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I think this is pretty much true.

I would say, however, that, at this point, it is not very easy or perhaps even possible to object to Islamism without instigating a clash of civilizations. To me, its a bit like what the Christian Right says about gays: that they "love the sinner, but hate the sin." OK, thats theoretically a possible position to take, but the two get mixed up very easily.

Also, a bit of American perspective. At Kos, for example, I'm always seeing atheists and agnostics complain about the nature of American Christianity or perhaps Christianity more generally - along the lines of: "we need to create a liberal Christianity" or "where are the liberal Christian voices?" To me, this rings quite hollow, because if you aren't a Christian you can't exactly convincingly argue that a faith you don't have should change to suit what you want. The reason fundamentalist Christianity is globally ascendent is similar for the reasons Islamism is ascendent (really, Europe is the only part of the world that is not particularly effected by this phenomenon, except vis-a-vis recent migrant populations): it is providing something to its adherents that liberal religious traditions and secular belief systems don't. To me, the growth of fundamentalist religion worldwide (particularly Islam and Christianity, but in other relgions too, on a lesser scale) is intimately connected to neo-liberal globalization and the postmodern cultural turn that have been two of the major (if the two major) global trends since the 1960s.

Thus, while I find the proverbial older Moroccon man's observations interesting in this sense, I find it so primarily for historical reasons, because it isn't addressing the psychological and material changes that have driven this change. To, again, use a US example: in the 1950s, for example, what is known as "mainline" or moderate Christianity and denominations were dominant and fundamentalism and pentecostalism were seen as fringe, dying belief systems of the maladjusted. Today, it is just the opposite, because material and cultural circumstances have fundamentally changed.

Basically, and you see this especially well in a country like the US, which in some ways straddles both the European and the Third World trends vis-a-vis religion, is that people are either becoming entirely secular or joining religious bodies that offer quite fundamentalist strictures, often in the guise of quite modern forms. Liberal religion is becoming an anachronism, because the demographic to which it might appeal is basically vanishing (becoming irreligious).

BTW, two books I would really recommend on modern religion are Philip Jenkins's "The Next Christianity" and Mike Davis's soon-to-be-published "Planet of the Slums" (although he wrote an article by the same name for the New Left Review several years ago.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Thu Mar 2nd, 2006 at 03:32:14 PM EST
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