Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Postscript to "Mixing religious fanaticism with war"

Since I'd already highlighted the extreme religious fundamentalism of Sarah Palin earlier, a follow-up seemed in order. This time around, let's check what Juan Cole has to say over at Salon.com:
Tolerance and democracy require freedom of speech and the press, but while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin inquired of the local librarian how to go about banning books that some of her constituents thought contained inappropriate language. She tried to fire the librarian for defying her. Book banning is common to fundamentalisms around the world, and the mind-set Palin displayed did not differ from that of the Hamas minister of education in the Palestinian government who banned a book of Palestinian folk tales for its sexually explicit language. In contrast, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it."
Palin argued when running for governor that creationism should be taught in public schools, at taxpayers' expense, alongside real science. Antipathy to Darwin for providing an alternative to the creation stories of the Bible and the Quran has also become a feature of Muslim fundamentalism. Saudi Arabia prohibits the study, even in universities, of evolution, Freud and Marx. Malaysia has banned a translation of "The Origin of the Species." Likewise, fundamentalists in Turkey have pressured the government to teach creationism in the public schools. McCain has praised Turkey as an anchor of democracy in the region, but Turkey's secular traditions are under severe pressure from fundamentalists in that country. McCain does them no favors by choosing a running mate who wishes to destroy the First Amendment's establishment clause, which forbids the state to give official support to any particular theology. Turkish religious activists would thereby be enabled to cite an American precedent for their own quest to put religion back at the center of Ankara's public and foreign policies.

The GOP vice-presidential pick holds that abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or severe birth defects, making an exception only if the life of the mother is in danger. She calls abortion an "atrocity" and pledges to reshape the judiciary to fight it. Ironically, Palin's views on the matter are to the right of those in the Muslim country of Tunisia, which allows abortion in the first trimester for a wide range of reasons. Classical Muslim jurisprudents differed among one another on the issue of abortion, but many permitted it before the "quickening" of the fetus, i.e. until the end of the fourth month. Contemporary Muslim fundamentalists, however, generally oppose abortion.
Palin's stance is even stricter than that of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2005, the legislature in Tehran attempted to amend the country's antiabortion statute to permit an abortion up to four months in case of a birth defect. The conservative clerical Guardianship Council, which functions as a sort of theocratic senate, however, rejected the change. Iran's law on abortion is therefore virtually identical to the one that Palin would like to see imposed on American women, and the rationale in both cases is the same, a literalist religious impulse that resists any compromise with the realities of biology and of women's lives. Saudi Arabia's restrictive law on abortion likewise disallows it in the case or rape or incest, or of fetal impairment, which is also Gov. Palin's position.
Theocrats confuse God's will with their own mortal policies. Just as Muslim fundamentalists believe that God has given them the vast oil and gas resources in their regions, so Palin asks church workers in Alaska to pray for a $30 billion pipeline in the state because "God's will has to get done." Likewise, Palin maintained that her task as governor would be impeded "if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God." Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran expresses much the same sentiment when he says "the only way to attain prosperity and progress is to rely on Islam."
One point I try to raise again and again has to do with the similarities among right-wing authoritarians across the globe. Cole does a decent job of driving the point home. What's the difference between "Islamofascists" and "Christofascists"? Probably not much more than that females identifying with the latter tend to wear lipstick. Christian fundamentalists do not appreciate that being stated any more than Muslim fundamentalists - after all each group fancies itself to be "the chosen ones" and those of the other group (as well as the billions who are not fundamentalists at all) as "infidels." And yet here they are - mirror images of one another - with members of each showing strong tendencies toward conventionalism, obedience, and authoritarian aggression. That's not a recipe for reasonably peaceful coexistence with those who are different - as religious wars initiated by fundamentalists, as well as the usual hysterics such as witch hunts would indicate.

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