God's Warrior Twins
Christian & Islamic Fundamentalism
have a lot in common
by Kimberly Blaker
Toward Freedom, Fall 2003
In February 1998, Osama bin Laden issued
an edict. "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies
is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it, in order
to liberate the Al Aqsa mosque [Jerusalem] and the Holy Mosque
[Mecca]," he explained. "This is in accordance with
the words of Almighty God... We call on every Muslim who believes
in God and wished to be rewarded to comply with God's order to
kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever
they find it."
Those haunting words were played out on
September 11, 2001. In response to the horrors that befell thousands
that day, US citizens of all beliefs decried Islamic fundamentalism
and the terrorism it seems to nurture. A large segment unquestioningly
supported President George W. Bush's war in Iraq, believing his
assertion that Saddam
Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction
posed an equally dire threat. Yet few imagined, despite any concerns
about the Bush Administration's agenda, a day when the President
would disclose: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I
struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which
I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle
On June 27, 2003, with those precise words
Bush put his previous and, most certainly, future actions into
The ramifications of that statement, and
the marked deterioration of civil liberties and religious freedom
in the US over the past few years, leads to a nagging question:
Could the US slip into a fundamentalist mode paralleling those
nations we currently deem the world's greatest threat? The events
of 9/11 certainly have played into the hands of the Christian
right. Citizens and government officials, unnerved by the looming
threat of further attack, have permitted, even encouraged, this
movement to flourish, further fusing God and Jesus with government,
patriotism, and the warding off of Islamic fundamentalist evils.
Although much savagery, such as honor
killings and the stoning to death of women for adultery, occurs
in Middle Eastern and other societies where Muslim, Hindu, and
Jewish fundamentalisms hold sway, both history and contemporary
events around the world confirm that Christian fundamentalism
isn't immune from such barbarousness. In Fundamentalism and Terrorism,
psychoanalyst Robert M. Young notes that prisoners were the victims
of agonizing torture under the conservative Christian dictatorship
in Argentina. Afterward, they were flown in helicopters, where
their abdomens were cut open and they were dropped into the sea
as shark feed.
This gory example may not be typical,
but it does confirm that, under the right conditions, dreadful
atrocities inflicted by extreme Christians aren't impossible.
Most fundamentalists aren't inclined to such cruelties, yet aggressive,
even violent tendencies are often present, if only toward spouses
So, do US Christian fundamentalists bear
any striking resemblance to Islamic fundamentalists abroad? In
recent months, a disquieting reality has begun to penetrate the
national consciousness. By examining the similarities, we may
develop a deeper awareness and understanding of why our country
is in its current predicament, and more importantly, where it
may be headed.
A chief similarity between Christian and
Islamic fundamentalists is their patriarchal family structure
and victimization of women. This is played out not only in private,
but also in the public sphere where fundamentalisms rule. The
appalling treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban came
to the forefront following 9/11. For example, women were regularly
subjected to beatings at the hands of the Taliban's religious
police. Their offenses? In some cases, reported Richard Lacayo
in the December 3, 2001 issue of Time, simply the sin of wearing
white socks or appearing in public without a burka. Spousal abuse
and honor killings by family members have been the norm, and in
some cases are legal, in many Islamic fundamentalist societies.
In Afghanistan under the Taliban, women were also banned from
working outside the home, except in a few specific healthcare
While US laws currently don't dictate
female attire, not long ago it was sinful for women to show their
ankles. Many were required to adhere to a strict and insufferable
dress code. Though today's Christian fundamentalists do not generally
require the head-to-toe garments worn by the Puritans of the past,
many still allow only loose fitting dresses with high necklines,
cut no shorter than the knee, often uncomfortable for the occasion
Obsessions with female purity are played
out in other ways. In 1998, Alabama passed a law making it illegal
to sell, distribute, or manufacture sexual devices, including
vibrators. It was overturned in 2002, yet spoke volumes about
how far Christian fundamentalists will go to impose their "values"
on all US women. As if to hammer that point home, in April, Attorney
General Bill Pryor filed his second appeal with the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals in Atlanta, challenging the most recent federal
court ruling against the ban. Soon afterward, President Bush nominated
Pryor to join the 11th Circuit as a judge.
The role of women in Christian fundamentalist
homes is generally well defined: wife, mother, and homemaker.
Often, they are not allowed to work outside the home and are vulnerable
to abuse, sometimes condoned, or at best dismissed, by the clergymen
they may ask for help. Restrictive and unfair divorce laws and
welfare reforms are also frequently proposed by the Christian
right, measures that would make it more difficult, if not impossible,
for women to leave lethal relationships.
In Islamic fundamentalist societies such
as Pakistan, the indoctrination of children is commonplace. According
to the October 15, 2001 issue of US News ~ World Report, boys,
sometimes as young as six and often from poor families, are sent
to religious schools (madrasahs), where socialization is severely
restricted during their most critical years. In the madrasahs,
they spend their first three years memorizing the Koran. Science
and math aren't taught, and history is limited to the Muslim world.
Reportedly, children in madrasahs are shackled and sometimes beaten.
According to Philip Smucker and Michael Stachell, writing for
Time, the Taliban was largely made up of graduates from these
With striking similarity, James Dobson,
former professor of pediatrics and a popular conservative Christian
voice heard by millions, summed up the Christian fundamentalist
mindset in Children at Risk. "Those who control what young
people are taught, and what they experience-what they see,
hear, think, and believe-will determine
the future course for the nation," he predicted. In the US,
that is accomplished by home schooling or sending children to
ultra-conservative Christian schools, where socializing that might
open doors to critical thought is limited. The key concept of
fundamentalist education is controlling what children learn.
In Parenting Isn't for Cowards, Dobson
also argues, "If the salvation of our children is really
that vital to us, then our spiritual training should begin before
children can even comprehend what it is all about." Thus,
children are indoctrinated through recitation and memorization
of Bible verses and prayers, often reinforced with hell-fire and
brimstone lectures. Their textbooks typically distort scientific
and historic facts. New math is avoided altogether, since it leads
to the development of critical thinking skills.
Abuse of Christian fundamentalist children
is well documented. As early as 1974, sociologist H. Erlanger
reported in American Sociological Review that conservative religious
affiliation is one of the greatest predictors of child abuse,
more so than age, gender, social class, or size of residence.
Other studies, reported in The Role of Parental Religious Fundamentalism
and Right-wing Authoritarianism in Child-Rearing Goals and Practices
by social psychologist Henry Danso and others, conclude that child
discipline by corporal punishment is typically related to religious
conservatism, probably stemming from fundamentalists' authoritarian
All fundamentalisms sport their share
of militants. In the US, extreme militia and "patriot"
groups (many Christian-based) see war on terrorism "as justification
for their existence," argued Brad Knickerbocker in the Christian
Science Monitor on June 18, 2002. He believes that a Timothy McVeigh
type could be tempted to join forces with foreign terrorists,
"perhaps to precipitate the kind of race war envisioned in
The Turner Diaries."
Militias in the US are dangerously equipped
with the skills and weaponry to manifest the kind of fear, chaos,
and destruction often seen in theocratic societies. Because most
Christian extremists use religion as a grant to carry out what
they see as God's bidding, militia groups could easily influence
and fuel the fundamentalist climate. Considering the fact that
79 of the world's 82 armed conflicts during the brief period between
1989 and 1992 were within-rather than between countries-this possibility
shouldn't altogether be dismissed.
The one-in some cases only-difference
between Christian and Islamic theocrats is their use of the Bible,
versus the Koran, to justify an oppressive ideology or holy war
With approximately 400 militia-type groups in the US, and Christian
identity believers alone numbering in the range of 40,000, the
implications are profound.
Other evidence of militant and violent
tendencies among Christian fundamentalists appears is 99 Covert
Ways to Stop Abortion. Published by the Army of God, it's a list
of vicious and criminal recommendations for terrorizing abortion
clinic doctors, employees, and women seeking abortion. More than
2500 acts of violence, including murders and attempted murders,
bombings, arson, death threats, assault and batteries, anthrax
threats, and acts of vandalism have been committed by US anti-abortionists,
reports the National Abortion Federation.
While less massive than Osama bin Laden's
catastrophic World Trade Center attack, Timothy McVeigh and Terry
Nichols caused 168 deaths when they bombed the Alfred P. Murrah
Building in Oklahoma City. Influenced by the Christian Identity
movement, their intention was to retaliate against what they perceived
as government attacks on a Ruby Ridge white supremacist family
and the Branch Davidians in Waco.
Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle
for God, writes, "Because they believe that they are fighting
for survival, fundamentalists tend to militancy, ignoring the
more compassionate elements of the faith in favor of more ferocious
theologies. In all three religions, including American Protestantism,
fundamentalism seems to be becoming more extreme."
Christian fundamentalists in the US haven't
committed terrorist acts to the same degree as some other fundamentalist
groups for two main reasons, claims Armstrong. First, they live
in a more peaceful society. But they also believe that, with God
on their side, US democracy will give way to a theocracy on its
FUNDAMENTALISM AND FASCISM
There are many similarities between fundamentalism
and fascism, and the two phenomena often mesh. Given the attitude
of the current US administration, this warrants some discussion.
As a political philosophy, fascism is both authoritarian and antidemocratic.
The state is placed above the individual, requiring absolute obedience
to a glorified leader.
The Bush Administration has been particularly
authoritarian in regard to the war in Iraq, demanding blind patriotism
from constituents. And, as Fareed Zakaria reported in Newsweek
on March 24, 2003, Bush is equally demanding and authoritarian
in his relations with foreign nations. "President Bush's
favorite verb is 'expect'," he writes. Zakaria also mentioned
that Donald Rumsfeld's favorite quote is an Al Capone line: "You
will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word
Christian fundamentalists have also glorified
Bush, another requisite for a fascist leader. In March, pamphlets
produced by In Touch Ministries were distributed to thousands
of Marines, calling on them to pray for Bush. Usually, it's the
other way around.
Not all fundamentalisms, nor all fundamentalists
within a particular religion, are identical. Environmental factors
such as culture and government influence fundamentalist fears,
reactions, and power. Still, several characteristics generally
seem to be present: an inability to cope with modernity or life
struggles; an authoritarian personality style; a need to simplify,
which is accomplished through black and white thinking; and ultimately,
given the right set of circumstances, the potential for inconceivable
violence against those they perceive as their enemies.
Kimberly Blaker is editor and co-author
of The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America
A syndicated writer and columnist, she is also a staunch supporter
of the separation of church and state.
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