Beliefnet
What do you see as the most significant development in connection withOsama bin Laden and his brand of Islamic fundamentalism?

Osama bin Laden, who has said that all American citizens are legitimate targets of holy warriors, represents a pernicious development in the world not onlyof Islam but also of Islamic fundamentalism. Its a departure fromanything recognizable as Islamic.

What it betokens is a crisis of authority in Islam. Across the late modern world, the emergence of secularism, advanced by capitalist markets, has been accompanied by the dissemination of worldviews that are inimical to traditional religions. This situation has created crises for all these religions.

Across the board--in Islam as well as in Catholicism, Judaism, and Hinduism--the foundations for a coherent expression of religious authority beyond a very privatized realm have been undermined. Traditional religious leaders see their space becoming narrowed. Part of the fundamentalist reaction to this is that traditional authorities--in Islam, both the religious scholars and the politicalleaders--are discredited and accused of not being sufficiently orthodoxor vigilant

It was interesting that when Osama bin Laden issued the fatwa thatcalled for death to all Americans, he referred to himself as a sheikh.

But he's not a sheikh, and he really has no authority to issue a fatwa.He hasn't had religious training; he's a "layperson." He is thusrepresentative of the kind of fundamentalist free agents who do not feelbound by the traditional schools of Islamic law.

In Islamic law there's no justification, even in war, for killinginnocents and other noncombatants. So the justification bin Ladengives--and in this he's similar to the late Catholic traditionalistArchbishop Marcel Lefebvre as well as ultraorthodox Jews--is that thetraditional religion is currently in a crisis. Both the Bible and theQuran have "emergency clause" verses: If you're in a crisis and yourfaith is under assault these verses suggest then you are obligated totake emergency measures.

What makes Islamic fundamentalism attractive to people?

Their moral critique is not entirely without merit. I recently read thata high school in Texas is starting to clamp down on provocativecheerleading poses. Women in our culture are too often projected as sexobjects, and at younger and younger ages. I'm not saying we have to bepuritans and I'm not a fundamentalist, but as a Catholic and as a fatherof a daughter, I, too, get angry at the way women are treated andfetishized in our culture. Many Americans are concerned about moralstandards in Western culture. Magnify that a hundredfold and you'llunderstand some of the anger of fundamentalist Muslims.

Indeed, some scholars define fundamentalism as a patriarchal protestmovement. Fundamentalists feel that through the liberation of women thecustomary role of the male is being threatened--their leadership oftraditional society, their ability to provide for their own families.The slogan for the Islamic fundamentalist movement has been "Islam isthe solution. That may sound simple-minded, but it has great attractionfor many.

Do you see any hope for countering the appeal of Islamic fundamentalismfrom within Islam?

Yes. Islam is not monolithic. But I think the problem and the solutionare really more structural and systemic than religious. One of the mainproblems resulting from the corrupt political leadership in many Islamiccountries is that both the educational system and many social servicesare now provided by Islamic fundamentalists. In Egypt the government isnot taking care of masses of people with medical problems, but theIslamist clinic down the street will, and it will also indoctrinate you.

When bin Laden hit the World Trade Center, the real goal was a dramaticthrowing down of the gauntlet for all Muslims. His message from the cavemirrored what President George W. Bush said: You're either with us, oryou're against us.

Fundamentalists seek to foster precisely such a crisis mentality; theywant to force you to choose one identity, not multiple ones. Here is theline in the sand. We're in a crisis. What truth are you going to choose?

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