LATIN PATRIARCATE - JERUSALEM
Religious Fundamentalism and Peace
1. The conflict in the Holy Land is a political conflict between two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. But the memories of three religions are involved in it, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Indeed every people has his memories and is fighting for them as well as for the land. All these memories give a clear religious dimension to the conflict. They give it also an international dimension, because all believers worldwide, as much as those residing in the Holy Land, belong to the Holy Places and are concerned with them. Hence the responsibility of religions and of the international community to bring reconciliation and an honorable end to this long conflict.
2. What is Fundamentalism?
We find in the Gospel of Saint Luke (chapter 9) a typical and interesting case of a concrete fundamentalist attitude. We read: “They (Jesus and the disciples) went to a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was going for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said: ‘Lord do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went on to another village” (Lk 9:51-55).
The two disciples indeed show in this incident a concrete fundamentalist attitude: a Samaritan village did not receive Jesus, so James and John who did not yet understand the spirit of Jesus, wanted simply to burn up the village with a fire coming from heaven. This is one among many aspects of Fundamentalism: the condemnation of those who are different in their belief. It is the incapacity to accept and respect who is different.
3. Within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths, the term “Fundamentlist” is used to refer to the most conservative wing of the religion. Florien Wineriter, head of a Humanist Institute in New York, in response to the book "Defenders of God" (by Bruce B. Lawrence, published by Harper & Row in 1989), gives this definition: "Fundamentalism is the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical dictates derived from Scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced”. Hence, comparing fundamentalism to humanism he says: “The central point of controversy between Fundamentalist and Humanist is authoritarianism and the role of religion in politics and government. The fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions feel it is their mission to establish earthly theocracies in preparation for the arrival of a messiah. They use political influence to enact government laws and regulations that will give their creedal beliefs the force of secular law thereby forcing everyone to live according to their moral precepts”.
4. In Christianity, Fundamentalism forms the conservative part of Evangelical Christianity, which is itself the conservative wing of Protestant Christianity. Following major revisions in the Roman Catholic Church during the II Vatican Council, the term "fundamentalist" started to be used to refer to Catholics who rejected the changes, and wished to retain traditional beliefs and practices. Thus it became a commonly used word to describe the most conservative groups within Christianity: Protestant and Catholic.
Wine writer, speaking about evangelical fundamentalism, says: "The fundamentalists fight internal foes. "Expound and expose" is their clarion cry. Historic fundamentalism is the literal exposition of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes." Then he concludes by saying that “Fundamentalist success would destroy the rights of self-expression, freedom of choice, equality, justice, the pursuit of individual fulfillment”.
Fundamentalist Christians reject modern and scientific approaches of the Bible. They rather stick to the literality of the text, and especially those apocalyptic referring to the end of the world: the last fight of Harmageddon, the one thousand years reign of the Messiah, the conversion and the Baptism of the Jewish people, and then the final establishment of the kingdom of God. The state of Israel as such is seen to be the divine instrument for these achievements and the precursor that announces these messianic times. Hence the unconditional religious and political support for it.
5. About Judaic Fundamentalism, I refer to a book written by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, (London:Pluto Press,1999, pp.176), reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld.
“In recent years there has been a dramatic growth of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel which has manifested itself in vigorous opposition to the peace process and has played a key role, as well, in the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the murder of 29 Muslims at prayer by the American-born fundamentalist, Baruch Goldstein... The adherents of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel oppose equality for all citizens, especially non-Jews.” The authors note “the total contempt which Jewish fundamentalists show toward non-Jews”.
More important is the attitude towards peace and war. The authors say that Jewish Fundamentalists support Israeli wars and oppose any retreat from the Palestinian Territories. Members of Gush Emunim argue that “what appears to be confiscation of Arab-owned land for subsequent settlement by Jews is in reality not an act of stealing but one of sanctification. From their perspective the land is redeemed by being transferred from the satanic to the divine sphere… The Jewish fundamentalists believe that God gave all of the Land of Israel (including present-day Lebanon and other areas) to the Jews and that Arabs living in Israel are viewed as thieves”. Rabbi Israel Ariel, a fundamentalist leader, published an atlas that designated all lands that were Jewish and needed to be liberated. This included all areas west and south of the Euphrates River extending through most of Syria, much of Iraq, and present-day Kuwait. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, another spokesman, said, “We must live in this land even at the price of war. Moreover, even if there is peace, we must instigate wars of liberation in order to conquer it [the land].”
Although fundamentalists constitute a relatively small portion of the Israeli population, their political influence has been growing. If they have contempt for non-Jews, their hatred for Jews who oppose their views is even greater.
6. Fundamentalist Islam is the conservative wing of Islam, just as Fundamentalist Christianity is the conservative wing of Christianity. The vast majority of Fundamentalists are pious individuals who strictly follow the teachings of Mohammed, promote regular attendance at mosques, and promote the reading of the Qur'an. Many promote the concept of theocratic government, in which Sharia (Islamic law) becomes the law of the state. Most, probably, view the West as secular, ungodly and decadent.
Most Middle Eastern terrorists are probably Fundamentalist Muslims, but they share little with their fellow Fundamentalists. They represent an extremist, radical wing of Fundamentalism, which is composed of people who believe that the Islamic state must be imposed on the people, from above, using violent action if necessary. This movement is fueled by social, religious, and economic stressors in many of the Muslim countries: lack of democracy; autocratic, unelected political leaders; millions of Palestinian refugees, extreme wealth for a minority, and often extreme poverty for most of the public; poor human rights records; high unemployment. Perhaps the greatest stressor of all is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has lasted over five decades. It is fueling much of the anger, instability, unrest, distrust, hostility, and feelings of victimization in the region. The lack of a peace settlement, the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied lands, the status of the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem -- the third most sacred spot in Islam -- and the status of the Muslim section of the city of Jerusalem are major flash points. Another stressor is the presence of American troops in Saudi-Arabia; this is seen by many radical Fundamentalist Muslims as a desecration of holy ground.
The emergence of Islamic fundamentalism among Palestinians, in both Palestine and the Diaspora, and the rise of Islamic political groups in the Occupied Territories started in the late 1970s. Defeat has forced Palestinians and other Arabs to acknowledge their weakness. Fundamentalists usually attribute this weakness to secularism and the failure to embrace Islam and apply its teachings. In this context, two movements especially appeared on the Palestinian scene: Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, focusing on violent acts of resistance to Israeli occupation. “In the aftermath of several suicide bombings carried out by members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad inside Israel in 1996, which resulted in the deaths of scores of Israelis, the Palestinian Authority subjected the two movements to harsh measures, including a ban on their military wings, imprisonment of their leaders and members, and closure of several institutions belonging to them.” (Ziad Abu Amr)
Conclusion on Fundamentalism.
7. Christian, Jewish or Moslem Fundamentalists have a concept of being a chosen people, directed by divinity to establish God's kingdom on this earth and prepare for the day of a Messiah to rule. Compared to Humanists, these “believe in the equality of all races, that no one is inferior nor superior, that all are created equal, that everyone has basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If fundamentalists are successful in their drive for power they would eradicate humanism, while the dominance of Humanist power permits fundamentalist freedom of expression and the freedom to try to become theocratic dictators”.
Religion and conflict in the Middle East
8. If religion is one of the causes of the conflict, it is simply because the believers empty religion from its divine message, reduce it to mere human dimension, sociological or national, and hence instead of leading to God, and help human beings rise above in order to reach the love of God to all his creatures, they make God absent and they take away his love and bounty from their hearts. By so doing, they see in others, who are different, people to be object of proselytism, or even enemies, or just strangers to be ignored and abandoned to their fate.
Fundamentalist theories and attitudes in religion have a direct and negative effect on the development of the conflict. For these believers, though God remains very present in their words and ritualistic prayers, He becomes prisoner of their human aggressive views and attitudes. Hence, instead of being the imitators of God in His bounty towards all His creatures, they force upon God Almighty their human patterns of aggressiveness, hatred and death. With this, they firmly believe that they are the true and sole defenders of God on earth.
A basic true religious vision should be this: God is the Creator of all persons and of all peoples. The dignity of each person is God-given. We are all equal in this dignity. From this we have the equality of persons and peoples in their rights and duties as well as the necessity for each of us to recognize and respect the rights of others and not to hinder the fulfillment of their duties nor the demand for their rights. Every person and every people have the right and the duty to defend their rights when violated and to enjoy complete freedom in exercising their duties and in defending their rights. Every person and every people must be aided in this pursuit of justice, because justice guarantees peace for all. Without justice, that is, whenever rights are being violated, the way of peace remains closed.
Another principle in our basic vision is: only the ways of peace can lead to peace. Through violence a war or a battle may be won. A state can be created by force and impose itself as a fait accompli. But peace will only be the fruit of peace.
In the East, religion penetrates and influences all actions both private and public. Everything is placed under the name of God. Everything begins and ends in the name of God. War begins in the name of God, and peace agreements as well. That is why the voice and directives of religious leaders can have a decisive influence on the faithful of one side as well as the other. They can incite the people to war and to violence, or invite them to peace.
Hence the responsibility of religious leaders today, in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world, is to have a realistic view of what is going on in the Holy Land, the dispute between two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian; the cause of the dispute, the exclusion of one people by the other, through military occupation of the land, and hence violent reaction against the occupation. Therefore the end of the injustice which still bears sour and deadly fruits should be put to an end. The strong, the Israelis, should have the courage to put an end by themselves to the injustice they are imposing upon the Palestinians through occupation and reprisals. The Palestinians must have the courage to go on claiming for their freedom and the end of their oppression, but using the best ways for this, that is: peaceful ways, and true belief in God which invites to see in the other a brother and sister equally created by God, equally loved by him. When I see the face of God in my brother and sister, I cannot declare war on them, but with them I will build the new Israeli and Palestinian society, with them, with the Spirit of God, I will make new the face of our Holy Land.
Jerusalem, October 1, 2003
Works consulted and quoted
1. Florien Wineriter, lecture given on March 25th,2003, to his Humanist Institute class in New York City, as response to the book "Defenders of God" by Bruce B. Lawrence, published by Harper & Row in 1989.
2. Karen Armstrong, "The Battle for God," Knopf, (2000).
3. "Fundamentalism and Islam," The Wisdom Fund, at: http://www.twf.org/Library/Fundamentalism.html
4. Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky. London:Pluto Press,1999, 176 pp.Reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld
5. “Seek Peace and Pursu It”, Questions and Answers on Justice and Peace in our Holy Land, Michel Sabbah, Jerusalem, 1998.
6. Islamic Fundamentalism, by Ziad Abu Amr
8. Magazine: Current History, Issue: January 1994, Political Islam: Beyond the Green Menace, John L. Esposito
9. Islamic Fundamentalism in the Sunni and Shia Worlds, lecture by Hassan At-Turabi, Madrid 1994