Douglas Pratt in his paper "Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism" explores aspects common to religious fundamentalist movements, whether Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu - whatever. He explains how these common features or traits provide the building blocks for terrorism.
I took a second read of the paper looking for insights into Stephen Harper's mean-spirited, authoritarian, secretive and divisive ideology. It became plain that what Steve absorbs in the pew on Sunday very much informs his behaviour on Parliament Hill.
A fundamentalist perspective is inherently absolutist: all other relevant phenomena are explained on
its terms or viewed in a relativising way with reference to it. Fundamentalism, as a mindset, is first
and foremost a mentality that expresses the modernist project writ large: only one truth; one
authority; one authentic narrative that accounts for all; one right way to be. And, of course, that way
is my way, declares the fundamentalist. Further, a fundamentalist perspective deems itself
privileged in respect to this absolutism, for it implies superiority of knowledge and truth. Indeed,
this is inherent to holding an absolutist perspective as such.
Allied to absolutism is the view that the grounding text – be it political manifesto or holy writ – is to
be read as conveying an immediate truth or value, without error; that is, it is inherently or effectively
inerrant. However, the assertion of the immediate inerrancy of the text – namely reading the text as
being immediately applicable and providing a non-mediated access to ultimate or divine truth – in
fact involves an implicit assertion that there is only one normative interpretive reading allowed: that
which is undertaken through the fundamentalist’s lens.
A fundamentalist perspective will exclude, virtually automatically, anything that relative to it appears ‘liberal’, that is, that admits of, for example, any limitation, provisionality, otherness, openness or change. Religious fundamentalism excludes religious liberalism. Similarly, secular fundamentalism often excludes religion per se on the same sorts of grounds. Ideological exclusivism works in multiple directions.
...the fundamentalism of a resurgent Islamist perspective naturally insists not just
that all Muslims should live according to Islamic Law, but that all members of the society in
question, irrespective of religion, should likewise submit to this Law Code – understood, of course,
to transcend human values and codes by virtue of being “God’s law”. The imperative force of this
element of fundamentalism means that all are expected automatically to submit – or be made so to
do. We hear of this call being made by activists from time to time in different parts of the Islamic
world; we may find some variant expressions of it closer to home, if only albeit wistfully, or merely
in principle, entertained.
...in the development of a fundamentalist’s outlook the sense of self-affirmation and
confidence is such that the values of fundamentalism are actively and intentionally applied. And
these values are primarily two: the negation of otherness or alterity per se, and the corresponding
assertion of self-superiority over all opponents, real and putative. The negation of otherness is
perhaps critical at this juncture for the scene set by the third set of factors – contextualising
exclusivism and inclusivism – now emerge into a devaluing and dismissal of the ‘other’, whether in
terms of rival community or competing alterities, ideological or otherwise. Indeed, such alterities
may be – and in fact often are – demonised. The religiously ‘other’ on this view is often cast as
‘satanic’, or at least seriously and significantly labelled as a hostile opponent, and so hostilely
In the process of negating the other, the self is asserted as inherently superior. My God is greater
than your god. My Truth reigns over your ignorance. The authenticity of my faith contrasts with the
feeble delusion you entertain. My laws express the divine reality directly which is infinitely superior
to the laws which derive merely from human ideas. The salvation offered by my faith is the real
thing by contrast to the lost way that you proclaim. And so we might go on. However it is expressed
or referenced, it will be clear enough that the fundamentalist is applying the key value set of
negativity to ‘otherness’ and a corresponding assertion of self-superiority. The scene is now well set
for the sixth and final set of factors I have analysed as the components of the paradigm of
fundamentalism – the rendering of an explicit justification not just for a viewpoint but also for
actions premised on that viewpoint.
...the eleventh factor sees the very imposition of the fundamentalist’s views and polity as,
in fact, sanctioned by a higher or greater authority – whether that authority is conceived in terms of
deity or the dynamics of historical necessity, or whatever. This reference transcends the local,
particular, ordinary taken-for-granted freedoms of everyday life with the requirement to be, live and
act, in accord with the fundamentalist’s ideological dictates.
It is not difficult to see Pratt's observations of fundamentalism in practice in Harper's rule. At this point we should be enormously grateful for the political firewall Pierre Trudeau implemented in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter and the Supreme Court of Canada, along with the FCC, operate as at least a hurdle to Harper's fundamentalist instincts.
I'm having real problems with accessing Pratt's article - the link leads to a QuickTime movie file. One page - and it won't even open from within QuickTime. What am I doing wrong?
Sorry, TF, I don't know. I just clicked the link and it was fine. You can try either of the links in the earlier story, The Deadly Disease of Religious Fundamentalism.
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