It was a sizzling day in July last year and I was walking down the main shopping street of Napoli, when my phone beeped with a text message. Dodging between stalling motorists and a crowd of Napoletans swearing loudly and throwing up their arms in impatience, I found shelter under the stall of a fruit vendor.
The text was from my sister in the UK. ‘Two bombs have gone off in Kampala during the world cup final’. I recognized the two places mentioned, the Rugby Club and the Ethiopian restaurant, both frequented by dad and my siblings from time to time.
When I finally raised dad on the phone, he sounded surprised to hear from me, as if two bombings in his neighbourhood would not be sufficient cause to call. Apparently a number of ex-pats were among the dead and wounded. Fortunately, dad and siblings were home at the time.
I went on the internet the moment I got back to my flat to catch up on the news. An ultra-conservative Somalian Islamist group, al-Shabab, had claimed responsibility. This was the group’s first attack outside their country, though they had long threatened violence against Uganda if they did not withdraw their troops from the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Not for the first time, I was struck by the ties between religious extremism and politics. The two seem to be inextricably linked and as the reported threat of terrorism increases, so does the strange fact that nearly every dangerous group has cultic implications.
Thanks to 9/11 and the war on terror, much attention has been drawn toward the Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Shabab and more prominently, Al-Quaida, linked to the ancient sect of ‘Wahhabi’, an Islamic revivalist movement which sprang up in the Arabian peninsula of Saudi Arabia.
The Wahhabis represent a radical fringe sect of Muslims who a number of prominent religious scholars describe as ‘intolerant of other religions including other forms of Islam, and likely to create a narrow view of the world among its followers’.
Bruce Lawrence, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University and author of Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence, says, ‘while it does not in and of itself promote violence, there are elements and possibilities in Wahhabism for extremism.’ Nowhere is this possibility better exemplified, than in the form of terrorist group Al Qaeda, founded by Wahhabi adherent Osama Bin Laden.
Another Wahhabi cleric, Anwar Al Awlaki, has been implicated in numerous substantial terrorist connections, including radicalizing the US Major Nidal Hassan who killed 13 personnel in a rampage at Fort Hood in the USA and the Christmas day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Awlaki’s Wahhabi activities include connections with the Islamic groups and extreme clerics in the UK and their widespread acceptance of the Wahhabi viewpoint.
Yet with the recent bombing of government headquarters in Oslo, and a second attack on an island 20 miles away where the lone assassin, Breivik, gunned down nearly 80 youths gathered for a political rally, the similarities between Islamic Fundamentalists and their close twin, the Christian Fundamentalists are not too far off.
Prof Ian Plimer, a geologist at Melbourne University, talks about this ‘new kid on the block’ Christian Fundamentalism in his book Telling Lies for God, stating that while he has the utmost respect for those with Christian faith, he considers fundamentalism a dangerous cult.
Much as the Islamic Fundamentalists take the teachings of the Qur’an literally, Christian Fundamentalists believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, using their religion as an excuse to take away the civil rights of those who do not share the same beliefs. Like Islamic religious militants, the Christian Fundamentalists appear very intent on fighting with those who don’t think like they do and seem more attached to the word of God in their scripture than to peace, tolerance, compassion, and the very values their religions are supposed to preach.
Matt Powell was born into a conservative Christian Fundamentalist family, and describes the thinking and belief which drives the average adherent. ‘I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist environment. My indoctrination began in early childhood and continued through my adolescence. In early adulthood as I began to grow into an individual I began to realize that my beliefs and values were largely a matter of simple conditioning and brainwashing. Only now, almost 30 years later, have I started to fully understand the impact of that conditioning and become aware of the impact of fundamentalism on society, politics, and culture.
Matt describes Christian conservatives in America, who incidentally make up a considerable percentage of the American voting public, as ‘well-organized, well-financed, diligent, and relentless.’ Like their Islamist counterparts, they are also thoroughly conditioned to do as they are told, not ask questions, and fear anyone that expresses an opinion contrary to those of their leaders. As a result they make decisions based on ideology not reason.
‘Fundmentalists are highly motivated.’ Matt says. ‘They meet regularly with their peer group(s) to reinforce their belief systems. They network extensively and constantly. They are always “at war”.’
The basic vehicle of indoctrination is Sunday worship services.
‘My family attended The Church of the Nazarene. Sunday activities consisted of two ‘services’ per day – minimum. “Churches” – and the organizations that run them or which they run, depending on your point of view – pay no taxes.’
This means that really huge propaganda machines, exercising billions of dollars in assets, pay no taxes. Everything from Trinity Broadcasting Network, the 700 Club, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Bob Jones University pay ZERO TAXES on vast amounts of revenue they generate and control.
‘They own broadcasting media, radio stations, TV station, Colleges and Universities, publishing houses, finance companies, and distribution networks – all under the umbrella of “tax-free” organizations.’
Matt’s point is this: If the progressive liberals, the left, the Democratic National Convention, etc., have any expectation of waging an effective campaign against these people, they need to have an accurate understanding of the extensive and well-organized resources of the zealots they are trying to deal with.
Their world-view, dominated by the basic belief that this world is simply a dress-rehearsal for eternity, is one that fosters a disregard for civil society. ‘Who cares if we use up all the oil, cut down all the trees and strip away the ozone layer, if God is coming back soon anyway?’ Or in the case of Islam,’ if I blow myself up in the cause of Jihad, I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife.’ These are not beliefs conducive to the progress of mankind.
In a continent where Christian Fundamentalism corresponds with the right to bear arms, the potential for right-wing splinter groups to stock pile weapons increases the risk of violence. Have we learned anything from past tragedies such as Jonestown, Waco, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Shin Rikyo and the Order of the Solar Temple?
In this age of widespread fear of global terrorism, will the cults of the future have a greater political rather than religious agenda? Thomas Wolf once wrote that a cult is a religion with no political power, but is this the case today where the lines between religious and political agendas are increasingly blurred?
Take the English Defense League, which is an anti-Islamic movement growing in strength. Formed in Luton in June 2009, it has brought together a disparate group of football hooligans, far-right activists and many who have never been on a political demonstration before. What unites them is a rampant and sometimes violent Islamiphobia.
“The English Defence League, which started in Luton last year, has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front of the 1970s. A Guardian investigation has identified a number of known rightwing extremists who are taking an interest in the movement – from convicted football hooligans to members of violent rightwing splinter groups.” – The Guardian, May 28, 2010
The EDL’s primary fear is not so much an outside invasion by Islamic states, but rather that Islam will conquer Europe from within by simple demographic superiority. There are currently around 52 million Muslims in Europe–a number which the German government says is expected to double in the next 20 years.
The German Federal Statistics Office recently stated, “The fall in the [German] population can no longer be stopped. Its downward spiral is irreversible…It will be a Muslim state by the year 2050!
The government of Belgium has stated that 1/3 of all European children will be born to Muslim families by the year 2025. Just 17 years away.
In France 30% of children ages 20 and younger, are now Islamic. In larger cities such as Nice and Paris the number has grown to 45%. By the year 2027, 1 in 5 Frenchmen will be Muslim. In just 39 years France will be an Islamic Republic.
In the last 30 years the Muslim population of Great Britain rose from 82,000 to 2.5 MILLION. A 30 fold Increase. There are over 1,000 Mosques, many of them former Churches.
The plan was clearly pronounced in a telling statement by Libya’s recently de-throned Muammar al-Ghadaffi. “There are signs that Allah will grant victory to Islam in Europe without swords, without guns, and without conquest. We don’t need terrorists , we don’t need suicide bombers. The 50+ Muslims in Europe will turn it into a Muslim Continent in a few decades.”
While we get groups like the EDL rising up in response to the fear of Islamic take over, the Christian Fundamentalists are not far behind. Once more we can observe a mirroring of their Islamic counterpart’s methods. For God and country Islamic and Christian Fundamentalist women are becoming glorified baby-making machines to churn out an army of future extremists.
Like a branch off the Fundamentalist tree, ‘Quiverfull’ is a Conservative Fundamentalist natalistic movement, against birth control, pro-homeschooling and wifely submission. In an era of equal rights and reproductive choice for women, Quiverfull seeks to reverse the feminist trend and return women to their Biblically mandated role as bearers of children and workers in the home under the authority of a husband.
Quiverfull can attribute its steady growth to the worldwide web and the events of Sept. 11, which brought together groups of Christian fundamentalists fearing the attacks on their religious and cultural sovereignty. The formerly decentralized Quiverfull movement began expanding through the internet. Informal networks espousing conservative beliefs organized themselves into online support groups, websites and The Quiverfull Digest.
Their name is taken from a Bible scripture in the Psalms,
‘As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.’
Children are likened to arrows, and the more children, the greater their strength as ‘arrows for war’. Many worry that the underlying aim of the movement is political domination through birthing an army of God’s soldiers. While average American families have just one to two children, Quiverfull families range from 8 to 20, further ratcheting up interest in fertility politics and a future demographic divide wherein Fundamentalist “red staters” will far outnumber barren blue state liberals.
Rick and Jan Hess clearly state these objectives in their book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ.
“When at the height of the Reagan Revolution,” they write, “the conservative faction in Washington was enforced with squads of new conservative congressmen, legislators often found themselves handcuffed by lack of like-minded staff. There simply weren’t enough conservatives trained to serve in Washington in the lower and middle capacities.” But if just 8 million American Christian couples began supplying more “arrows for the war” by having six children or more, they propose, the Christian-right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century (“assuming Christ does not return before then”).
They like to ponder the spiritual victory that such numbers could bring: both houses of Congress and the majority of state governor’s mansions filled by Christians; universities that embrace creationism; sinful cities reclaimed for the faithful; and the swift blows dealt to companies that offend Christian sensibilities.
“With the nation’s low birth rate, the high divorce rate, an un-marrying and anti-child viewpoint, and a debauched nation perhaps unable to slow down the spread of AIDS, we can begin to see what happens politically. A half-billion person boycott of a company which violated God’s standards could be very effective… Through God’s blessing we would be part of a replay of Exodus 1:7, ‘But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.'” “Brethren,” they write, “it’s time for a comeback!”
Kathryn Joyce is a journalist whose book detailing the Quiverfull movement is particularly revealing in regards to their grassroots political agenda. She writes, ‘Quiverfull describes patriarchal families as the basic “cellular units of society” that form a bulwark against Communism, as well as in the military-industrial terminology they assign to biblical gender roles within such “cells”: the husband described as company CEO, the wife as plant manager and the children as workers. Or, in alternate form, the titles revised to reflect the Christian church’s “constant state of war” with the world: “Commander in Chief” Jesus, the husband a “commanding officer” and his wife a “private” below him. And the kids? Presumably ammunition, arrows, weapons for the war.’
Oslo bomber Breivik’s one and only twitter post was both insightful and chilling in this context: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” What will happen when those with strong beliefs outnumber those with only interests? The future will tell us how this story ends.