The Social Studies Unit in MENA
It is not sufficient to only discuss such phenomena, deepen in their analysis and interpret their causes in order to understand what is going on. Despite the importance and necessity of doing so, and of looking into what many have written about it, it is also necessary to search for the founding roots of everything that is happening today, because it seems that at some point in history we had not read well, a set of circumstances and conditions were formed that contributed to forming fundamentalist jihadist phenomenon, Trumpism, Putinism, the rise of the right, and others.
For example, to make it clear, how do Putinism, Trumpism and Erdoganism feed each other and at the same time feed from religion? How do each of them feed from the rise of right fundamentalisms, whatever their forms are? How does each of them get affected by the changes taking place in the world today, starting with the Corona pandemic and going beyond the international conflict over energy resources, as we see in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Today, there is an intense global discussion about the return of religious phenomenon and the resurgence of transnational identities, which are clearly seen in the brightness of religious phenomena and symbols in politics and public life. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, it was shameful to talk at the state level and public life about religious origins, or declaring expressions with a religious connotation at the top of the political pyramid. However, we find that our world today is also abundantly overflowing with religious expressions and statements.
There is a vigorous effort to employ the religion in politics. The clergies are received at the highest political levels and they employ their religious positions and knowledge to service this or that authority. It becomes obvious when looking at the Orthodox Church with Putin, the official Sunni Islam with Erdogan, Christianity with Donald Trump, Hinduism in India, and others.
Why have warrying religious identities returned?
First: Countries that were ruled by authoritarian political totalitarianism
What happened in those countries such as the Soviet Union, Turkey or Yugoslavia is not the absence of the religion or the small national identity, but rather a forced popular concealment of them. Their institutions were coverted from being against the authority to a tool in its hands. The way things were imposed helped in that, which was without taking into account the factor of time, cultures and sub-identities. What they wanted was to replace a new identity, nationalism, or religion overnight, unaware of how deeply rooted the old one was in the prevailing consciousness and that this old one needed a democratic climate for development, growth and transition from one phase to finer and higher one. Maintaining religiosity, wether consciously or unconsciously, has taken on the character of resistance to tyrannical authority.
Second: Back to religiosity!
It is also circulated today that religiosity is getting back in people’s minds, in public and in political life in an abundance, even in the democratic countries, which constitutes a new phenomenon in itself because the explanation presented above regarding the nature of tyranny and its impact on the religion does not apply here, so what is the interpretation of that? In the Western democratic world, it is partially correct to talk about the religion returning, partially and not completely, because religion has never disappeared.
This has its causes, including the modernity atrophy:
It is what we might call the exposure or collapse of modernity veil, or modernity atrophy! It is similar to the collapse of tyranny that revealed what was beneath it. This means that there are large segments of the masses in the democratic world that have never abandoned religiosity, and religion has remained present in their daily life despite the secular state.
Even in strict secularism, the authority has not abolished religion from public life, and has not gotten into a comprehensive war against religion as the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe did, for example. All it did was to exclude religion from political life and direct public life that is related to the lives of others so that religion has become a purely individual affair.
The discourse of modernity declared its victory over religion and circulated this victory to the extent that it has become an undisputed truth! On the other hand, reality is something else, so when modernity exhausted and reached its end, or let’s say it began to renew itself, according to some people who refused to announce the modernity’s end, attention was paid to the matter. This voice has begun to recede, to return and realize that under the modernity discourse itself, there is an expression and a voice for it in the public space.
There is an actual return to religiosity resulting from the decline in people’s confidence in modernity itself and its path. The modernity train reached its end, and its limitations and inability to provide the worldly salvation that it had promised were exposed. Therefore, societies have begun looking for alternatives from within and outside modernity at the same time. Alternatives are represented in reconsidering spirituality in our world. Humanity is in need of spirituality today as a result of the dryness of materialism that dominates people’s lifestyle. These are alternatives that the modernist state itself has begun to adopt today after it became clear that the spiritual need of human beings is not any less important than material needs. For example, German soldiers, Jews and Christians, are entitled to receive the right to spiritual patronage within the army, Muslims in Germany struggle to grant Muslim soldiers the same right as well.
Islamic fundamentalism vs. other fundamentalist ideologies
From the womb of Al-Qaeda, many radical religious mainstreams were born, such as the Taliban, Boko Haram, Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, etc. They constituted toghether the fundamentalist phenomenon, with which we generally summarize the fundamentalist Shiite jihadi movements, such as Hezbollah, the Dawa Party, the Popular Mobilization and the Houthis, which are bound politically to their center in Tehran and religiously to the city of Qom.
This phenomenon was born in the Afghan war. The Americans played a role in its birth. As for the Gulf countries, their role was to finance it, and the role of the authoritarian official Arab regime was to generate it through being stubborn against political modernity and ignoring the stream of religious enlightenment. There was a convergence of interests between the world order represented by the American International Center, Arab oil money and tyranny, three factors, one of which is sufficient to cause the phenomenon to recede, but to revive, all combined are needed.
However, the American, Syrian and Iranian interests conflicted after the occupation of Iraq as Washington wanted to prevent al-Qaeda while the Syrian and Iranian regimes wanted it to help defeat the American in Iraq or prevent its overall victory. When the parties agreed and Damascus stopped allowing them to cross borders depositing them in its prisons, the phenomenon in Iraq receded, but it returned and revived in Syria after the outbreak of the revolution, where Gulf money, the American and Western desire and the interest of the Syrian and Iranian regimes converged in demonizing the Syrian revolution by floating extremism and giving a way to it. Each side had its own goals, even if they conflicted with each other. After each side has achieved what it wanted, work is underway today to restore the phenomenon to its normal size to be used in other arenas later, such as in Afghanistan, as powere was handed over to the Taliban.
The most notable here is that there is a decline of Islamic fundamentalism, both Sunni and Shiite. On the other hand, other fundamentalisms rise in the world. In Myanmar, China and India, Muslims are subjected to great persecution at the hands of Buddhist, nationalist and Hindu fundamentalisms. There is also a terrifying rise of Jewish fundamentalism in Palestine through the Jewish national law, in addition to Christian fundamentalism in America let by the neo-conservatives, not to mention the rise of the European Right, which is in depth the embodiment of extremist Christian fundamentalism. This fundamentalism has recently expressed itself by raising the flags of the German Reich, the symbol of the German Empire, during a demonstration against the Corona measures in which the German right participated and exploited it in an attempt to attack the symbol of German democracy, The German Bundestag (Parliament).
Knowing the Nazis burned Parliament after they had come to power, it is clear what the symbolic meaning of this step is. Will we witness a rise of other fundamentalisms in the world today while having a decline of Islamic fundamentalism, which is coming to its end?