British politicians have all failed to address fundamentalism, as their political agenda is greatly depended on allegiances with fundamentalists.
“Enough is enough” PM Theresa May said this Sunday morning after the London Bridge atrocities. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. We cannot give the terrorists safe space”.
One would think that Theresa May is well-placed to make that call. After all, ever since 2010, it has been her responsibility, first as Home Secretary, then as Prime Minister, to tackle fundamentalism, prevent radicalisation, and disrupt terrorist networks. By now, it is clear that Theresa May has spectacularly failed to do this.
What are the root causes of terrorism? What makes men, as they almost always are men, strap suicide belts to their chest, drive through crowds, and chase random bystanders like animals, with the sole purpose of injuring, maiming, and killing as many as they can?
Is it “foreign policy”, as Labour leader Corbyn and his extreme-left allies say in their attempts to galvanise opposition to wars and provide their fundamentalist allies with the veneer of anti-imperialist respectability they so crave? Is it, as anti-racists say, a reaction to discrimination that minority ethnic people experience in the UK, thereby giving fundamentalists the opportunity to present themselves as the mere victims of an unjust society? Or is it, as the religious-right says, a reaction to the secularisation of a ‘morally depraved’ society, thereby portraying fundamentalists as a force of moral resistance against a society that is doing away with their privileges?
Of course, while foreign policy, racism, and secularisation can no doubt incense, anger and antagonise people, they cannot explain why somebody would be willing – and able – to butcher fellow human beings like they were livestock. For this, it requires much more than a mere grievance. What makes people supress their natural drive of empathy towards other human beings to such an extent, that running blades through their bodies seems like the right thing to do?
Fundamentalism is defined 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 deity; that this essential truth is fundamentally opposed by forces of evil which must be vigorously fought; that this truth must be followed today according to the fundamental, unchangeable practices of the past; and that those who believe and follow these fundamental teachings have a special relationship with the deity” (emphasis added).
Subsequent studies have also found a strong correlation between fundamentalism and racist right-wing authoritarian ideologies.
Whether it is a racist abusing the dying Muslim victim he just ran over, Christian fundamentalists shooting doctors, Hindu fundamentalists slaughtering Muslims, or Muslim fundamentalists bombing children, they all have one thing in common. They all have adopted a fundamentalist ideology that renders the other so evil, that killing them seems the moral thing to do.
Of course, terrorist incidents, like we have seen over the last years all over the world, are merely the tip of the iceberg of a wider problem. Like most right-wing extremists, most religious fundamentalists never turn violent. The only way we can understand why people kill others to feel morally superior is by looking at the fundamental truths they have come to accept, and the forces of evil they have vowed to fight. We need to look at the ideology of fundamentalists, and why it remains so attractive.
The reason why fundamentalism shows no sign of abating in the United Kingdom is that both civil society and the political elite have allowed fundamentalists to operate with impunity. We have given fundamentalists the ‘safe spaces’ they need to promote their truth and identify others as evil. In the name of a twisted concept of ‘tolerance’, of moral cowardice disguised as virtue, British society has allowed fundamentalists to build the parallel worlds where their ideology can fester.
First, through faith schooling, we are segregating children of the youngest age, telling them that they are so essentially different from fellow children that they cannot even be taught in the same school, let alone the same classroom. For the Tory party, having 50% religiously and ethnically segregated schools is not enough, so they have vowed to increase segregation to 100%. Undoubtedly, this will create yet more opportunities for fundamentalists to prey on the vulnerable, thereby instilling their concept of ‘truth’ and ‘evil’ on children as young as three. In British universities, despite the efforts of anti-fundamentalist activists, fundamentalist ideology still reigns supreme, providing a safe haven for fundamentalist groups like CAGE and MEND to promote their twisted ‘truth’, and propagate their grievances in the guise of human rights advocacy.
Second, through the ideology of multifaithism, we have created and handed over entire ‘communities’ to fundamentalist, sexist and bigoted men. Racism is central to this. When was the last time you have read about a politician meeting the ‘leader’ of the Polish, Irish or German ‘communities’ so they can tell them how to vote? Of course, in multifaith Britain, the singling out of ‘communities’ is reserved for those who are visibly different from white majority society. Whites are assumed to be too diverse to be neatly fitted into one ‘community’. Everybody else does not get that privilege. Politics is organised along the lines of assumed ‘identities’, and increasingly of faith ‘communities’. This ensures that only those who white Britons in their ignorance consider to be ‘authentic community representatives’ get a chance to impose their version of the ‘truth’ on ‘their’ community. Fundamentalists are all too happy to oblige – and especially when delivering votes coincides with their agenda of the control of women, be it through Sharia courts or modesty culture.
Third, through adopting the language and ideology of fundamentalists, British politicians of all persuasions have long worked with, indulged, and promoted fundamentalists. Whether it is Theresa May campaigning at fundamentalist, homophobic and sexist churches, or Jeremy Corbyn calling fundamentalist groups his “friends”, or speaking at anti-blasphemy rallies, mainstream politicians are not challenging fundamentalists, but helping them to promote their ‘truths’. Fundamentalism, rather than being at the margins of British politics, is right at its centre. How deep-rooted is the acceptance of fundamentalist ideology, when even a former Tory cabinet minister lauds Islamist groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood for being “democratically engaged both in the UK and overseas”, and applauds that “Islamist ideology has created a new generation of Muslim democrats”?
In a nutshell, British society has failed to tackle fundamentalism in a spectacular fashion. Instead of protecting them, we have locked up the vulnerable in ‘communities’ and handed the keys to fundamentalists. Instead of promoting equality, secularism and human rights for all, we have made fundamentalists part and parcel of our political system. Instead of confining them to the abyss where they belong, British politicians have made it clear that they will only confront fundamentalists when it suits their agenda – otherwise they will happily ally with them.
This provides fundamentalists with all the safe space they will ever need to establish their twisted ideology as ‘true’. At the same time, even non-violent fundamentalists dehumanise the ‘evil’ others to the extent that a violent henchman will eventually take them by their word and put their rhetoric into murderous practice.
Enough is indeed enough. Yet, as long as our political elite uses fundamentalists for their cynical power games, and civil society is largely oblivious to the problem of fundamentalism, fundamentalists will continue to thrive and grow.
If we are refusing to confront even non-violent fundamentalists, how should we be able to stop someone with a car and a knife in his hand?
As long as there is no broad civil society coalition against fundamentalism akin to the anti-racist movement, Britons should get used to the idea that any night out with their friends may be their last one.
Nominee for Secularist of the Year 2014. Campaigns against sexism, racism and religious fundamentalism.