Now is the time to stand against all religious fundamentalismby Susan Greenberg / November 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
One of the many striking images produced by 11th September was the sight of the boxing legend Muhammed Ali, still struggling with disbelief, urging the US public to see Islam as a peace-loving religion. A steady stream of Muslims were moved to draw a clear line between themselves and those behind the attacks and to declare: “this was not done in our name.”
Now more than ever, therefore, Islamic moderates need any encouragement they can get. People from other cultures and religions can help by standing up in their own corner to show that they too disown anything done in their name that is inspired by the fundamentalist frame of mind. From where I stand, a repudiation of the fundamentalism that has crept into Jewish culture is a good place to start.
What does this fundamentalism consist of? The most obvious cases are the groups that wrap themselves in Old Testament texts to justify their settlement of occupied Palestinian land in defiance of peace agreements. But there is another, often entirely secular, kind of fundamentalism which has been steadily distorting Jewish culture and identity. This is the bludgeon of guilt which comes down on anyone-Jew or gentile-who questions the policies of the Israeli state.
It is Palestinians who are the most harmed by this type of fundamentalism, but it also poses a long-term peril for Jews themselves. In practical terms it diminishes the chances of Israel’s long-term security, which depend on peaceful coexistence. More broadly, the cult of perpetual victimhood distorts values, stunts creativity and cuts out the vital feedback loop of self-criticism, robbing Jewish culture worldwide of its old strengths and its longest religious tradition-the questioning mind.
So far the government of Ariel Sharon has tried to make 11th September the grounds for a blanket ban on criticism of his hardline policies. Hence his attack over Jack Straw’s “linkage” between the New York attack and Palestinian anger, and accusations of US “appeasement” when Bush talked about a Palestinian state.
A common argument against a renewed stress on the peace process is that the people behind the 11th September attacks are too extreme to be “satisfied” by such moves and that they only use Palestinian grievances-and US policy mistakes-as an excuse. But this misses the point. There should be solidarity with Muslim moderates and a change of middle east policy, not because it might convince extremists but because it…