Wednesday, December 28, 2005

From India: A perspective on the good news from Dover

One of the remarkable things about India is the way many religious groups, as well as other philosophical traditions, have coexisted in relative peace for decades. Of course, there are those who are not content to allow that, and so in recent years we have seen a rise in militancy among both Hindus and Muslims in India. In the context of the worldwide rise of Islamic extremism, India is playing with fire. There could be few greater tragedies than to see this country, a model of tolerance and diversity, and home to a billion people, torn apart by religious strife. Yet there are leaders here who persist in fanning the flames. Fortunately, in the most recent election, the Hindu nationalists were set back, though that may be temporary. The result was a surprise, and still has not been explained by the pundits, and so it is hard to know what the reverse means, or how lasting it may be. Nevertheless, large numbers of Indians seem to have woken up to the fact that religious sabre-rattling will not solve their problems or create opportunities.

For an American, seeing this play out is a poignant reminder of the risks we face at home. There has recently been reason to breathe a sigh of relief, as rationality finally won a round in Dover. There has been a great deal of coverage of this case, so these comments will be brief. Put simply: we are facing a worldwide war on reason, waged by ideologues of all stripes. The convenient explanation, perhaps the right one, is that the rapidity of change in the world has driven many to seek the security to be found in religious dogma. Whatever the reason, now that we have a slight respite, it is time to be honest about what we are confronting in the U.S.

Those who have compared the Christian Right with the Taliban have been shouted down, accused of intolerance, or worse. But the comparison is perfectly appropriate, and the dangers are not dissimilar. The absurd argument is made that one has to choose between supporting Christian extremism or supporting Islamofascism. It does not seem to occur to some that one can, and should, oppose both, as they are cut from the same cloth.

The Christian Right and the forces of Islamofascism, as well as the Hindu fundamentalists, want essentially the same things; it is only their means that differ. They long for a society in which prayer has replaced knowledge, women are subservient, holding other beliefs is itself considered intolerant, and the natural human impulse to question is dead. Their dream of a return to a pre-industrial, pre-enlightenment existence makes groups like Earth First look moderate by comparison. We cannot fight the values of Islamofascism without recognising and confronting those values in our own society.

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