Islamists Really Are Fundamentalists

Katie invokes a misconception I’ve seen before about what fundamentalism is all about, in order to argue that there’s no analogy between Christian fundamentalists and Islamists.

The easy way of seeing this is to think of where the term fundamentalism *should* be used. To do this we have to look at the history of it. The fundamentalists come from the 19th century. They were against all biblical reforms and humanistic developments. The protestant biblical hermeneutics were threatening classical thinking of the church and the fundamentals were striving to protect that classical way of thinking. The modernizing and liberalizing of the classics resulted in this modern reaction of trying to restore classical and originally revealed words as to access their original knowledge.

Thus it is use most correctly when we are using it in response to liberalizing modern biblical hermaneutics – or to give this some modern condentation, those that strive to keep the constitution in its original form, those that treat it as a pseudo-sacred text and as the inviolable foundations of which the U.S law is based on.

But in reality, Christian fundamentalism arose not just against a liberal theology, but also against a liberal society. The watershed moment of American fundamentalism was the Scopes Trial, which had nothing to do with theology and everything to do with social acceptance of science.

Even in the late 19th century, the political movement that was most amenable to fundamentalism was populism. As with all political movements, the influence of theological interpretations on populism was scant; instead, populism was a reaction against capitalism and various scapegoats associated with it, like Jews. Although the Southeast had been the most religious area of the country since the Second Great Awakening, it became fundamentalist because of disillusionment with modernism.

That, of course, parallels the development of Islamism. Islamist scholars dispute the more liberal theological interpretations of Islam, but the reason there are more than a few hundred Islamists in the Middle East isn’t theological. Rather, it’s a deep resentment of modernism, fomented by the failure of Ba’athism to promote progress.

9 Responses to Islamists Really Are Fundamentalists

  1. Katie Kish says:

    “in order to argue that there’s no analogy between Christian fundamentalists and Islamists.”

    thats not what I was doing. but okay mr “i like to interperate things my own way not in the intended way” levy.

    first – after rereading that post, it sounds nothing like me. all those big words.

    second – it was a rant about the common usage of the word fundamentalism – SOME islamists are fundamentalists – not all. For fox news to clump them all together as ALL terrorists being fundamentalists is stupid but more importantly irritating.

    if you keep changing the definition of a word to include all these new people then you’re losing meaning in the word. get a new word.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    No, all Islamists are fundamentalists. Islamists invariably rail against modernization and social liberalism, like Christian fundamentalists. And like Christian fundamentalism, Islamism arose among the discontents of modernization.

  3. Katie Kish says:

    No, not all Islamists are fundamentalists. I have Islamic friends that aren’t fundamentalists, just as some christians aren’t fundamentalists.

    Open almost any newspaper, turn on the radio or tv and there will be stories about fundamentalist islam. Many of these stroies are going to be accompanied with images of violence – as in Kashimir, Bosnia, Algeria, or Palestine. The vision of Islam emerging from newpapers and television scress is often that of a hard, uncompromising faith whose adherents will resort to violence in defence of their prinicples or in order to impose their will on others. Yet we know the Muslim traditions, the image of ‘militant Islam’ lies *at odds* with a faith that most of its adherents would regard as no less padivid in temper than Buddhism. The word Islam means “sel-surrender”: it is closely related etympolgoically to aslaam. The universal greeting with muslims address each other with means pease be upon you.

    What I’m trying to say is that there are groups of muslims who this violent condentation of ‘islamic fundamentalist’ doesn’t apply to.
    But slinging the word around it puts a negative light on ALL people in the islamic faith. its so narrow. so if people are going to throw around the word ‘fundamentalist’ they should at least be ensuring that they’re not placing it on the entire islamic faith because a) not all are fundamentalists to their religion b) it has a [i]negative[/i] aura around it, so when its used in the news or on blogs the whole idea of this negative fundamentalism gets placed on the religion as a whole not just those that are the instigators of war and conflict.

    The word fundamentalist has passed into english usage to describe those muslims who seek by whatever means to restore or establish an islamic state. according to this view it is the tast of the islamic state to enforce obedience to the revealed law of islam. …Its problematic because of the historical context i explained before. Muslim writers and ideologists described as fundamentalist have all adopted some modernistic and allegorical interpretats of the Guran, while virtually all beliving muslims – not JUST those described as fundamentalists see the Quran as the eternal unmediated Word of God… In the view of political Islam’s numerous critics, Muslims and non-muslims, Islam as a religin shoudl be distinguished from Islam as political ideology. To call the latter ‘fundamentalism’ is not only misleading’ it makes a gratuitous concession to the advoadates of political islam by implying that the defence of Islam’s fundamentals invariably demands political action. Muslims who contest this view argue that so long as a government does not prevent the believer from carrying out his or her religious duties, it cannt be describes as un or anti – Islamic.

    I went off on more a tangent, but you get me.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    I have Islamic friends that aren’t fundamentalists, just as some christians aren’t fundamentalists.

    Then they’re not Islamists… Islamism is not equal to Islam, just as Dominionism is not equal to Christianity.

  5. Katie Kish says:


    ‘k, whatever.

  6. Katie says:

    I’ve decided not to let this go quite yet…
    if all islamists are fundamentalists then why doterms such as ijtihad and wahabism and salafis exist?

    more later

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Ijtihad is just a tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, which is typically based more on reason than on faith.

    Wahhabism is just an Islamic sect or denomination, much like the Baptist of Methodist Church. It’s more conservative than most, and Saudi Arabia pours a lot of money into evangelizing it worldwide (and then complains that having NGOs in the Middle East, let alone Christian missionaries, is imperialistic). But it’s more a theological doctrine than a political movement. There’s a big overlap between Wahhabism and political Islam, but they’re not the same.

    I’m not sure about Salafism, but to my knowledge it’s just another denomination.

  8. Kian says:

    that’s what im saying…
    they are different denominations – some are brought up to reaffirm fundamental principles of islam – and others are used to go against the fundamental prinicples of the religious texts.
    how can they all be fundaments in this case?
    Thats like saying we’re all fundaments because we all have our own beliefs – which ultimatly maked the term completely meaningless.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    But there are different denominations in every religion. A Christian may be a Baptist or a Catholic or an Anglican or a Methodist. But he can be a Dominionist regardless of identification; if he is, he’s likelier to be a Baptist than an Anglican, but Dominionism is a political movement more than a religious tradition.

    Likewise, political Islam tends to cut along religious boundaries. The Sunni-Shi’a split causes violence, but both Sunni Islamists and Shi’a Islamists represent political Islam, i.e. Islamism.

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