Jan 7, 2002
Today, we hear a lot about Islamic fundamentalism and its espousal of terrorism. But, in fact, religious fundamentalism is not limited to Islam nor is terrorism limited to the poor countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
Contrary to common prejudice, the first modern selfproclaimed “fundamentalist” current did not emerge from the backwardness of a poor country, like Afghanistan. In fact, it was formed in what was then already the world’s most advanced economy, that is, right here in the United States. Between 1910 and 1915, a dissident faction of Protestant laymen produced a 12volume treatise entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony of the Truth. Proclaiming themselves “fundamentalists,” they organized a religious current to oppose changes in the society of that time: specifically, the increase in Catholic immigrants in the latter part of the 19th century; the rise of social unrest and class polarization, and the rapid progress of scientific thought. These original fundamentalists stood for a literal reading of the Bible, claiming, at the same time, that the explanation set down in Genesis gave a complete explanation of the origins of life.
The fundamentalists were a motley crew coming from very different backgrounds, although usually from the most reactionary layers of the middle class. Despite their differences, they sometimes found common ground. Such was the case in 1925, during the high profile trial of John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher accused of teaching evolution theory, violating a law adopted earlier that year in the state of Tennessee – a law which remained in force until 1967! Scopes was fined $100 although the state supreme court quashed the ruling later on. This trial provided a major platform for one of the fundamentalists’ favorite hobby horses – what they called the “science of creation.” Since then hundreds of books have been devoted to substantiating this socalled “science.”
It was not until 1987 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down all state laws requiring that “creationism” be taught in any public school where evolution was discussed. Even today, there is a “Creation Evidence Museum” at Glen Rose (in George Bush's own state of Texas) which displays “scientific” proof for “creationism” – for example, human footprints allegedly dating back to the dinosaur era, a fossilized human foot in a boot, and so on. These “proofs” – most of which could only be pure and simple fabrication – indicate to what extent the fundamentalists try to play on many people’s lack of scientific knowledge.
Starting from the small number of dissident bigots of the early 20th century, the American fundamentalists diversified on a very large scale. Today, about half the 60 million “bornagain” Christians in the U.S. describe themselves as “fundamentalists.” They are organized in a galaxy of churches, congregations and sects of all kinds. The Traditional Values Coalition, by itself, claims the adherence of 31,000 different churches.
Predictably this fundamentalist milieu leans towards the right of the political spectrum, and usually the farright. Developing in the late 1970s, the Christian fundamentalists have carried out an ever more vocal lobbying of the government to pass laws which favor their religious positions. Their fight against evolution, for example, is still going on. The state legislature of Kansas, responding to their pressure, recently passed legislation which would allow public schools not to teach anything about evolution, plate tectonics or current knowledge about the development of the universe – all three of which contradict the account in Genesis. They have also waged campaigns trying to have the United States be declared a Christian Republic and compulsory prayers be introduced in public schools.
But it is in their fight against abortion rights that the fundamentalists have shown their real face most clearly. While Republicans and Democrats alike have courted them, taking a number of small steps restricting abortion rights – at least for poor women – up until now, neither party has been ready to completely prohibit abortion – an action which they calculate would provoke an electoral backlash.
Thus, the fundamentalists moved to direct action through antiabortion groups like Operation Rescue. Not only have they engaged in systematic picketing and harassment of the medical staffs and patients at women’s medical clinics; they have also carried out physical assaults, arson, bombings and shooting attacks – not to mention the anthrax threats which continue to be sent to such clinics. These attacks were so widespread that by the early 1990s, it had become impossible to get an abortion in 83% of all U.S. counties – not due to legal prohibition but to the mounting terror campaign carried out by the antiabortion groups.
It seems that these “American values” the Christian fundamentalists speak so much about have also produced their own fanatical terrorists!
It is significant that when Bush announced his list of terrorist organizations, it did not include any of these home grown terrorists.