Islamic fundamentalism

Cavenaugh: While they are both labels for mass ideologies, religion and nation differ in use because nations are allowed to use violence in support of ideology while religion is not. If we approve of what Israel does to the Palestinians we consider it a nation and the Palestinian response as “fundamentalism”; if we disapprove of it we speak of “the Palestinian state”.

The tendency to use these labels is so engrained that we can’t even see the manifest nonsense we commit ourselves to when we try to speak of “Islamic fundamentalism” or “the tendency that Islam has to violence.” See Reza Aslan here:

In other words, the violence that bothers us is nationalism, or at least an Islam that is essentially conditioned by nationalism (used in the broad sense since in the Middle East and Africa “Nation” is a bumbling mix of the organic natio and the artificial boundaries inflicted on them by European imperialism.) Blaming it on “religion” or “Islam” is just a ritual absolution for those of us who pride ourselves on either being irreligious or with separating religion from the public square. If all this violence rose from nationalism, even we might be able to commit it!

Aslan might have some ‘splanin to do over why terrorists yell “allahu Akbar” and not “viva Saudi Arabia”, but his basic point stands.


  1. Johan Swart said,

    August 26, 2016 at 1:51 am

    Interesting points James, the problem I think is with Reza’s denial that Islam is a religion of violence, in large part because Islam is as much a political project as it is a religious one. Reza being a liberal is in the business of equalizing, quoting passages out of context from Jesus to show that the NT can just as easily be quoted in support of militant conquest as the Koran can. For the left it is fine if religions are either equally evil (Dawkins fallacy) or equally benevolent (Obama fallacy), the cardinal sin is the recognition of distinction, and this is Harris’ crime.

    • August 26, 2016 at 8:17 am

      The Left-Right division postdates the nation/religion ideology that is central to the modern project and so if there are problems in the nation/religion ideology (like, say, the a priori conviction that only the group called “nation” can ever make a just use of violence, or that no violence is either sacred or sacrilegious) they will be already baked into the Left-Right division. This will lead to weird contradictions in both sides.

      • Johan Swart said,

        August 26, 2016 at 10:33 am

        Speaking for myself, I don’t think the violence that bothers me is nationalism, rather it is the fact that historically Islam has always been brutally militant and expansionist, after conquering 2 thirds of the Christian world, and then going on to attack Europe for 1000 years, only to stop because it was eventually defeated on the battleground. This is of course no accident given the content Islam, Muhammed, was after-all, a warrior-prophet. We have to be sober about the unique threat posed by Islam, nations are easily defeated. Who is afraid that Nazi Germany might be resurrected?

    • August 26, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      What is the evidence that Islam “has always been brutally militant and expansionist”? The people who bring this up rarely have good arguments for it. It’s pretty easy to get such an impression if you read some of the of nastier hadiths and interpret Sura 8 in light of them. However, while the conquests that took place in the time of early Islam were brutal, they were more Arab conquests than Muslim ones – they started before Muhammad, and even after Islam emerged, not all the fighters were Muslim.

      I would even say that “quoting passages out of context from Jesus to show that the NT can … easily be quoted in support of militant conquest” is not far from what most anti-Islamic rhetoric is: poorly done historical argument based on interpreting everything through verses which have been questionably interpreted.

      • Johan Swart said,

        August 27, 2016 at 3:46 am

        I’m going to be generous. By 641, 3 out of the 5 Christian capital cities had been conquered by Muslim armies (by the Rashidun Caliphate), starting with Jerusalem in 637 leading to the siege of Alexandria in 641, with the last. Adding Constantinople conquered in 1453, gives us 800 years of Muslim aggression. Of course, attacks did not end here, this would only stop with the battle of Vienna 1683. So this is 800 + 230 years of Muslim aggression. And no, you are comparing apples and oranges, it is easier to quote the Koran in support for Militant conquest because at the end of the day, Muhammed, unlike Jesus, was a warrior-prophet-statesman rolled into one. It is a irony of history that we associate Christianity with the West / Europe only because Islam had driven Christianity out of northern Africa, Middle east and Asia Minor.

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