized as a political force in the United States since the 1920s.

Recently, fundamentalism has been regarded as a global phenomenon, with movement analogous in some ways to the original US phenomenon appearing in many countries and regions. Using the concept outside the United States Christian context has been criticized, but it has become so prevalent in both the popular news media and scholarly literature that it now denotes a variety of movements worldwide, both religious and religio-political. The background for all discussions of fundamentalism is the historical process of secularization through which both society and individuals has moved away from the dominance of religious institutions and religious ideation At the state level, this has taken (in a very few cases) the form of the formal separation of religion and state, and (in many other cases) the abolition of religious laws and prohibitions.

The reality of secularization can be assessed along the dimensions of uniformity vs pluralism, private vs public, ascribed vs achieved, and choice vs inheritance. It is easy to prove that in all industrial societies today, religion, which was once uniform, collectivistic, public, ascribed, and inherited, is today pluralist, individualistic, privatized, achieved, and often freely chosen. Privatization is the most important change, overriding all other dimensions. In traditional cultures religion is experienced in the collective sphere. The possibility of choice and preference is a modern phenomenon, interpreted as a symptom of the decline of religion. In most traditional societies, religion is not a matter of choice, but of birth and automatic acceptance.

The concept of fundamentalism should be discussed in at least two different contexts. The first is psychological or social-psychological. As a general social-psychological phenomenon, fundamentalist ideology has been described by Altemeyer and Hunsberger as the belief that there is one set of religious teachings that clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic, essential, inerrant truth about humanity and the deities; that this truth is opposed by forces of evil which must be vigorously fought; that this truth must be followed according to unchangeable traditions; and that those who espouse this ideology have a special relationship with the deities. Fundamentalists have been described as individuals who feel rightly threatened by urbanization, industrialization, and modern secular values. Holding this ideology may have no visible social or political consequences as long as it is kept within the religious realm and limited to a relatively small group.

Studies done all over the world since World War II have shown that religious orthodoxy (in any tradition) is tied to a particular pattern of attitudes and political behaviors. Fundamentalism, as an expression of religious orthodoxy, not surprisingly, has been tied to political conservatism, authoritarianism, and prejudice. This combination of political and social attitudes with religious beliefs is an ideological complex that characterizes and animates fundamentalist groups. It is about a confrontation with modernity, and a strategy which not only rejects any accommodation, but contains a clear, utopian, vision for reconstructing society. This is a vision of decline, degeneration, and renewal.

Many religious groups have political visions in the sense of a messianic or apocalyptic dream which includes the idea of political domination of a state (or the world) by its membership. Many believers take the dreams seriously, and the fantasy of future greatness and domination serves as compensation for current deprivations. In some cases, messianic dreams are transformed into political action plans. The ideology of fundamentalism becomes of importance for politics when it is transformed from a religious belief system into a political ideology embodied in a political movement, and when this movement gains political power or mass support.

Fundamentalist movements have been described and self-described as movements of religious radicalism, revitalization, and renewal. This description is very much part of their vision. They proclaim a loyalty to sacred texts and to the goal of creating a truly religious state . If secularization calls for the separation of religion and politics, here we have the resacralization of politics and the politizcation of religion. Modernity defines itself as committed to the values of free inquiry, the centrality of the individual, and to basic individual freedoms. The ideological complex of Fundamentalism includes the rejection of modernity, not necessarily of modern technology but of the ideals of individualism, individual rights, voluntarism, pluralism, and the equality of women.

Fundamentalist movements everywhere present a cogent critique of late capitalist society, which is portrayed as being composed of alienated, atomistic, selfish individuals, engaged in the obsessive pursuit of pleasure without heed for its consequences for others (or even for themselves). The critique of Western values of materialism, selfishness, tolerance for uncontrolled sexualities, decline of family ties, and urban crime is common to all fundamentalist ideologies, and is presented as the essential critique of modernity.

This cultural aspect of fundamentalism does account for some of its clear appeal to not just the downtrodden. The deprivations and stresses of modernity, be they economic, psychological, or cultural feed fundamentalist movements, as the crisis of globalized modernity is felt in center and periphery nation-states. Against the nominal ideas of modern liberalism for the individual, such as tolerance, individual autonomy, and self-actualization, and the reality of alienation and dislocation, fundamentalism prescribes a commitment to gender-role, family and community. In the case of women, this implies total or relative domesticity. This anti-modern ideology is quite identical in a great number of fundamentalist movements. A rhetoric of "family values" and patriarchal authority can be heard in Oklahoma and in Tehran at the same time. The fundamentalist ideology everywhere is collectivist and communalist, as individual rights are seen as secondary to the interests of the community. The political struggle against the Enlightenment ideals calls for reversing the historical course of secularization and modernity, and recreating a pre-modern, (or pre-colonial) idealized past Fundamentalist ideology has much to say about the lives of women and reproductive rights. The modern technology of contraception separated sexuality from procreation, and together with economic changes undermining the traditional family this has been acted to reduce the authority of religion. At the end of the 20th century it seems that in the Western world, the institution of the family is being transformed, together with sexuality. Fundamentalist movements are usually opposed to contraception.

Under fundamentalist regimes, specific regulations have been issued to control the public appearance of women through dress codes and the segregation of the sexes in public. This is in addition to formal limitations on the involvement of women in public life, freedom of movement, and legal rights. Male superiority and privilege is formally recognized and the empowerment of women is stopped. All of this raises the question of why fundamentalist movements have attracted so much support from women. First, we know that women are always more religious than men. Then, it is clear in traditional societies motherhood is a main source of gratification and power, while the female in traditional dress like the Iranian chador is less likely to attract the attention of predatory males. Women in Western attire may be accosted in public, while the head-to-toe cover offers relief from being viewed as sex object.

Fundamentalism, like twentieth-century fascism, rejects liberal democracy, and proposes an elitist ruling class, made up of religious leaders or leaders sanctioned by the religious authority. Fundamentalist regimes are authoritarian by definition, because a religious state must follow the religious authority invested in clergy who alone can interpret the scriptures. Thus, the clergy will always have a direct role in political decision making. Some may describe them as totalitarian, because of the nature of religious law when applied to all aspects of life.

Fundamentalism as a religio-political ideology can be found all over the world; as a significant political movements asserting the vision of a religious state it can be found in about thirty nations; and as a dominant power it can be found in just a few places. Looking at specific examples can be illuminating in terms of both general ideological features and unique historical factors. In terms of religious variety, we find the label applied to religious groups with political influence in Southern Africa and in Latin America, to Mormons in the United States (with few nationwide political implications) and to Buddhism in South Asia. Buddhist revivalism in several countries may have serious consequences and Sri Lanka is a case in point. Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism in Sri Lanka inspired by a vision of the Sinhala as the curators of Buddhism, is considered a factor in the protracted conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils. It is rarely remembered that the Dalai Lam is a fundamentalist, representing a vision of a feudal Tibetan state ruled by the clergy (which was once a reality).

Most significant fundamentalist movements and the few fundamentalist regimes are found in the Islamic world with its one billion nominal adherents, from Indonesia and Malaysia at one end, to Algeria at the other, and from the so-called Islamic republics in the former USSR to West Africa, especially Nigeria, where attempts to make Islamic religious binding on the population have led to serious conflicts. The idea of creating the Islamic state through reviving the caliphate, where the religious leader is the ruler, remains uniquely attractive. In accounting for the appearance of strong fundamentalist movements, it is clear that a situation of economic crisis in a developing country is usually involved. If we mention Afghanistan, Algeria, and Egypt, this becomes clear. In addition we can point to the historical failure of secular political programs, especially the variety of state socialism regimes which were started in the 1950s.

Fundamentalist regimes describe themselves as part of de-colonization and indeed, another aspect of successful fundamentalist movements is the response to Western political and economic domination. The permanent trauma of European hegemony, whether formal as colonialism or as economic and cultural domination energizes an anti-imperialist ideology aims at removing both external and internal marks of westernization and modernity. At the same time, Western domination and success may serve as an inspiration.

The final question to be addressed is whether fundamentalist movements and regimes, which seek to reverse secularization and to create a re-sacralization of politics, represent indeed a reversal of the historical trend towards secularization. Has there been a real de-secularization in any of the nation-states where fundamentalist regimes have been established? Looking closely at each case, what we observe are societies which were far from being secular or secularized. There were only beginnings of a significant secular elite, and even when such an elite was emerging, the masses were solidly committed to religious traditions and religion was the only coherent ideology they ever knew. If we look at Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria, or Egypt, we can say that they have never been secularized in any sense, and so the success (or the challenge) of fundamentalism does not represent de-secularization in any way. The majority of the population in the Islamic world, where modernity is being critiqued and challenged, has never been converted to such modernity and has never experienced it directly.

(see Beit-Hallahmi, B. Fundamentalism. In J. Krieger (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World. Oxford University Press, 2001)

Copyright: The Author

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