The Happy Arab News Service

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Literate Fundamentalists

Last updated: February 25, 2008

December 11, 2007

A new book on the history of Christian fundamentalism in Europe is basically making the same point as one of my posts on Islam.

Heather Whipps
Special to LiveScience
Dec 11, 2007

The translation of the Bible into English marked the birth of religious fundamentalism in medieval times, as well as the persecution that often comes with radical adherence in any era, according to a new book.

The 16th-century English Reformation, the historic period during which the Scriptures first became widely available in a common tongue, is often hailed by scholars as a moment of liberation for the general public, as it no longer needed to rely solely on the clergy to interpret the verses.

But being able to read the sometimes frightening set of moral codes spelled out in the Bible scared many literate Englishmen into following it to the letter, said James Simpson, a professor of English at Harvard University.

. . .

Persecution and paranoia became the norm, Simpson said, as the new Protestants feared damnation if they didn't interpret the book properly. Prologues in Tyndale's Bible warned readers what lay ahead if they did not follow the verses strictly.

"If you fail to read it properly, then you begin your just damnation. If you are unresponsive … God will scourge you, and everything will fail you until you are at utter defiance with your flesh," the passage reads.

Without the clergy guiding them, and with religion still a very important factor in the average person's life, their fate rested in their own hands, Simpson said.

The rise of fundamentalist interpretations during the English Reformation can be used to understand the global political situation today and the growth of Islamic extremism, Simpson said as an example.

"Very definitely, we see the same phenomenon: newly literate people claiming that the sacred text speaks for itself, and legitimates violence and repression," Simpson said, "and the same is also true of Christian fundamentalists."


In one of my previous posts I said:

The conventional wisdom (wisdom?) suggests that globalization and spread of literacy should be weakening religions such as Islam. So many are at loss to explain the current surge of Muslim fundamentalism. In particular, in a country that has already experienced a significant development like Malaysia.

In reality there are compelling reasons to see the process working just the other way round. Muslim masses are generally ignorant of their religion. The spread of literacy and improved education actually had the opposite effect of exposing for the first time large sections of the population to the contents of their religion. Without going into the silly debate of what the real Islam is about, it is reasonable to suggest that what real Muslims often find in the texts is not what Western liberals will see as a very tolerant and flexible approach.


Add to this the demographic explosion that has rocked the Muslim world a few decades ago leaving in its wake a huge, unemployed and increasingly restless youth bulge and we are done with the explanations for the deep shit our region is in.

February 19, 2008

Youth Bulge and Islamic Revival in Egypt

The New York Times
February 17, 2008

. . .

While there are few statistics tracking religious observance among the young, there is near-universal agreement that young people are propelling an Islamic revival, one that has been years in the making but is intensifying as the youth bulge in the population is peaking.

In Egypt, where the people have always been religious and conservative, young people are now far more observant and strict in their interpretation of their faith. A generation ago, for example, few young women covered their heads, and few Egyptian men made it a practice to go to the mosque for the five daily prayers. Now the hijab, a scarf that covers the hair and neck, is nearly universal, and mosques are filled throughout the day with young men, and often their fathers.

In 1986, there was one mosque for every 6,031 Egyptians, according to government statistics. By 2005, there was one mosque for every 745 people (!!! NB) — and the population has nearly doubled.

. . .


February 25, 2008

The Civilized Alternative

The Moroccan government has broken a terrorist network rounding up 32 individuals. The ring has been allegedly plotting attacks against various targets across the country as well as assassinating politicians, army officers and members of the Jewish community. One of the arrested happened to be the secretary general of al-Badil al-Hadari, one of Marocco's Islamist parties. The government followed the arrests with a decree that outlawed al-Badil because of the involvement of its high ranking members in the network.

What's intriguing, according to the Economist, is a possible Hezbollah connection - the arrests included a local reporter for al-Manar. Anyway, of particular relevance to the subject of this post is the social and educational background of those involved:

Middle-class terrorists?

Unemployment is often seen as a cause of militant violence in Morocco, but in this case all but one of the men arrested were in employment, including several academics, a police superintendent and the manager of a hotel in Marrakech. (A recent round-up of suspected al-Qaida militants in Algeria produced a similar profile of well-educated individuals) A full list of their names and occupations has been published, although none has yet been convicted of any crime. The ministry of the interior says that the group laundered money obtained from robberies in Europe through a series of investments in real estate, tourism and commercial projects in several Moroccan cities.


Incidentally, al-Badil al-Hadari means "the civilized alternative" in Arabic. Given the academic and other achievements of the members of the alleged network, there could hardly be a better choice of name.


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