Fundamentalism

Eve Beglarian has been keeping an on-line journal of her thoughts and impressions since September 11. Others have written her e-mails, and she posts them, too. She posted a letter on the Koran from a Muslim woman, but has not yet posted this response.

I am sending you some information for your site, but I am going to have to caveat it greatly. First and foremost, it is in response to a posting from a woman injured on September 11 who, apparently, has died from her injuries, and so cannot respond. This makes such a task particularly difficult.

I also don't want such a posting to imply anything about the superiority or inferiority of one faith versus another. The undeniable fact is that the source text, the Torah, of my own faith, Judaism, contains the most horrible tales of sanctioned slaughter and revengeful genocide, which I am not trying to coverup or deny. I could quote numerous such passages without pause.

The very practice of quoting original passages so as to "explain" what one's religion is about is fraught with peril, and it is best that we consider the dangerous situation such a practice has resulted in. The fact is that the major religions of the world have not become major religions because of the permanence and immutability of the original "revelation," but because of a further history of additional revelations, interpretations and decisions. Take, for example, the plain meaning of "an eye for an eye." Although the meaning of the text, and the plain language used to express it, are obvious if not shocking to any modern reader, we have since inherited a legacy of talmudic and midrashic interpretation that explains that financial renumeration shall be substituted for the literal meaning of the text.

Similarly, Christian theology has known great strides since the original teachings of the Apostles, as evidenced by the existence of Catholicism, Protestantism, Liberation Theology, and other branches of observance.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have also seen attempts at returns to a rejectionist pre-medieval fundamentalism. Osama Bin Laden practices an extreme version of the Salafi movement "which is literal in its interpretation of the scriptures, which rejects the entire medieval legacy of interpretation, and which only draws on one or two figures from the whole corpus of Islamic law and theology," according to Bernard Haykel, NYU professor of Islamic law.

So offering a series of quotations from the Koran is a dangerous game that violates the way the religion is practiced (or should be). Here are some counter quotations offered by Stewart Weiss, director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana:

"Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and pagans." - Sura 5, verse 85

"Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every strategem [of war]." - Sura 9, verse 5

"Fight against those who believe not in Allah, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [Islam], until they are subdued." - Surat At-Taubah 9:29

Faith, holiness, and sanctity are precious quantities whereby religions provide us all with a path to G-d. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and countless others have shown us that religion can be revolutionary as well as a comfort and a joy, helping us bear life's burdens and enjoy life's blessings. There have always been those who have attempted to use religion to justify the perpetration of evil - the Jews who wanted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Christians who burned "witches" in Salem, and the suicidal Muslims of September 11. This does not mean that we should reject religion and reject G-d, or set ourselves up as armchair theologians, quoting scripture to prove some dubious point. We should approach G-d with humility and awe, while seeking justice with strength.

I do not mean to imply by this that all religions are the same, that all concepts of G-d (or, as in Hinduism, of other mystical presences) are the same. I do not have a problem with understanding that some actions which are moral in one religion are considered immoral in another. But, with great struggling, the strongest minds of the last century have established world-wide norms for human rights, for conventions of war, for human obligations. A "religious movement" that advocates violations of these norms places itself so far out of the mainstream so as to constitute brain-washing. Moral relativism may hold that there are no such norms, but that is a dangerous intellectual sleight-of-hand; Nuremberg and Geneva are not to be so easily dismissed. We must struggle to embrace that which unite us, so that that which divides us will not bring dishonor, ignominy and suffering to us all.

Link back to My Personal September 11 Page.

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Last Updated: September 12, 2007