My constituency has 23 mosques and 25,000 Muslims. It is in places like Blackburn that a new European Islam will emergeby Jack Straw / October 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
So much has been written about Islamic fundamentalism since 11th September that we might think this was a concept unknown in any other religion. This is not the case.
The concept began its semantic career at the start of the 20th century, applied to the defence of Protestant orthodoxy against Darwinism. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the strict maintenance of traditional orthodox religious beliefs” and the literal acceptance of holy creeds.
In the US, especially in the deep south, fundamentalists have continued to revile Darwinism and, many would argue, exercise an increasingly conservative influence on politics. In some states, fundamentalists have succeeded in promoting creationism in schools.
Within Judaism too we are familiar with the growth of ultra-orthodox groups, some of which refuse to recognise Israel. Another more dominant trend has supported the increase of settlements on the West Bank, refusing any compromise with Palestinians on the grounds that all the Biblical land of Israel had been given to them by God.
But it is a phenomenon not confined to monotheistic religions. Within Buddhism, the most pacifist of religions, fundamentalists have sometimes hijacked the religion. Many of the Japanese militarists of the 1930s were Buddhists. More recently, Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka took up arms against Tamil separatists, complicating the civil war that has divided the island since 1983.
Sikh fundamentalists in India seized the Golden Temple of Amritsar and, when Indira Gandhi sent in the army, they murdered her in revenge. In 1992, Hindu fundamentalists demolished the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya, setting off communal rioting that led to thousands of deaths. India is still living with the consequences. Recently there has been horrific violence in Gujarat, strongly condemned by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, which was fuelled by fundamentalism.
The term fundamentalism also now encompasses beliefs that are not explicitly religious. Joschka Fischer struggles with a wing of his German Green party who have adopted the term “fundis” to define their position. And for a long time we had Labour fundamentalists who wanted no changes in our constitution even if it meant losing one election after another. In 1993, I wrote a pamphlet advocating the repeal of Clause Four which caused great offence among our own fundamentalists. Toryism has its fundamentalists, determined to see Britain leave the EU.
But it is religious fundamentalism which is obviously of greatest interest in international politics at present. The…