Fundamentalism is not associated with a particular religion. It does exist in all religions, as said by Prof. Dr. Thomas Meyer (University of Dortmund, Germany) when he spoke about characteristics of fundamentalism. This point of view was expressed in a public lecture and discussion titled “What is Fundamentalism?” held by the Liberal Islam Network in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in November 22nd 2011. The event was attended also by Ulil Abshar-Abdalla who was invited as the second speaker for the discussion.
During the discussion, Meyer mentioned about nine characters of fundamentalism: The First, fundamentalism is a phenomenon that exists in all religions. It is not associated with any particular religion. According to Mayer, fundamentalism is only one way to understand religion.
The Second, fundamentalism is more about political movement instead of a religious ideology. In many cases, the political nuances are very strong as impressed. In fact, those fundamentalists construct the idea of a community (ummah) as being in a constant oppression, by which they make that idea as the framework for their movement, through the imposition of a new political system. It is not even rare that we find them transformed or metamorphosed into a political party, so then they can participate in democratic elections. For Meyer, fundamentalism is actually part of modernity itself. It is a direct response to modernism. Fundamentalism is “a modern form of anti-modernism” said Meyer.
The third character of fundamentalism, according to Meyer, is that it was born as a response to the crisis. There is a supposition that the world today is in a chaotic situation economically, politically, and culturally. The crisis of leadership in every area of life also encourages the birth of fundamentalism.
The Fourth, fundamentalism is marked by the principle of self superiority over the others. Here the politics of identity come into being. Fundamentalists have always felt themselves to overcome the others. They regard themselves as the truest, the virtuous, the straightest etc. The rests are then regarded as misguided, heretics and deviances.
The fifth strong character in fundamentalism as Mayer said is that they are anti- campaigns for gender equality and pluralism. This explains why all fundamentalist movements are always targeting the confinement of women. Almost all regulations that they enforce are always concerning on how women should be controlled. They are so ignorant and do not want to accept the idea that all humans are basically the same regardless of their sex and cultural background.
The sixth characteristic of fundamentalism, according to Meyer, is a resistant identity. It is then justifies why fundamentalist movements always lead to totalitarianism.
The seventh characteristic is that fundamentalism always recommends denial towards differences of identity and rejects the culture of democracy which respects diversity.
The Eighth character is that those fundamentalists are trapped in the feeling of insecurity. It is also commonly expressed as “mental block”; that they feel as there are outer forces that they thought would pulverize them. As the result, they are highly reactive and often aggressive to what they regard as “the others”.
When he spoke about democracy, Meyer explained that democracy is not a majority rule but the rule of law. It’s true that there are elections, but it does not mean that the elected ruler must always execute the mandate of the majority group. Democratic leaders have to move within the limits of law. Indeed, the rule of law is regarded as the most important element in democracy. This is actually the ninth characteristic of fundamentalists, that they reject the rule of law.
At his remark, Mayer said that “If you want to see that all people can worship their God freely, so the first thing to be established is the rule of law,” said Meyer. Meyer gave an example how fundamentalist forces in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany were so strong so that they established a democratic majoritarianism which is actually not even better than totalitarianism itself.
Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, the second speaker, responded to Prof. Meyer’s lecture. According to Ulil, there are similarities between Islamic fundamentalism and communism and Marxism. Islamic fundamentalism is mainly marked by the ideological claims of comprehensiveness. Fundamentalism pursues that all things are going to be set and controlled.
It is interesting—according to Ulil—that in practice, the fundamentalist movement (especially Islam) is very obsessed to take control over the private domains, not the public sphere. The Campaigns that they raise so far are very much dominated by campaigns on issues related to private issues, such as morality, women’s clothing, liquor, adultery, and so on. They seem not too concerned with public affairs. However Prof. Meyer replied that actually those fundamentalists want to dominate public life in order to regulate private life.
Ulil also confirmed that the so-called fundamentalist movements are actually dynamic realities. The ideal dream of those fundamentalists does not often come into the reality of political life; when those fundamentalists plunge into politics, they can not avoid compromises as common in the world of practical politics. As a conclusion, fundamentalism—according to him—is constantly shifting and changing. Fundamentalism never stands still and/or becomes static.
(Translated by: Ahmad Shams Madyan)