Religious Radicalism Is Back, in Full Force

The greatest source of future global conflict will stem from religio-political zeal versus secularism.

     We are witnessing a new global conflict between the forces of religio-political fundamentalism and those of secular, pluralistic democracy. The first of these opposing camps proclaims the absolute primacy of certain never-changing scriptural truths, be they Islamic, Christian or Jewish. The latter camp places its reliance upon a popularly derived and constantly modifiable social compact.
     The deepening conflict between these two dramatically different approaches to the sources of governmental legitimacy are now poised to replace Cold War bipolarity as the major axis of global conflict. Recent and currently unfolding events in South Asia undeniably demonstrate the growth of this new design of religious radicalism.
     Osama bin Laden, charged with planning and underwriting the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, has become the most outspoken and visible symbol of the new Islamic religio-political zeal. An exceptionally wealthy, highly educated and well-placed member of the Saudi Arabian elite, Bin Laden single-handedly instituted a broad-ranging war against the incursion of Western culture, influence, power and economics into the traditional lands of Islam. To Bin Laden, who was given shelter and operational freedom in such states as Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. is nothing less than the "devil."
     Earning similar recriminations are Israel and India, the latter of which is now feeling the forces of this Islamic radicalism close in around it. Much like the antichrist was viewed in Christian tradition, Bin Laden sees the U.S. and its partners as having set out to corrupt true Islamic values and heritage. He is, as Yossef Bodansky, author of a recent book on Bin Laden, notes, the only alleged Islamic terrorist to have "declared war on America."
     In one of his most recent fatwas, or religious decrees, Bin Laden ordered the killing of Americans, Indians and their allies, proclaiming it "the individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."
     The charges that Bin Laden is indeed the financier and mastermind of the most recent anti-U.S., anti-Indian terrorism might be overstated. There are many other state and individual supporters of the growing religio-political stirrings in the Arab and wider Islamic world. Yet just in the past few weeks, several dangerously armed Bin Laden supporters and associates have been apprehended in diverse locations in the U.S. and throughout the world. One such group hijacked an Indian Airlines jet, demanding $200 million and the release of a jailed Pakistani cleric-cum-terrorist and others.
     The potential for such an Islamic revolution against foreign powers cannot be ignored.
     The seeds of discontent and of historical militancy are in place. This Friday, about 500,000 Muslim worshipers are expected to crowd Jerusalem's Temple Mount, not to celebrate the new year but to demonstrate Islamic solidarity on the closing days of Ramadan, one of Islam's most sacred holidays.
     Though there is little likelihood that much mass disorder will be generated on New Year's Eve either in the Holy Land or elsewhere, evidence is mounting that the 21st century may well become an apocalyptic era throughout the lands of Islam. Nearly 1,000 years ago, Christians of Europe responded to the call of Pope Urban II and commenced their crusade into the lands of Islam. Armed Christian pilgrims gathered from throughout Europe to spread their dominance, and often their terror, upon those infidels they encountered on their way to Jerusalem.
     Could it be that what we are seeing is the commencement of an Islamic "counter-crusade" to repel Western values and institutions that are believed to constitute a corrupting threat to the survival of the Islam's sacred heritage?
     If this is the case, then the first century of the coming era is likely to witness a zealous and bloody struggle between those committed to a divine and immutable scripture and those believing in the evolving and secular values of modern populism.
     Soon we will find out which way the winds of the 21st century will blow. - - -
Nicholas N. Kittrie Is a Professor of Law at American University and Author of the "Rebels With a Cause: the Minds and Morality of Political Offenders" (Westview Press, 1999)